Ancestry of the Vilna Gaon - Descent from King David

Ancestry of the Gaon of Vilna – Descent from King David

Chaim Freedman, Petah Tikvah, Israel, September 2005
Published in "Avotaynu" Volume XXI, Number 3, Fall 2005

Hebrew translation by Benyamin Pantelat at

See continuation at

Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalmen, the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797)[1] is descended from several prominent rabbinical scholars of Vilna: Rabbi Moshe Rivkas (1596-1671) and Rabbi Moshe Kremer (died 1688). The ancestry of these rabbis was known by the Gaon’s biographers for only a few generations, no earlier than the mid sixteenth century. To date relationships with other prominent rabbinical families was unknown. This was a rare situation considering that most ancient [or other suitable word] rabbinical families were interrelated and could trace their ancestry for centuries.

Throughout the course of the Bible the narrative revolves around the sequence of the generations, from the patriarchs, the division of the Children Of Israel into the Twelve Tribes, the Exodus from Egypt, the pioneers in the establishment of the Jewish nation in Eretz Yisrael, the Prophets, the Royal House of David until the destruction of Jerusalem and the Exile into the Diaspora

During the pre-Exilic period the Jews preserved records of their genealogical connection to the nation. This continuity was lost to a great extent due to the disruption of the Exile to Babylon and the Diaspora in Europe. Many families painstakingly preserved their traditions of descent even in the post-Exilic period. Some of these families settled in the Rhineland and France in the ninth and tenth centuries. A prominent family which claimed Davidic descent was that of great Biblical and Talmudic commentator Rashi (1040-1105). Traditions of descent from famous rabbis and in particular from Rashi have long intrigued genealogists. The subject was discussed at length in several issues of Avotaynu some years ago[2]. Rashi’s family and disciples established centers of learning and laid the foundations of the communities which became the hub of Jewish life in many towns in Western Europe. Later, in the fourteenth century, their descendants moved to Eastern Europe. Thus a vast interrelated dynasty of rabbinic families spread across Europe.

Since most of the prominent rabbinical families are inter-related due to Shidukhim (matchmaking), there was a core of medieval rabbinical families who were descended from Rashi. Some examples are Treves, Shapira, Luria, Katzenellenbogen, Jaffe, Heilprin, Landau, Lipshitz, Margolis, Rapaport, Heller, Weil, Isserles, Shorr, Klausner, Horowitz, Katz, Teomim, Epstein, Gunzburg, to name but a few. These families comprise the root from which most other rabbinical families stemmed. A specific family may descend from a number of marital ties between rabbinical families, which ultimately connect back to Katzenellenbogen, Luria etc, and through them to Rashi and King David.

Details of these families can be studied on the Davidic Dynasty site

A new study of the ancestry of the Vilna Gaon by this author revealed previously unknown sources which when correlated show that the Vilna Gaon is in fact descended from many of the above families and is descended from King David.

An extensive study of the ancestry of the Gaon of Vilna was written by the late Benyamin Rivlin and published in Sefer Hagra [3].

The Gaon's parents were Rabbi Shlomo-Zalmen (died 1758) and Treina. His mother came from the town of Seltz (today, Selets) near Grodno. His father came from a prominent Vilna family. The known male line of the Gaon's ancestry commences with Rabbi David Ashkenazi (died 1645), who was a Rosh Yeshiva in Lemberg, Poland. According to Professor Louis Ginzberg[4], David Ashkenazi may have been identical with Rabbi David, son of Mordekhai Ashkenazi, mentioned in Klilat Yofi[5]. David's son, Rabbi Moshe Kremer (died 1688), held the position of Av Beit Din (chief rabbi) of Vilna. Moshe Kremer's son, Rabbi Eliyahu (died 1710), was known as “Khassid” due to his piety.

Eliyahu Khassid had three sons: Rabbi Yissakhar Ber (or Yissakhar Dov), Rabbi Tzvi Hersh (died 1765) and Rabbi Moshe (died 1765). Tzvi Hersh was the ancestor of several prominent families, includ­ing Rivlin and Eliash, who held influential posi­tions in the Vilna community[6]. Yissakhar Ber was the father of Rabbi Shlomo Zalmen, who was the father of five sons and a daughter. The eldest son was Rabbi Eliyahu, the Gaon of Vilna (1720–1797).

The Gaon's great-grandfather Eliyahu Khassid married into another prominent rabbinic family. His wife was a daughter of Rabbi Petakhiah, son of Rabbi Moshe Rivkas (died 1671). Rabbi Moshe Rivkas came to Vilna from Prague in the early seventeenth century. During the Cossack massacres in 1655, Rivkas fled to Amsterdam, where he completed his commentary on the Shulkhan Arukh called Be-er Hagolah[7].

The earliest known ancestor of Moshe Rivkas was Yosef Hakhaver of Ofen (later Budapest), one of the members of the Jewish communi­ty of Vienna who was exiled to Prague in 1559[8]. Yosef's son, Rabbi Petakhiah (died 1598), was sofer (scribe) of the Prague community, as was his son, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Hersh. Naftali Tzvi Hersh Sofer (died Prague 1601) was the father of Rabbi Moshe Rivkas.

Maternal Ancestors

Little is known about the Gaon's female ancestors. There are two versions as to the identity of Naf­tali Tzvi Hersh Sofer's wife. Shapira[9] refers to Naftali as Tzvi Hersh Fasi and records his wife's name as Rivka, a daughter of Natan Mandel, son of Meir of Krakow.

But Tzvi Hersh Fasi lived in Krakow, whereas the father of Moshe Rivkas, Naftali Tzvi Hersh lived in Prague where he held the position as Sofer (scribe) of the Kahal. Tzvi Hersh Fasi held a position as Parnes Umanhig (a community leader) in Krakow. Kahana[10] lists the children of Tzvi Hersh Fasi but the name of Moshe Rivkas is not included. Naftali Tzvi Hersh Sofer died in Prague in 1601, whereas Tzvi Hersh Fasi is recorded in the Pinkas Hakahal (a community register book) in 1632. Therefore it can be seen that Shapira has confused two individuals. A possible explanation for the confusion may be due to the fact that Fasi’s son Leib was the father-in-law (by his first marriage) of Rabbi Gershon Ashkenazi of Nikolsberg and Vienna (1615-1693, author of Avodat Hagershuni) who referred to Moshe Rivkas as his “Mekhutan” (meaning that their children were married) in Gershon’s approbation to Rivkas’ Be’er Hagolah[11]

Moshe Rivkas' Descent from King David

Details of the ancestry of Moshe Rivkas can be established from the correlation of several sources. Eliezer Rivlin in the introduction to Sefer Hayakhas6 conveys a tradition of the family’s descent from King David:

“Sefer Hayakhas” Eliezer Rivlin (Jerusalem 1935)

According to ancient family traditions these ancestors of the family were descended from the dynasty of the House of David and the elders of the family used to relate that they saw the ancient writings in which the names of the dynasty were detailed until the House of David. Various legends also spread between the various branches of the family about the origin of their ancestors from the Spanish Exile which was in Amsterdam, and so on and so on. But if we rely on certain scientific documents we are unable to give details of he names above the Holy Rabbi Yosef Khaver, the ancestor of Rivkas on the Rivkas side, and above Rabbi David Ashkenazi father of Kremer on the Kremer side.

