Gershon Shaul Yom Tov Lipman Heller, "Tosfot Yom Tov"(1579-1654)
Austria in those days was where German Jews fled to from persecutions in Germany. By 1244, Duke Frederick the Quarrelsome gave the Jews a new charter serving as a model for other countries. From the 13th to 15th century, serious persecutions kept happening culminating in 1420 with a ritual murder accusation against the Jews. That caused Jews in Austria to be either burned, expelled or forcibly baptized, with even more restrictions coming. The scene is now set for the birth of Rabbi Yom Tov and his bout with Austria.
Rabbi Yom Tov was born in Bavaria which is now a state within Germany that borders Liechtenstein, Austria and the Czech Republic. Munich is this state's capital. When he was 18 years old, he was appointed dayyan at Prague. A dayyan is a judge in a rabbinical court. Not all rabbis were qualified to serve as dayyanim. The ordinary rabbi can decide only on matters of religious nature. However, the dayyan is also qualified to judge money matters and problems of civil law brought before a Jewish court. It is amazing to us today that an 18 year old would be deemed to such a position.
In those days Prague was a well known city, built in 1402, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire of 1867 and was called Czechoslovakia from October 1918 till recently, calling it Czech Republic by 1993. Prague is still the capital.
When he was 50 years old in 1629, he was fined heavily on a charge of libeling the state and Christianity, and was forbidden to act as rabbi in Prague. "Rabbi Heller was accused of insulting Christianity and imprisoned in Vienna." This was the state's decision, not the Jewish people he served. Charges were usually false against Jews, and done for reason of garnishing money from them.
|About the Chmielnicki massacres|
He thus served in various communities, being in Cracow, (Krakow today a southern Polish city near the border of the Czech Republic, is known for its well-preserved medieval core and Jewish quarter)., during the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648-49 in Ukraine for which he composed penitential psalms and commemorative prayers. This is a city with the nickname of "a hundred spires", spires being the tops of the Catholic churches. Their pedestrian Charles Bridge is lined with statues of Catholic saints. It had its Jewish quarter as well. The atmosphere of this city was heavy with Catholicism. A man named Chmielnicki " told people that the Polish had sold them as slaves "into the hands of the accursed Jews." The Cossacks, a military class of Ukranian-southern Russians, were so angry when they heard this that they massacred tens of thousands of Jews during 1648-49 in a war that would later be known as among the worst of that time period.
"Because of their role in the government and economy as tax collectors and customs agents, non-Jewish members of the lower class were not happy with the Jews. For a century this anger and hate boiled over until it spilled over the edge with the Chmielnicki Massacres by Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian Cossacks. Events like the slaughter of 2000 Jews on June 24th, 1648, the killing of 10,000 Jews on July 22nd, 1648, and the massacre of 12,000 Jews on November 2nd, 1648 were big examples of the anti-semitism running wild throughout Ukraine." It must be remembered that discrimination against Jews amounted to not letting them into any way of self support except by lending money and such things deplorable to them such as being tax collectors and customs agents. I don't think that many a Jew was left in the Ukraine after this blood-letting.
Rabbi Yom Tov was lucky to have been in Poland at the time. He went on to write many other works on religious subjects and secular compositions on such subjects as mathematics and natural science. His fame was in writing a commentary on the Mishnah, Tosephot Yom Tov. (The Additions of Yom Tov). It was printed in many following editions of the Mishnah, liked for its profundity, simplicity, and logical approach to matters. The book of Mishnah was the legal codification containing the core of the ORAL LAW. From early times in Israel there was the tradition of interpretation and analysis of the WRITTEN LAW OF MOSES. During the 2nd Temple period, the ancient oral tradition was upheld by the Pharisees and supported by the majority of the Jews. It wasn't recognized by other sects, such as the Sadducees and the Essenes, who had their own traditions regarding the interpretation of the Written Law. After the destruction of the Temple, the Pharisaic view won national acceptance and the Oral Law was studied in the many academies of rabbis.
He had a start in life that was all about his education. "After Rabbi Heller was born, he was raised by his grandfather, Rabbi Moses Ha-Levi Heller in Wallerstein, now in Germany. As a teenager Heller was sent to Friedberg, near Wallerstein, where he studied in the yeshiva of Rabbi Jacob Günzburg. From there he moved to Prague, where he became a disciple of the Maharal, head of the yeshiva of Prague". Life was made up of studying and learning just as young men and women are expected to do today, only on a more serious level back then for Jews, as it was about their religion. This was the life of many Ashkenazi Jews.
(Note) the Pharisees were of the 2nd Temple period. The first temple was destroyed in 586 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar. Jews returned to Jerusalem in 538 BCE. a period of 48 years of being forced to be away. When they returned, they rebuilt the Temple which was then destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans. They might have been the descendants of the Hasideans and made up a relatively narrow body of men. There was a gulf between them and the others ignorant of the Law or not practicing it. It was the Sadducees who controlled the Temple matters. They saw things differently. The Pharisees admitted the principle of evolution to their legal decisions. The Sadducees were incapable of adaptation to the changing environment. The Pharicees were more lenient in their decisions. The Sadducees clung to the letter of the written text.
Originally compiled by Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi on the basis of earlier collections, it was arranged logically, divided into 6 orders dealing with religious laws about agriculture, laws of Sabbath, festivals, laws of marriage and divorce and vows, damages, civil and criminal legislation, holy things, koshering, etc.
The descendants of Rabbi Yom Tov Heller are on a website below. I note on it that Rabbi Yom Tov should be very proud. Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman, second Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, was born on 14 Nissan 5646 / 1886 in Brest-Litovsk (Brisk), where his father, R' Eliyahu, was a melamed / teacher of children. Among R' Isser Yehuda's ancestors were R' Yom Tov Lipman Heller (1579-1654; author of the Mishnah commentary, Tosefot Yom Tov) and Rabbi Shaul Wahl Katznellenbogen (1540_1616). Legend records that this latter personality was elected King of Poland for a day.
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia