Chemdas Yamim

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The book Chemdas Yamim is frequently dismissed in Jewish circles as a Sabbatean work. In particular, its role as the main source for the Tu BiShvat “seder” provides a convenient reason to reject this kabbalistic practice as devationist. However, recent scholars have questioned whether Chemdas Yamim was mistakenly identified as Sabbatean. Arie Morgenstern writes, in his recently translated The Gaon of Vilna and His Messianic Vision (pp. 77-78):

For decades, scholars have been perturbed about the identity of the author of this book and, above all, the claim that the work contains covert Sabbatian propaganda. Recent research by Moshe Fogel on these issues categorically refutes several scholars’ tentative statements about the relationship of this book with Sabbatianism. Fogel proves unequivocally that nothing in this anonymously authored work even alludes to belief in Shabbetai Zevi….

Hemdat Yamim, Fogel maintains, carries no message of Sabbatian Kabbala, does not challenge the traditional image of God, does not adopt a new halakhic system, and, above all, fails to express the pronouncedly Sabbatian claim that the era of exile has ended and the messianic one begun. Fogel writes: “Hemdat Yamim adheres to the traditional Halakha and traditional kabbalistic theosophy. It takes no liberties to change anything; rather, its purpose is to amplify the conventional wisdom of generations….”

According to Fogel, the author of Hemdat Yamim concerns himself mainly with Lurianic tiqun (“repair” of the inner and the outer realms). Although tiqun is of course meant to hasten the redemption, there is no reason to identify messianism and the advancing of the redemption with Sabbatianism, as some scholars have erroneously done.

See also this old post on the Seforim blog: link

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

28 comments

  1. How is a work which contains piyutim authored by Nathan of Gaza and numerous Sabbatean code words and allusions to be considered Sabbatean? Not unless you constrain your definition of Sabbateanism to an impossibly exclusionary minimum.

    Just as with every other aspect and movement within Judaism, any one idea or philosophy can mean or represent a whole range of things to many different people. To claim that one’s subjective conception of any movement’s purest essence and form is to be the threshold by which its adherents should be judged, is, on the face of it, arrogant and foolhardy.

  2. Correction: *not* to be considered Sabbatean?

  3. I guess that by asserting that Chemdat Yamim “does not challenge the traditional image of God”, Morgenstern is referring to its not deviating from the Lurianic kabbalah that preceded Shabbetai Tzvi by a mere hundred years. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement for its conservatism.

    If you expect all Sabbatean manuscripts to be about Shabbetai Tzvi then you grossly limit their incredible influence on subsequent Jewish history. Sabbatean kabbalah was little different to Lurianic kabbalah, and documents of a Sabbatean nature have been found amongst other documents owned by hasidim until well into the 19th century.

  4. “Just as with every other aspect and movement within Judaism, any one idea or philosophy can mean or represent a whole range of things to many different people.”

    Perhaps, but when an individual’s personal interpretation differs significantly from what the movement as a whole represents the individual’s self affiliation with that movement is subject to closer consideration. There is at least a case to be made that it is significant if the author’s version of the movement is one that omits the more troubling aspects of Sabbateanism, and that this should influence how we view his writings.

  5. “Morgenstern is referring to its not deviating from the Lurianic kabbalah that preceded Shabbetai Tzvi by a mere hundred years. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement for its conservatism.”

    200 years, not 100 years.
    I.E, it was as old/traditional to Chemdat Yamim’s era, as Chasidim is to our era.

    I think it’s a bit odd that a book written 100 years after Shabbatai Tzvi died, would be considered part of his group.

  6. My appologies, I didn’t realize that shabbatism lasted for over 100 years after he died. Very very strange.

  7. There were still Sabbateans in Turkey at least into the 1920’s. In Europe it lasted into the 1800’s at least.

  8. There are still around 60,000 ethnic and a few thousand believing Donmeh in Turkey today!!!

  9. ” In particular, its role as the main source for the Tu BiShvat “seder” provides a convenient reason to reject this kabbalistic practice as devationist.”

    I believe that the tu bishvat seder predates chemdat yamin. Although its a major source on how to conduct one.

  10. St. Jude- to your question – alan brill:

    The book mixes customs based on Cordovero, Luria, Azikiri, ibn Makir, the Peri Hadash of Amsterdam, Nathan of Gaza and others. A recent article by Moshe Fogel in JSJT, shows that even if it has Sabbatian hymns written by Nathan of Gaza (such as the Atkinah Seudata for Yom Tov), it has no explicit Sabbatian theology or belief in Shabbati Zevi. And for those following Lithuanian tradition, both the Gra and Haayim of Volozhin accepted Hemdat Yamim.

    (Think of using a potential Sabbatian custom as similar to the tune to Birkat Hamazon sung today in every Day School, which was commissioned by Mordechai Kaplan. It does not make those schools into Reconstructionist ideologically. It only shows that there are cultural overlaps and that one is part of a larger set of concerns called American Jewry. )

  11. Lawrence Kaplan

    Ruvie: But imagine if the Day School used a hymn composed by Mordecai Kaplan, even if its contents were fairly innocuous.

  12. lk – or speaking in english for sermons or having a bat mitzvah? yet we do in some instances adopt as we have always done thru time. the question is where is the line that makes one part of the same ideology?

  13. Is there a subtext to this post, or is it just academic discussion?

  14. IH: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. It’s a new book and that item caught my attention.

  15. Yep, that’s what I asked. Readers may also be intreested in Prof. Shaul Stampfer’s short recommendation of this book: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=H-Judaic&month=1208&week=a&msg=Bt2/GdKmfZfrhg6R5kmWBA

  16. What the movement represented to ashkenazim was the simple belief that Shabbetai Zvi was the messiah, as belied by some well known gimatriot and remazim. It’s the scholars who have consistently harped on the more radical elements within the movement and who now apparently seek to disqualify any member who isn’t “frum” enough of a Sabbatean for them. Seems unreasonable to me.

  17. Lawrence Kaplan

    Ruvie: I’m not necessarily disagreeing. But perhaps the point is that the lines berween mainstream Lurianic Kabbalah and “moderate” Sabbatian Kabbalah were not so clearly fixed. I believe Elishava Carlbach makes a similar point in her book about R. Moshe Hagiz.

  18. Lawrence Kaplan – agree. Or we can also say the taking lurianic kabbalah to its extreme (conclusion) can lead to shabbatian unfortunate consequences. Is it the shabbatian Kabbalah we reject or its unfortunate consequences to Jewry at that point in time ( can we separate the two?)?

  19. While it may be that Chemdats Yomim is not Sabbatian, nonetheless, (a) the Tu BiShvat seder has been demonstrated to go against Lurianic symbolism, and (b) if the author can’t separate the wheat from the chaff, why should it be considered a trustworthy source of holiness? Not everything in it is necessarily to be rejected, but it would be reasonable to consider that it lacks the authority of less objectionable works.

  20. One of purported hints of Sabbateanism in Hemdat Yamim comes from the following phrase in the tefila for taking out the Torah on Shavuot:

    והרם עטרת צבי ולצפירת תפארת עם סגולתך

    It’s interesting to note that this tefila is said by most Sephardic congregations throughout the world and is found in most Sephardic mahzorim. (In the Mahzor Ish Matzliah of R’ Meir Mazuz or Bnei Brak, he places this phrase in parentheses and in a footnote he writes that one should omit it).

  21. Interesting. I just found it in my Israeli(הוצאת ספרים שילה)edition of http://www.hebrewbooks.org/44073 (image 93 in the online version).

  22. It is a question of what one considers to qualify as sabbatean. It is clear that the author considered sabbatean influences to be a legitimate source of mystical doctorine. Not all sabbateans were radical antinomean subverters of the faith.

  23. I wonder if it’s only been since 1994 or so that believing in a dead/false messiah didn’t automatically make one “antinomean.” I’ve never before heard a claim like “Oh, he only believed in Shabtai Tzvi, nothing radical” or “Oh, he only believed it was legitimate to believe in Shabtai Tzvi, nothing radical.”

    (Perhaps it would help to recall that Shabtai Tzvi, unlike a certain other dead/false messiah, *was* a “radical antinomean.”)

  24. Nachum, despite what R Y Emden claimed, there was such a thing as a moderate sabbatean. In fact, it is like that R Eibeshutz was one such moderate sabbatean.

  25. Were there “moderate Christians” as well? Does it matter?

  26. Early Christians were not antinomian. Nor did their theology make claims about the divinity of Jesus.

  27. That’s if you get to define “early,” “Christian,” “antinomean,” “theology,” etc. etc.

    In any event, arguing for a false messiah is most certainly antinomean.

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