Although Rivlin dismisses these oral traditions because they are not based on “certain scientific documents”, he was apparently unaware of sources which, when considered together, support the oral tradition of descent from King David.

One of these sources appears in a rare comment in Saarat Eliyahu[12] , a eulogy of the Vilna Gaon written by his youngest son Avraham. It was not the habit of the Gaon to mention in his many writings members of his family. Nor was it the custom of his sons. To date few such comments have been discovered:

“Saarat Eliyhau” Avraham son of the Gaon, Grodno 1876

…….Samalion (which is the name of an angel as explained by our ancestors the Arukh and the Baalei Hatosafot)……..Two lines of ancestry are noted, one from the author of the Arukh, Rabbi Natan of Rome (1035-1106). A gap of 700 years between the Gaon and Natan makes it difficult to establish the nature of the descent. A family which also claims descent from Natan is that of Rabbi Yomtov Lipman Heller (1574-1654), author of Tosfot Yomtov. Research of the Heller family might establish a connection with the Vilna Gaon’s ancestors[13].

Of greater importance is that part of the comment by Avraham (son of the Gaon) which refers to “our grandfathers the Baalei Hatosafot”. The term “grandfathers” is a figurative term meaning “ancestors”.

The Baalei Hatosafot were the Talmudic commentators who functioned after Rashi (1040-1105). Initially these were his sons-in-law, grandsons and their families. Then each of these relatives of Rashi had their students and the group as a whole were known as Baalei Hatosafot, meaning the authors of the additional commentaries to those of Rashi and his predecessors.

Avraham’s comment referring to his ancestors as Baalei Hatosafot may theoretically include any of the Talmudic scholars regarded as members of this group, and not necessarily the family of Rashi. But given Rivlin’s note about the tradition of descent from King David, and given that Rashi and his family were descended from King David, the intersection of the two factors indicates that it is likely that Avraham’s comment points to the Gaon’s descent from those of the Baalei Hatosafot, who were members of Rashi’s family. Further evidence will add weight to this contention.

It might be claimed that the term “zikneynu”, “our grandfathers/ancestors” could mean “our elders” and not necessarily ancestors. But that identical term “zikneynu” is used by he Gaon’s sons in their introduction to his commentary on Shulkhan Arukh Orakh Khaim[14] .

Introduction by the Gaon’s sons to his commentary on “Shulkhan Arukh Orakh Khaim” (Shklov 1803)
And our ancestor the Rabbi the Gaon our Teacher the Rabbi Reb M. who authored Be’er Hagolah.
There the term “zikneynu” is applied to Rabbi Moshe Rivkas, the Gaon’s great-great-great-grandfather. In those instances where scholars of previous generations are referred to, the term usually used is “khazal” meaning “our wise men of blessed memory”, or “razal” meaning “our rabbis of blessed memory”. In Saarat Eliyahu10 Avraham uses the term “razal” for other scholars and only in this one instance uses “zikneynu” to refer to his ancestors Natan of Rome and the Baalei Hatosafot.

It might be asked how Avraham knew of his ancestry. It seems unlikely that his father The Vilna Gaon would have taken time away from his studies to tell his sons stories about their ancestors. Such is the impression given by descriptions of the Gaon’s character with respect to his total dedication to study, begrudging any diversion for secular purposes, to the extent that he rarely enquired of his family’s welfare. Yet there is evidence that the Gaon did tell his sons about their ancestry as described by Avraham in Saarat Eliyahu:

“Saarat Eliyhau” Avraham son of the Gaon, Grodno 1876

……… How have we forgotten our holy ancestors. The rabbi the Gaon of our strength our Rabbi Moshe of blessed memory, Av Beit Din of community may it thrive, who saved us from several slanders and blood libels through his wonderful deeds. And from evil officials, as told us our lord our teacher and Rabbi my father the Gaon … who knew in his youth elders who told him, and the son of the above Gaon Reb M. of blessed memory, the rabbi the Khassid Rabbi Eliyahu of blessed memory after whose name our lord our father our teacher the rabbi of blessed memory was called. His great piety and separation, and the thunder of his brave righteousness ….

Here is clear evidence that the Gaon heard in his youth from the elders of Vilna information about his ancestors. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that the Gaon was the source for Avraham’s information about his descent from Natan of Rome and the Baalei Hatosafot.

A possible relationship between Moshe Rivkas and the Katzenellenbogen family was mentioned in Eliyahu’s Branches, the Descendants of the Vilna Gaon and His Family[15]. At the time of writing of that book, evidence to explain the claim was not available and so the author wrote “This claim is unsubstantiated”. New evidence makes that statement no longer appropriate.

Benyamin Rivlin, the son of Eliezer Rivlin, the author of Sefer Hayakhas6, wrote a small biography of his ancestor Rabbi Moshe Rivkas, Reb Moshe Rivkas[16]:

“R’ Moshe Rivkes – Benyamin Rivlin (Jerusalem 1971)

About Reb Naftali Hirsh Sofer of the Holy Community of Prague, son of Reb Petakhiah, related his son Reb Moshe Rivkas, in the above introduction [to his book Be’er Hagolah] that “he drew water and served before the rabbi the Gaon our teacher the Rabbi Reb Falk Katz of blessed memory in the Holy Community of Lvov, after his marriage, in the year 5356 and 5357 [1596 and 1597], and there edited the Shulkhan Arukh and wrote at the side some matters from the Shulkhan Arukh of the above rabbi the Gaon of blessed memory.
His wife was Mrs. Telza – of the root of the Gaon Reb Shaul Wahl, and apparently he was “His Honor Hirsh the son of the master the honorable Petakhiah Sofer, tender in years, Sofer son of Sofer, who passed away in Elul 5361 [1601] in Prague.
Although Benyamin Rivlin does not refer to his father’s comment about Davidic descent, if, as he states, Moshe Rivkas mother was “of the trunk of Shaul Wahl” then Moshe Rivkas was thereby descended from King David since Shaul Wahl’s family, Katzenellenbogen was descended through the Luria and Mintz families from Rashi, and thereby from King David.

