Jaffe family – misinterpretation of the sources
Chaim Freedman, Petah Tikvah, Israel February 2007.
The Jaffe family holds a tradition of descent from Rashi and thereby from King David.
However, I don't believe that the tradition of descent from Rashi is valid.
I"ve studied many sources and there is no convincing evidence.
I studied the late Dr. Paul Jacoby's Jaffe files, held by the National and University Library at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Jacoby proposes theoretical links, for some of which he uses the terms:
"Traditional descent from Rashi claimed for the earliest (or anyway for some later) members of the Jaffe family. See para ........[blank] of the Introductory Notes." The introductory notes are missing from the file.
"revolving sequence of given names"
"mere phantom created by a confusion with"
"Jaffe family is conjectured exclusively by way of .."
"gave rise to an erroneous version"
This is hardly conclusive evidence.
Despite Jacoby's reservations above, people have claimed that he proved the descent of the Jaffe family from Rashi.
I believe that the confusion arose from Levinstein's comment on page 154 of "Ir Tehilah" (Feinstein, A.L. Warsaw 1885) where he states that Yekhiel Mikhel Epstein was a son-in-law of Mordekhai Jaffe the Levush, and the son-in-law of Yekhiel-Mikhel was Avraham Heilprin who was a descendant of Elkhanan of the Baalei Hatosafot, who was descended from Rashi. But that does not mean that the Levush was descended from Elkhanan.
It is probably this comment which H. Rosenthal misread and made the statement which appears in the Jewish Encyclopedia (Funk and Wagnall 1903).
But even there Rosenthal casts doubt on the Jaffe tradition of Rashi descent stating "Levenstein's conclusions, however, have not yet been substantiated". Yet others adopted this to claim that the Jaffes are of Rashi descent.
Furthermore, having studied Jacoby's comments about the theoretic ancestors of the Levush ( and other Jaffes) I do not see proof of descent one from the other, nor that they used Jaffe as a surname.
The Levush refers to himself as "I the sewer Mordekhai, called Jaffe (or good looking) son of Adoni Avi Hekhasid Reb Avraham"He does not ascribe any rabbinic titles to his father, hardly in keeping with the identification of his father as a great scholar in Prague.Jacoby's Jaffe file is full of such terms as " revolving sequence of given names", "not as a family name", "mere phantoms created by confusion with", "father's name not certain".
So, I doubt that there was A Jaffe Family as such before the Levush's descendants adopted the surname, as did others, who may or may not be related to each other.
I consulted the authoritative rabbinical critical genealogy expert Rabbi Shlomo Englard and he likewise has not seen any proof of Jaffe descent from Rashi.
I have studied many sources, the majority of which do not claim Rashi descent for the Levush or the Jaffe family.
However I can "save" the Rashi descent of Hevron Jaffes. They are descended from the "Or Yisrael", Rabbi Yisrael Jaffe who was descended from the Kalmankes-Jaffe family of printers of Lublin. This family was not descended from the Levush, but rather from Mordekhai Zinger ben Moshe Jaffe whose wife Falka was a daughter of Yoel Zinger, whose wife was a daughter of Yitskhak Klauber, whose wife was a daughter of Eliezer Lipman Shrentzels whose wife Dreizel was a daughter of Yekhiel Luria, descended from Rashi.
So the Hevron Jaffe’s family tradition of descent from Rashi, was through one branch of the Jaffe family which was descended through various marriages from the Lurias and Rashi. Thus, although the entire Jaffe family is not descended from Rashi,this particular branch, through fortuitous shidukhim (match-making), is so descended.