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Daf Yomi Zevachim 13
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Section: Stories   Category: Gedolim Biographies
Tosfos Yom Tov - Rav Yom Tov Lipman Heller Struggles From Beginning To End
Rav Yom Tov Lipman Heller was born in Bavaria in 1579 just a few days after his father Rav Nosson died.  Rav Yom Tov Lipman grew up in the care of his grandfather Rav Moshe Wallerstein.  Later on he traveled to Prague to learn in the Yeshiva of the Maharal MiPrague.  The Maharal was the one who encouraged him to write his landmark work on Mishnayos for which he goes by, the Tosfos Yom Tov.

In 1597 at the young age of 18, the Tosfos Yom Tov was appointed to be a Dayan in the city of Prague.  He later moved on to become the Rov of Nicholsburg in Moravia and then later in Vienna before returning to Prague to become its new Rov in 1627.  The good days in Prague did not last very long.  After having taken the tax apportioning powers from the wealthy Jews of the city who unfairly put the burden on the poor people, the wealthy businessmen sought revenge.  The Tosfos Yom Tov was libeled and was imprisoned in Vienna for slandering Christianity upon the order of the Roman Emperor Ferdinand II.  

Despite he courageous and valiant defense against the charges the Tosfos Yom Tov was convicted and sentenced to death.  It was only thanks to a miraculous incident where the Tosfos Yom Tov's son Shmuel saved the wife and son of a French general who was the ambassador in the court of Louis XIV.  This general then interceded on behalf of the Tosfos Yom Tov and his sentence was commuted.  Nevertheless he was ordered to pay a large fine and was removed from his position of Chief Rabbi.

The Tosfos Yom Tov spent the next two years paying off the fine by selling all his possessions.  The people who slandered him died shortly thereafter and so did their children.  He then left Prague and became Rov in the Ukraine and then Volhynia where he was a member of the famous Vaad L'Arba Aratzos, the Council of the Four Lands that was given wide ranging autonomy by the government to run Jewish affairs.  Eventually he was forced to leave there as well after the position of Rov became available to the highest bidder.

He went to Cracow, Poland where he became the Rov of the city in 1643.  When the Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yehoshua Heschel the Maginei Shlomo was niftar a few years later he became Rosh Yeshiva as well.  He was Rov of Cracow during the Chielminicki massacres, commonly known as Gezeiros Tach V'Tat (1648-49).  After these catastrophic period he had the difficult task of dealing with and freeing the many agunos to remarry.  When learning through a Shailas Chalom that these murderous times were the result of lack of respect in Shul, he composed a special Mi Shebeirach that is said in some Shuls for the people who are quiet and do not speak during davening.

The Tosfos Yom Tov was well versed in mathematic, philosophy, astronomy, and the sciences.  His Tosfos Yom Tov revitalized Mishnayos learning as an intellectual pursuit.  He also wrote Maadanei Yom Tov, Pilpula Charifta, an Divrei Chamudos on the peirush of the Rosh.  He documented his travails of his imprisonment and trial in the Sefer Megilas Eivah.  He also wrote a peirush on Rabbeinu Bachye which is based on the Kabala of Rav Moshe Cordevero.  The Tosfos Yom Tov was niftar on 6 Elul 5414/1654 in Cracow at the age of 75 after a difficult often times bitter but most productive life.  Yehi Zichro Boruch!

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Visitor Comments: 2

YH, 2010-01-19 07:09:49
In the book "The Soloveitchik Heritage" by Shulamith Soloveitchik Meiselman (sister of Rabbi JB Soloveitchik), the author says that her mother said that her ancestry could be traced back to the Tosfos Yom Tov. The following are some details of the story that are additional or different than what was posted:

1) The Austrian empire was engaged in the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) and desperately needed money and so it taxed the Jewish community of Prague. This is why a tax was imposed on each Jewish family, with the burden falling mainly on the rich merchants who could afford it.

2) Emperor Ferdinand II was the emperor of Vienna, not of Rome. He was a devout Catholic who could not tolerate any other religious beliefs. The Tosfos YT protested in vain that his writings did not deal either with Christianity or contemporary events, but with Jewish history of long ago in the time of the idolators during the era of the Mishna.

3) It was an influential German baron who appeared before the emperor to plead the rabbi's cause. The Baron paid 12,000 thalers for his release on the condition that R' Heller resign the post of Chief Rabbi of Prague and leave the country.

4) R' Heller's son was studying under a tree in the forest when his thoughts were interrupted by the sound of an animal chasing its prey. He saw a large bull charging toward a young woman wrapped in a red shawl. The woman was so frightened she froze. The young man raced over to the woman and grabbed the shawl and threw it at the bull, thus saving her from the bull's horns.

The woman was hysterical so the young man took her to his home where he learned that she was a Baroness. Her husband offered a reward but he refused to accept any money. The Baron then said, "I am very grateful to you for saving my wife's life. If you ever need a favor, don't hesitate to approach me. I will be happy to help you, just as you were helpful to my wife.

R' Heller's family remembered the Baron's promise. It was through the Baron, who had influence with the emperor, that arrangements were made for the rabbi's release.

For generations afterward, on 5 Tamuz each year, all of R' Heller's descendents would gather to commemorate his release.

Anonymous, 2010-01-19 09:10:03
Ferdinand may have lived in Vienna but he was the Roman Emperor. For centuries the title Roman Emperor was given to the leading King in Spain, usually from the Hapsburg clan. It had nothing to to do with Rome.
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