This reference to Telza, Moshe Rivkas’ mother, appeared prior to Benyamin Rivlin’s comment in 1971, in 1900 in Bentzion Eizenstadt’s Dor Rabanav Vesofraf[17] where he quotes Tzvi Hersh Edelman as stating that Telza was “a granddaughter of Shaul Wahl”. Edelman wrote in 1845 Gedulat Shaul[18] a history of Shaul Wahl’s family based on a 1755 manuscript Yesh Mankhilin[19] held in the Bodlean library in Oxford. Yesh Mankhilin includes many details of the Katzenellenbogen family, yet does not refer to Telza. Nor does Edelman’s Gedulat Shaul refer to Telza. That book was planned to appear in four volumes, only one of which is extant. Possibly Eizenstadt took his source from an unpublished manuscript by Edelman. Benyamin Rivlin makes a similar statement without quoting his source, describing Telza as “of the trunk of Shaul Wahl” whereas Eizenstadt narrows down the relationship to “a granddaughter of Shaul Wahl”.
Prior to publishing his Reb Moshe Rivkas in 1971, in 1954 Benyamin Rivlin wrote a chapter in Sefer Hagra1 providing biographical details of the Gaon’s ancestors Rabbi Moshe Kremer and Rabbi Moshe Rivkas. He includes several sources in which Moshe Rivkas refers to his relatives:

Relatives of Rabbi Moshe Rivkas – Sefer Hagra, Benyamin Rivlin

a. The author of the book Or Yekarot and Leviat Khen (Zolkva, 5516 [1716] ) is descended from Reb Moshe Rivkas and writes that he is from the family Khefetz from the Holy Community of Vilna, and so writes the author of Maamar Efsharut Hativit (Amsterdam 5522 [1762] `from the family Khefetz’[20].
b. not relevant
c. According to Rabbi Moshe in Be’er Hagolah his relatives were the Rabbi Reb Yeshaya Horowitz, the author of Shnei Lukhot Habrit (43) and the Rabbi Mordekhai Krasnik of the holy community of Zeil (44.
d. The Rabbi the Gaon our teacher the Rabbi Reb Gershon Ashkenazi Av Beit Din of Nikolsberg and Vienna, who was among the approbants to the book of Reb Moshe, writes of him that he was his Mekhutan
(43). Be’er Hagolah, Orakh Khaim 645, 7, 30 and see there Khoshen Mishpat 67, 68.
(44). Ibid, Orakh Khaim 586. 1. 5.
The following are Rabbi Moshe Rivkas’ comments about his relatives in his book Be’er Hagolah:
Shulkhan Arukh, Be’er Hagolah Orakh Khaim Khoshen Mishpat

Yeshaya Horowitz “Shelah” Mordekhai Krasnik Yeshaya Horowitz “Shelah”

(Wrote my relative the Rabbi, Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz in his book Shnei Lukhot Habrit …
(Questioned my relative the rabbi Reb Mordekhai Krasnik P of the Holy Community K [an abbreviation which may mean Parnes of the Holy Community of Krakow] ….
……. and my relative the Rabbi author of Shnei Lukhot Habrit……
Mordekhai Krasnik of Zeil was a Dayan (rabbinical judge) in Krakow in 1643 and then rabbi in Luntshitz[22]. His relationship with Rivkas requires further research.

Rivkas’ reference to “my relative Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz”, taken independently of other relationships quoted above, might not establish the nature of the Rivkas/Horowitz relationship. But taking into account Rivkas’ Katzenellenbogen relationship, his link to Yeshaya Horowitz can be seen as follows:

Moshe Rivkas was born in 1596.

Shaul Wahl was born in 1545. His son Meir was born no earlier than 1565, since his namesake great-grandfather Rabbi Meir Katzenellenbogen the “Maharam Padua” died in 1565.

The period between the birth date of Shaul Wahl and Moshe Rivkas was fifty-one years which had to include two generations for Telza to have been a granddaughter of Shaul Wahl.
From a study of the various children and grandchildren of Shaul Wahl, it seems that Moshe Rivkas’ mother Telza was a daughter of Shaul Wahl’s son Meir Katzenellenbogen and was born about 1580 when her father was aged about fifteen.
Telza was about sixteen years of age when she gave birth to Moshe Rivkas in 1596.

No other scenario is feasible as the other children of Shaul Wahl were too young to have been the parent of Telza, given that her son Moshe Rivkas was born in 1596.

The Horowitz relationship stated by Moshe Rivkas confirms the above explanation of the Katzenellenbogen relationship since Meir Katzenellenbogen’s wife Hinda was a daughter of Pinkhas Horowitz, a second-cousin to Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, thus explaining why Moshe Rivkas refers to Horowitz as shear besari, “my flesh relative”.

Rabbi Pinkhas Horowitz[23] of Prague was a son of Yisrael Horowitz, son of Aharon Meshulam Zalmen Horowitz, son of Yeshaya Halevy Horowitz of Prague. The latter Yeshaya had another son Shabtai Sheftel, father of Avraham, father of Yeshaya (1570-1626), author of Shnei Lukhot Habrit, and known by the abbreviation of that book as the Sheloh. The Sheloh possibly born in Prague, served as rabbi in several communities before taking up the position as rabbi of Prague in 1614. He left that position in 1621 to settle in Eretz Yisrael where he died in Tiberias in 1626.

From the logistics of the Sheloh’s biography it can be seen that his relative Moshe Rivkas, from the age of eighteen, could have been personally acquainted with the Sheloh when he lived in Prague. Hence Rivkas’ comment in Be’er Hagolah that he was related to the Sheloh.

The relations of Meir Katzenellenbogen appear in Yesh Mankhilin:

Yesh Mankhilin – editor’s introduction

The Gaon Reb Meir Katzenellenbogen was a son of the Sar [officer/lord] our Rabbi Shaul Wahl of blessed memory. He was a son-in-law of Reb Pinkhas Horowitz, because he took his daughter Hinda to be his wife………

Yesh Mankhilin – Pinkhas Katzenellenbogen

And my father’s father’s father the Rabbi Our Teacher the Rabbi Reb Meir Shaul’s of blessed memory [Av Beit Din of the Holy Community of Brisk], his wife the Rabbanit Mrs. Hinda may her soul be in Eden, daughter of the famous, Our Teacher the Rabbi Pinkhas Segal Horowitz from Krakow, brother-in-law of the Remo of blessed memory.
And his father was the famous [Shaul] Wahl] [the Sar] and his wife Mrs. Devorah, may her soul be in Eden, daughter of Reb David.

Rivkas’ comment about his Horowitz relative confirms that his mother Telza was a daughter of Meir Katzenellenbogen since Meir’s wife was a Horowitz.

Other relatives of Moshe Rivkas bore the surname (or appellation) Wahl or Wahls. Whether this indicated a relationship with Shaul Wahl requires further research.
An additional source for the ancestry of Moshe Rivkas through the Katzenellenbogen and Horowitz families appears in Shnot Eliyahu[24] the Vilna Gaon’s commentary on the Order Zeraim of the Mishnah, edited by his son-in-law Rabbi Moshe of Pinsk. A reference to Moshe’s ancestor Rabbi Shmuel of Antipol, Karlin and Pinsk, as being a blood relative of the Gaon appears there.

The author of Sefer Yukhsin[25] mentions that the nature of the relationship was not known to him:

Sefer Yukhsin, Rozenkrantz

The Gaon Reb Eliyahu of Vilna, of blessed and righteous memory, was descended from one family with my grandfather [ancestor] the Gaon Reb Shmuel of blessed memory Av Beit Din of the Holy Community of Karlin and his brothers, which is found in Shnot Eliyahu on Zeraim where it is mentioned there about my grandfather the Gaon R”Sh who was his relative. But I have not found out at the moment in a clear tradition, the head of which paternal house in the dynasty of our family.

Our Rabbi Maharsha of blessed memory was the father-in-law of the Gaon, the sharp, the saint Reb Moshe son of the Gaon Reb Yitskhak of blessed memory, and the above Reb Yitskhak was a son-in-law of Reb Simkha Bunem Av Beit Din of the Holy Community of Krakow, son-in-law of the Gaon Head of all the Diaspora, the saint Reb Moshe author of the Mapah, and the above Reb Moshe son of Yitskhak was Av Beit Din of the Holy Community of Lublin and he was the author of the book Mahadura Batra of the Maharsha, and his son-in-law was the Gaon Reb Avraham Feigas of blessed memory. The son of Reb Avraham was the Gaon Rabbi Reb Yosef Khassid Koidanover, the son of Reb Yosef was the Rabbi the Gaon the saint Reb Kalman, Av Beit Din of the Holy Community of Pinsk. The son of Reb Kalman was the Rabbi the Gaon the saint Reb Leib of blessed memory, …………The Rabbi the Gaon the saint Reb Leib had three sons, 1. the Rabbi the Gaon the saint Reb Shmuel of blessed memory Av Beit Din of Antipole, Karlin and Pinsk.

The Horowitz descent of the Gaon, established from Moshe Rivkas’ comment in Be’er Hagolah solves Rozenkranz’s problem. He shows that Shmuel of Pinsk was descended from Rabbi Moshe Isserles, the Remo. Isserles’ sister Beila was the wife of Pinkhas Horowitz. Thus the Gaon and Shmuel of Karlin shared ancestry from the Isserles family.

The Vilna Gaon and Shmuel of Karlin relationship, the manner of which was hitherto unknown, correlates and confirms the other seemingly isolated sources, which taken together, establish the Davidic descent of the Vilna Gaon.

The comment of Avraham, (son of the Vilna Gaon) in Saarat Eliyahu, about descent from the author of the Arukh, Rabbi Natan of Rome, requires further research. But it should be noted that one family which also claimed descent from Natan was that of Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller (1579-1654), author of Tosefot Yom Tov. Heller’s wife Rekhel was a granddaughter of Pinkhas Horowitz’s sister and thus related to Moshe Rivkas. Heller also functioned as rabbi in Prague during a period when Rivkas could have been acquainted with him. Natan of Rome was a member of the Anav family. Members of the Anav family also lived in Prague. One of Moshe Rivkas’ female ancestors may have been an Anav, thus accounting for Avraham’s comment about his descent from Natan of Rome.

Most sources[26] claim that Natan Heller was descended from Natan of Rome through his father. One source[27] states that it was though his mother.

[1] Freedman, Chaim. Eliyahu’s Branches, the Descendants of the Vilna Gaon and His Family. Avotaynu, Teaneck, New Jersey U.S.A. 1997.
[2] Avotaynu, Spring 1989, Spring 1990, Winter 1994, articles by Neil Rosenstein and Paul Jacobi.
[3] Fishman-Maimon, Yehuda Leib. Sefer Hagra. Jerusalem, 1954.
[4] Ginzberg, Louis. Students Scholars and Saints. New York, 1958.
[5] Dembitzer. Klilat Yofi. Krakow, 1888.
[6] Klausner, Yisrael. Toldot Hakehilah Haivrit Bevilna. Vilna, 1935.
[7] Rivkas, Moshe. Beer Hagolah . Amsterdam 1661-1664.
[8] Rivlin, Eliezer. Sefer Hayakhas Lemishpakhat Rivlin Vehagaon Mivilna. Jerusalem 1935.
[9] Shapira, Yaakov Leib. Mishpakhot Atikot Beyisrael. Tel Aviv 1981.
[10] Kahana, S.Z. Anaf Etz Avot. Krakow 1903.
[11] See reference below.
[12] Avraham son of Eliyahu (the Gaon). Saarat Eliyahu. Grodno 1876.
[13] Heller’s wife was a great grand-daughter of Yisrael Horowitz, who it will be seen later, was an ancestor of Moshe Rivkas.
[14] Eliyahu the Gaon of Vilna. Commentary on Shulkhan Arukh Orakh Khaim. Shklov 1803. Introduction by the Gaon’s sons Yehudah Leib and Avraham.
[15] Freedman, Chaim. Eliyahu’s Branches, the Descendants of the Vilna Gaon and His Family. Avotaynu, Teaneck, New Jersey 1997.
[16] Rivlin, Benyamin. Reb Moshe Rivkas. Jerusalem 1971.
[17] Eizenstadt, Bentzion. Dor rabanav Vesofrav. Vilna 1900.
[18] Edelman, Tzvi Hersh. Gedulat Shaul . London 1845.
[19] Katzenellenbogen, Pinkhas. Yesh Mankhilin. Boskowitz, Moravia 1755; edited by Feld, Yaakov Dov, Jerusalem 1986.
[20] Khefetz family in Prague: Hock, Mishpekhot K”K Prague. Prague 1892.
Koppelman, Lieben. Gal Ed. Prague 1856. Khefetz family in Vilna, see Rivlin.
[21] The exact relationship requires research.
[22] Friedman, Natan Tzvi. Otsar Harabanim. Bnei Brak, Israel 1975.
[23] Muneles, Otto. Ketovot Beveit Ha’almin Hayehudi Ha’atik Beprag. Jerusalem 1988.
Friedberg. B. Toldot Mishpakhat Horowitz. Frankfurt-am-Main, 1911.
[24] Moshe of Pinsk. Shnot Eliyahu. Lemberg 1799, Warsaw 1860.
[25] Rozenkranz, A. Sefer Yukhsin. Warsaw 1885.
[26] Wunder, Meir. Elef Margaliot . Jerusalem 1993
[27] Horowitz-Heller, Yekhiel. Megilat Yukhsin. Tel Aviv 1978.

The Maharal of Prague's Descent from King David

The Maharal of Prague’s Descent from King David

Chaim Freedman, Petah Tikvah, March 2006.

Published in "Avotaynu" Volume XXII Number 1, Spring 2006

Rabbi Yehudah Leib[i] the son of Betzalel (circa 1522-1609), known as the “Maharal of Prague”, was one of the world’s most famous rabbis. Revered during his lifetime and by many until this day, the Maharal wrote many scholastic works. Several families claim descent from him, a fact of special importance to them since the Maharal also is widely believed to descend from King David.

Rabbi Meir Perels of Prague created a genealogy of the Maharal’s family, Megilat Hayukhsin[ii], in 1727 (some say 1717). The book was not published until 1853 and since then genealogists generally have accepted Perels’ claims, many incorporating Perels’ findings into their own works.

An exception to the believers in Perels’ claim was Prague historian Otto Muneles who discovered (in the early 1950s) that Perels’ claim was invalid since it was based on an erroneous copying of the date of death on the tombstone in Prague of the Maharal’s supposed great-great-grandfather Yehudah Leib (Liwai) the Elder. Perels recorded the date in Hebrew as the Hebrew year corresponding to 1439/1440.

Muneles’ examination of that tombstone shows that the date corresponds to 1539. Since the Maharal, also named Yehudah Leib, bore the same name as Yehudah Leib the Elder, and since the Maharal was born about 1522, he could not have borne the same name as a living ancestor. Soon thereafter, critical rabbinic genealogist, Rabbi Shlomo Englard of Bnei Brak, Israel, examined Muneles’ claims and, by studying sources described below, determined that Muneles’ claims were valid.

If the basis for the claim to Davidic descent of the Maharal is the text of the tombstone of Yehudah Leib the Elder (called in Hebrew Hazaken) then this would indicate that the Maharal may not be descended from King David at all. The consequences of such a finding would seem to sever all the descendants of the Maharal from their assumed Davidic descent. Such a circumstance would be particular serious for many famous rabbinic families whose ancestors wrote in many rabbinic works and genealogies of their Davidic descent, based on Perels’ work.

I have studied Muneles’ and Englard’s analyses of the situation and find them valid in negating the basis of Perels’ claim. On the other hand, my study of a number of rabbinic genealogies, written independently of Perels’ book, show that the Maharal indeed was descended from King David, but through a different line from that claimed by Perels. The descendants of the Maharal may breathe a sigh of relief; their illustrious ancestry has been salvaged.

An Alternative Line from the Maharal to King David

Prior to publication of Perels’ work a tradition existed that the Maharal was a descendant of Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi (died 217 C.E.), of the House of Hillel, who was of Davidic descent. These genealogies list the Maharal's father Betzalel and Chaim of Worms, and do not include Yehudah-Leib (Liwai) of Prague. The genealogies also do not trace the ancestry through the much-disputed line back to Hai Gaon and thence to the Exilarchs and King Solomon. Rather they state descent from Yehudah Hanassi, without listing the intervening generations.

The problem of the ancestry of the Maharal of Prague was debated on Jewishgen in 2002 when Daniel Polakovic, of the Jewish Museum in Prague posted the following:

There was a great discussion on this forum about the reliability of Perles's book "Megillat Yuhasin" on the roots of the MaHaRaL of Prague. One of the problematic points was a gravestone of "his relative" Yehuda Loeb the Elder. Since I work in the Jewish museum of Prague, I've had access to the archives of the Prague Hevra Kadisha from the 17th-20th century. Among these documents are the transcriptions of the gravestones of the old Jewish Cemetery of Prague. I've done this repeatedly and so far about 12,000 gravestones have been copied.Naturally, the gravestone of Rabbi Yehuda Loeb "the Elder" mentioned by Perles was found, and it still stands up to present time. The inscription is almost identical with Perles's version except for the dating (not 1440 but 1540) and the last line of the gravestone which was romantically improved for this purpose (a passage about the descendant of Davidic royal dynasty). I assume that these lines in Perles's book aren't his alone, but only the addition from the beginning of the 19th century (probably of Polish origin), because this book was not edited for the first time until 1864.
The photo of the above mentioned gravestone is available for inspection at It originated from the 1950s, at that time a full setof pictures of gravestones from this cemetery were taken”

Figure 1. Tombstone of Rabbi Yehudah Leib (Liwai) the Elder in the ancient cemetery in Prague.

The year is partially obscured by vegetation so Polakovic excavated the base of the tombstone to reveal the essential line where the date can be seen clearly:

The date on the bottom line is "shin" (the Hebrew year 5300) which corresponds to1539/40, The inscription is identical with that copied by Muneles in his book in 1955[iii].

Some Important Facts:

The Maharal died in 1609 at the age of 97 or 87 [iv]. Thus he was born about 1512 or 1522.
He was born in Posen, not Prague. His father Betzalel and grandfather Chaim lived in Worms as did his uncle Yaakov. Neither his father nor grandfather is buried in Prague.

Someone named Yehudah Leib the Elder died in Prague in 1539. His tombstone includes the inscription "descended from Yishai", which was the name of King David’s father.

Perels wrote a genealogy of the Maharal in 1727, that is, 118 years after the Maharal’s death. The book was published in Zolkiew, Poland, but not until 1853 (and then in Warsaw in 1864).

Perels wrote that Chaim, the grandfather of the Maharal, Khaim was a grandson of the above Yehudah Leib the Elder who was buried in Prague, and that, therefore, the descent of the Maharal's family from King David was proven by the inscription on Yehudah Leib the Elder’s tombstone.

Figure 2. Megilat Yukhsin by Meir Perels.


There was one man who was called Reb Chaim Worms. And he lived in the Holy Community of Virmeiza[v]. And the man was Kosher and a famous righteous one. And the head of his line of descent was his father’s father. He was called by his name Reb Yehuda Livai the Elder[vi] and on the stone tablet of his tombstone is engraved this language. Our teacher the Rabbi Reb Yehuda Livai and this is to Yehudah. To Torah and certification. Wise of the secrets. Uprooter of mountains and cedars. Proficient in Shas[vii] of the Talmud. And there was nobody to be found in the entire world in sharpness and proficiency and memory. And he is of the trunk of the pedigreed Geonim[viii] whose lineage is from David the son of Yishai. And the rest of the titles which are written about him I did not want to copy. And he was called to the dwelling above in the year five thousand and two hundred[ix] of the Creation. And to this day the above tombstone is in the Holy Community of Prague in the House of Life[x]. And his grandson Reb Chaim had three very important sons Reb Betzalel and Reb Yaakov and Reb Helman.

The date given by Perels is incorrect. Muneles and Polakovic found that the date of death on the Yehudah Leib’s tombstone was in the month of Kheshvan in the year "shin" (5300) not "resh" (5200) as claimed by Perels. That is 1539 not 1440.

Muneles copied the inscription as he saw it before he published his book in 1955[xi].

Figure 3. Transcription by Muneles of the tombstone in Prague of Rabbi Yehudah Leib the Elder

Our Teacher the Rabbi Reb Liva
A lion’s whelp of Yehudah: In Torah and certification: He was engaged in them all his days: Charity he gave to the poor of his nation: And he was of the trunk of the Geonim: His deeds were fitting: Wise of the secrets: He was proficient in the six orders
[xii]: He departed at a ripe old age” ….. about him …. Will drop ….. Yishai….Cheshvan Shin[xiii] according to the lower detail[xiv]. May his soul be bound up in the bond of life.

Muneles claims that Perels’ book raises many doubts, because of the date discrepancy with the existing stone and because its location is in an area that did not belong to the cemetery in 1439/40. Further evidence arises from David Gans’ book Tzemakh David (1543) in which Gans writes that he saw the tombstone of Avigdor Kara. Since Kara’s tombstone is located next to that of Yehuda Liva and since Gans took a particular interest in the Maharal of Prague, one might expect Gans to comment on the adjacent tombstone of Yehuda Liva if he believed that Liva was an ancestor of the Maharal.

Shlomo Englard, an authority on critical rabbinic genealogical evaluation, also questioned the authenticity of Perels’ claims[xv]
Translation of Englard’s article:
“In all the genealogies which are in our hands the Maharal of Prague is descended from his grandfather[xvi] Our Teacher the Rabbi Reb Livai the Elder of Prague, who was of the trunk of the Geonim whose lineage was from David the son of Yishai. There are those who added (on their own authority) that his lineage goes back to Reb Hai Gaon the son of Sherira Gaon, whose lineage goes back to the kingdom of the House of David. Great doubt should be cast upon this.”

Englard quotes the claim of Perels, noting that it was not published until 1853.

“In these lines Rabbi Perels connects the lineage of the Maharal of Prague to Yehuda Livai the Elder and upwards in holiness to King David of blessed memory. Thenceforth all the genealogies copied [Perels].”

Englard further states that the tombstone referred to by Perels still stands in the ancient cemetery of Prague, and the inscription is quoted in Gal Ed[xvii] and in Muneles’ book on the inscriptions in the Prague cemetery[xviii], with certain variations from Perels’ transcription. Botyhbooks quote the year “Shin” [1539] and not “resh” [1439/1440] as claimed by Perels, the critical discrepancy. Muneles points out that the section of the cemetery where the tombstone stands was not part of that cemetery in the year 1440. Englard draws the conclusion that the Maharal, whose name was Yehudah Leib (or Liva) was aged either 97 or 87 when he died in 1609, and therefore born well before Yehudah Leib the Elder died. Since they bore the same personal name, and since Ashkenazi Jewish naming practice forbids the naming of a child after a living ancestor, then the Maharal could not have been descended from Yehudah Leib the Elder.

Englard debates Muneles’ claims as to the reason Perels erred in the year 1439, doubting that it was done deliberately in order to connect the Maharal’s family with Prague and with King David. Perels was a noted scholar and official of the community, and he would not have dared to perpetrate such a forgery, since it could be checked at any time by anyone who visited the cemetery. Englard surmises that Perels either erred in his transcription or received a copy from some other person. Englard further propounds that Perels heard of a tradition that the Maharal was descended from someone called Yehudah Leib who lived a considerable time earlier and presumed that this forebear was the so called Yehudah Leib the Elder. A further discrepancy in Perels’ transcription is that the tombstone recorded descent from David the son of Yishai. Examination of the tombstone will see reference to “Geonim”[xix] and then an area of the tombstone which is damaged and mostly illegible, with only the word “Yishai” discernable”. But perhaps the words preceding “Yishai” were discernable in Perels’ time.

However close examination of the photograph after Polakovoc's excavation shows that the word is not "Yishai" at all, put the end of the word "Khamishi", the Hebrew for the fifth day, namely Thursday. This is followed by the date 25th of Kheshvan.

Englard continues with his critique of the Maharal claim to Davidic descent by drawing attention to later works that incorrectly claimed that all the generations prior to Yehudah Leib the Elder were known back to Hai Gaon. Prominent among these works is Weinstok’s Mekor Niftakh Lebeit David[xx] [A source opening to the House of David] and Shapira’s “Mishpekhot Atikot Beyisarel [Ancient Families in Israel][xxi]. All modern genealogists have accepted these incorrect claims which Englard suggests may have been fabricated by some unknown writer. The names linking Hai Gaon with Yehudah Liva the Elder first appeared in Kol Beramah (Jerusalem 1911).

In another article [Tsfunot #11) Englard quotes from Beit Aharon (Berlin 1829) the genealogy of Rabbi Mirels of Shwerin which says: “On his mother’s side the Gaon Reb Leib (of Krakow) was a grandson of the Gaon Maharal of Prague who was of the family of Rashi and Rabbi Yokhanan the Sandlar.

Figure 4. Extract from an article by Englard.

This source shows that even prior to the publication of Perels’ genealogy in 1853, traditions existed of the Maharal’s descent from the House of David, not through Yehudah Leib the Elder or Hai Gaon, but through Rashi (1040-1105) and his ancestor Yokhanan the Sandlar (died 140 C.E.). Yokhanan was a descendant of House of Hillel as was Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi, who Beilinsohn and others also claimed was the Maharal’s ancestor.

Proof of the date of death of Yehuda Leib the Elder already appeared in Gal Ed[xxii] by Lieben published in Prague in 1856. A chronological list of tombstones does not include a Liwa or (Yehudah Leib) in the year “resh” (1439/40)

Figure 5. Gal Ed, Lieben, Prague, 1856, chronological list of tombstones.

However there is a “R. Lowe” listed who died in the year “Shin” (1539).

Biographical notes about the Maharal of Prague (#8 on page 2 of Gal Ed) refer to: “Jehuda son of Betzalel son of Chaim”. No mention is made of Chaim’s parentage or ancestry , as he might have been expected to do if he knew any earlier names, such as Yehudah Leib the Elder.

Figure 6. Gal Ed, Lieben, Prague, 1856. Biographical notes about the Maharal of Prague.

The Maharal held the position of Landesrabbiner of all Moravia from 1553. Therefore, even if his date of birth (c.1522) might be claimed to be wrong, such that he might have been born after the alleged death of Yehudah Leib Hazaken in 1539, the Maharal would then have been aged 13, and would have been too young to hold such a position.

Brief details of “Lowe” are given #53 on page 37 of Gal Ed

Figure 7. Gal Ed, Lieben, Prague, 1856. Biographical notes about Rabbi Yehudah Leib (Lowe) the Elder.

No connection is claimed with the Maharal, and that part of Lowe’s tombstone claimed to indicate Davidic descent, is not mentioned. But he Lowe is described as “learned and descended from famous rabbis”.

Perhaps the family of the Maharal had a tradition they were descended from King David, and this tradition existed before Moshe Perels wrote his genealogy of the Maharal in 1727. The family did not know the details of the generations prior to the Maharal's grandfather Chaim of Worms. It is possible that it was known that the Maharal was named after an ancestor called Yehudah Leib. When Perels wrote his genealogy of the Maharal, he sought ancestors in the Prague cemetery and assumed that Yehudah Leib the Elder was an ancestor of the Maharal.

Possibilities for Perel’s error

Perhaps Perels saw the tombstone during a visit to the cemetery, but did not copy the exact details of the inscription. Later he may have sent somebody to copy the tombstone and that person erred in the date. Possibly the lowest line of the tombstone where the date appears was partially covered in mud thus obscuring part of the letter shin (1539), and what remained visible of the letter was misread as resh (1439), thus allowing, according to Perels, the possibility that Yehudah Leib the Elder was an ancestor of Yehudah Leib the Maharal, which could not be so had Perels read the date as shin (1539).

Evidence of a tradition of Davidic descent can be found in several sources that apparently were unaware of Perels’ incorrect claim.

The earliest of these sources dates from 1851:

Figure 8. Megilat Yukhsin , Beilinsohn, Moshe Eliezer, Odessa 1851[xxiii]

Yehuda Liva son of Reb Betzalel, called by the scholars Maharal of Prague and his lineage is until the holy Tanna Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi of blessed memory.

This lineage is repeated in a source from 1863

Figure 9. Megilat Yukhsin , Beilinsohn, Moshe Eliezer, Odessa 1863 [xxiv]
the authorized Gaon and head of all the children of the Exile, the G-dly man, Marana Yehuda Liva son of Reb Betzalel son of Reb Chaim, known by the scholars, and his lineage is until the holy Tanna Reb Yehuda Hanassi of blessed memory as explained in the book Marot Hatzovot[xxv], and Arkhei Hakinuim[xxvi] – and until King David, peace be unto him.

Figure 10. Zikhron Lemoshe Moshe Rashkes, Odessa 1873.

Translation of last few lines:
Tzvi Saba son of Yosef Yoshke, Av Beit Din of Lublin, grandson of the great eagle, the absolute Gaon, head of the Exile, marana[xxvii] Liva son of Betzalel, of blessed and holy memory, known by the name Maharal from Prague. And his lineage is from the holy Tanna Reb Yehudah Hanassi as explained in the books Arkhei Hakinuim, Marot Tzovot.

Rashkes’ terminology seems almost identical to that used by his relative Beilinsohn in his 1851 and 1863 genealogies. Notable by his absence is the so-called Yehudah-Leib (Livai) the Elder. It seems, therefore that neither Beilinsohn nor Rashkes were aware of Perels’ book published in 1853 and 1864. Yet they were aware, independently, of a tradition of descent of the Maharal from King David through Yehudah Hanassi, the editor of the Mishnah.

In the genealogies he published after 1893, however, Beilinsohn changed his story and introduced Yehuda Leib the Elder as the grandfather of Chaim of Worms. He gives Yehuda Leib’s date of death as the year resh (1439)

For example:

Figure 11. Megilat Yukhsin of the Aleksandrov Family , Beilinsohn, Moshe Eliezer, Odessa 1893

Translation of last few lines:
Yosef Yoshke, Av Beit Din of Lublin, descendant of the great eagle the authoritative Gaon, the G-dly head of all the exile, Marana ve rabana Yehuda Liva son of Betzalel, Av Beit Din of all the kingdom of Moravia and Prague ……..known as the Maharal from Prague of blessed memory, son of the Rabbi Khaim of Vermeisa of blessed memory, grandson of the Gaon, nobleman of the Torah, Marana Yehuda Livai of Vermeisa, of blessed memory, died in Prague in the year Resh, and his lineage goes back to the holy Tanna rabeinu Yehuda Hanassi who is descended from the house of our lord David the King…

Note that although Beilinsohn accepts Perels’ incorrect version, Beilinsohn still maintains that descent from King David was through Yehudah Hanassi and not Hai Gaon, the erroneous (or fraudulent) genealogy given by Weinstok.

Requirement for Further research

Further research that might clarify the descent of the Maharal should include books written by close relatives of the Maharal to ascertain whether they referred to their ancestry from King David. Books researched so far by this author include many of the Maharal’s books as well as two books written by his brother Chaim Igeret Hatiyul (published in Lemberg in 1864) and Sefer Hakhaim. None of these works refer to the ancestry of the authors. Nor does the extensive inscription on the tombstone of the Maharal in the Prague cemetery.


Perels’ error in the date of death of Yehudah Leib the Elder does not necessarily eliminate the possibility that the Maharal descended from King David, in some way other than through the so-called Yehudah Leib the Elder. Many indicators point to a tradition of descent from Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi, of the House of Hillel, who descended from King David’s son Shefatiah, and not through Hai Gaon who was descended from King Solomon. Unfortunately the names of the Maharal’s ancestors between his grandfather Chaim of Worms and Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi are not recorded in any known source.


1. Rabbi Shlomo Englard of Bnei Brak, Israel. A descendant of prominent rabbinical families, Rabbi Englard has devoted his scholarly research to the task of verifying traditional lines of descent of the famous rabbinical families. To this purpose he has reanalyzed the sources quoted by the authors of rabbinical genealogies as the basis for the lines of descent presented by them. Englard has checked these claims through independent research of additional sources. Painstaking comparison and analysis of rare texts, rabbinical compositions, recorded tombstone inscriptions have led Englard to conclude that the some of classical “ authorities” erred in confusing the identities of rabbis of the same name; used invalid dates of birth and death, which are incompatible with calculated historical time frames, and presented material which conflicts with facts presented in other verifiable sources.

Englard has published the results of his research in a number of articles in the journal Tsfunot. See the article about by Neil Rosenstein “Englard’s Articles on Questions in Rabbinic Genealogy”, Avotaynu, Volume XII, Number 1, Spring 1996.

2. Beilinsohn, Moshe Eliezer, author of Megilat Yukhsin, Shelomei Emunei Yisrael
a series of booklets published in Odessa from 1851 until the early 1900’s providing very detailed genealogical material for mainly Belarus rabbinical families. Since the author included all the members of a family known to him, this is a valuable source not only for rabbis, but also for their non-rabbinic descendants.

Principle families include Heilprin, Luria, Beilinson, Katz, Maharal of Prague, Raskin, Gunzburg, Mirkin, Rozenberg, Reichenstein, Dubnov, Tumarkin, Vilda, Kisin, Alexandrov, Margolis, Simchovitch, Ettinger, Brauda, Sirkin, Frumkin, Kazarnovsky, Freides, Zeitlin.

3. Muneles, Otto author of Ketovot Mibeit Ha'almin Hayehudi Ha'atic Beprag (Inscriptions in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Prague), Jerusalem 1988.
Muneles, who lived in Prague wrote his book in Czech, Hebrew and German versions. The Czech version was published in 1955. The Hebrew version was smuggled out of Czechoslovakia to Israel in 1966, shortly before Muneles died. But it remained unpublished until 1988.

[i] Yehudah Leib is one of the many extant variant spellings of his name. Other authors refer to him as Liwai, Liva, Loew, Loeb.
[ii] Megilat Yukhsin, Perels, Meir, written 1727 , or 1717 in Prague, and first published in 1853 in Zolkiev and again by Noakh Chaim Levin in Warsaw in 1864.
[iii] Muneles, Otto, Jerusalem 1988 Ketovot Mibeit Ha'almin Hayehudi Ha'atic Beprag (Inscriptions in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Prague).
[iv] Shem Vesheerit Katz, Krakow, 1895, page 9. Dor Yesharim. Katz, Berdichev, 1898, page 28.
[v] Virmeisa is a variant form of the town Worms in the Rhineland, Germany.
[vi] In Hebrew “Hazaken”.
[vii] Shas - acrostic for the six orders of the Mishnah
[viii] Geonim – Talmudic sages.
[ix] Resh = 1439/1440, depending on the month. From Muneles transcript of the tombstone and its photograph, it is known that the month was Cheshvan. Therefore the year “resh” corresponded to 1439.
[x] Cemetery.
[xi] Muneles, Otto, Jerusalem 1988 Ketovot Mibeit Ha'almin Hayehudi Ha'atic Beprag (Inscriptions in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Prague).
[xii] Six orders of the Mishnah..
[xiii] Five thousand two hundred = 1539.
[xiv] Abbreviation commonly found on tombstones whereby the letter “Hei” , five thousand is left of the date.
[xv] Tsfunot #12" reprinted in England's collection of his articles, Bnei Brak 2004.
[xvi] General term for `ancestor’ and not necessarily `grandfather’.
[xvii] Gal Ed, Lieben, Koppelmann, Prague 1856.
[xviii] Muneles, Otto, Jerusalem 1988 Ketovot Mibeit Ha'almin Hayehudi Ha'atic Beprag (Inscriptions in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Prague).
[xix] Geonim – Talmudic sages.
[xx] Makor Niftakh Lebeit David. Weinstok, Moshe Yair. Israel 1969.
[xxi] Mishpakhot Atikot Beyisreal [Ancient Families in Israel]. Shapira, Yaakov Leib, Israel 1981.
[xxii] Gal Ed Lieben, Koppelmann, Prague 1856
[xxiii] Manuscript provided by Rabbi Shlomo Englard.
[xxiv] Printed version of the same genealogy, held by the great-grandfather of the late Rabbi Shmuel Gorr.
[xxv] Marot Hatzovot, Moshe Zeev Wolf of Tiktin and Bialystok, Grodno 1810.
[xxvi] Arkhei Hakinuim, Yekhiel Heilprin, author of Seder Hadorot. 1769.
[xxvii] Marana – a term of honor.

The Chacham Tzvi - was he descended from King David ?

The Chacham Tzvi – was he descended from King David ?

Chaim Freedman, Petah Tikvah, Israel, January 2006.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Ashkenzy, 1660-1718, known as the “Chacham Tzvi”, was the son of Rabbi Yaakov Ashkenazy, a son of Rabbi Benyamin Zev Zak of Vilna.

Yaakov Ashkenazy was married to Nechamah, the daughter of Rabbi Efraim Hakohen of Vilna, the author of “Shaarei Efraim”.

Several books claim that the wife of Benyamin Zak was a daughter of Rabbi Yaakov of Lublin, the father of Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel, known as “Reb Heshel of Krakow”.

If this was so, then the Chacham Tzvi would be descended from Rashi and thence from King David through Yaakov of Lublin’s relationships with various families of Rashi Descent.

Rabbi Shlomo Englard (Bnei Brak, Israel), an authority on Rabbinic genealogy, specialising in identifying errors in printed genealogies, disputes the claim that the Chacham Tzvi’s
paternal grandfather was a daughter of Yaakov of Lublin. Englard presents convincing and decisive arguments to support his claim.

Another claim which might have provided the Chacham Tzvi with Davidic descent is that his maternal grandfather, Efraim Hakohen was descended from Efraim Fishel a son-in-law of Rabbi Shlomo Luria the “Maharshal” who was descended from Rashi. Englard denies this relationship.

The wife of the Chacham Tzvi, Sarah, was a daughter of Rabbi Meshullum Zalmen Mirels Neumark. An erroneous claim by several genealogists was that a female ancestor of Meshullum Zalmen’s was a daughter of Rabbi Efraim Zalmen Schorr, whose wife was a Katzenellenbogen and thereby of Rashi and Davidic descent. Englard brings evidence to disprove this claim.

One source, “Elef Margaliot” by Rabbi Meir Wunder includes a genealogical table of the Mirels-Neumark-Teomim-Frankel family indicating descent from Rashi. However no evidence of this claim is presented.

Englard published his arguments in “Tzfunot” #13 and in a collection of his articles published by Tzfunot Yuchsin Institute, Summer 2004.

I have checked Englards sources and researched over twenty books which include details of the personalities referred to above. My conclusions agree with Englard and I can see no way by which the Chacham Tzvi or his wife were descendants of Rashi and King David. Furthuremore I have seen no such claim by his descendants in the books which they wrote, for example the Chacham Tzvi’s son Rabbi Yaakov Emden (the “Yavetz”).

Of course, it is highly likely that all Ashkenazy Jews are descended from Rashi, as well as all Jews living in Germany and France at Rashi’s time. This is based on mathematical calculations of probability.

The descendants of the Chacham Tzvi might be consoled by what the Baal Shem Tov is claimed to have said about the family: that they are one of the three families who are “clean” generation after generation. (“Binyan Ariel” P. Mayers, Haag, Holland, published in Jerusalem in 2005).