(1550 - ?)
Judah HeChassid (the Pious) was
born around 1550 in Poland. He
was powerfully affected by the aftermath of the Shabbetai
Tzvi debacle. He believed that the dead Shabbetai
Tzvi was, in fact, the Messiah.
He expected his second appearance in 1706.
A charismatic and impressive
preacher, he traveled from community to community urging total
repentance, physical mortifications, and fasts. He was exactly the
kind of person the rabbis feared most after Shabbetai
Tzvi, and they watched him with great suspicion. Judah HeChassid
carefully kept his Shabbetean leanings a secret.
Part of Judah HeChassid's message
was that Jews should emigrate to the Land of Israel. Secretly, he was
preparing for the Second Coming of Shabbetai Tzvi. Externally, he was
encouraging Jews to resurrect the Holy Land. In 1697, he started off
with 31 families of scholars to await the Messianic revelation.
Early in 1699 they left Poland for Moravia and stopped for a long time at Nikolsburg, where
there were many Shabbateans. They received sympathy and support from
some rabbis and wealthy men in the communities, but some opposed them
and suspected Judah of being Shabbatean in secret. Emigrants from
numerous circles joined the group, influenced by Judah HeChassid's
Meanwhile, Judah HeChassid spent a
year traveling through Germany and Moravia gaining followers. By the
time the whole group gathered in Italy,
they numbered almost 1500.
They took two different routes: one
through Venice and one through Constantinole. It was a terrible
experience, and almost 500 people died on the trip.
They arrived in Jerusalem in on October 14, 1700 creating a variety of major crises. At that
time only about 200 Ashkenazic Jews lived in Jerusalem.
(There were about 1,000 Sephardic Jews.) The sudden influx of 1,000 Ashkenazic Jews created an economic crisis, because the Jerusalem community had no infrastructure or facilities to help such a large
group. Imagine doubling your population overnight! To make matters
worse, the new arrivals had contracted debts with their Arab guides
and had been forced to offer the Turkish authorities financial
guarantees from the local community in exchange for permission to
enter the country. The local community didn't have the money.
Moreover, the local Ashkenazic Jews were not Shabbateans, and they viewed the newcomers with great
hostility. They sent emissaries to the Council of the Four Lands for
aid to fight the Shabbeteans. Help didn't arrive, but there was
tremendous friction in Jerusalem.
To top off all these crises, Judah
HeChassid died within days of his arrival to Jerusalem,
thus depressing his followers
Matters got worse.
Arab creditors, fed up with waiting
for their money, broke into the Ashkenazi synagogue in 1720, set it
on fire, and took over the area. The Turkish authorities blamed Ashkenazic Jews for the mess. They refused to make a distinction between the Old
Jerusalem community and the newcomers. They banned Ashkenazic Jews from the area. Anyone who looked like an Ashkenazic Jews was held responsible for the debts.
The Ashkenazic community responded with typical creativity. Some moved to other
cities (mainly Hebron, Tiberius,
and Tzfat). Others carefully dressed
themselves in white and gold striped robes. Thus costumed, they
looked to the authorities like Sephardic Jews (although the Sephardic
Jews could tell the difference) and were not molested. They built a
small synagogue called Churvat Yehudah HeChassid, the Destroyed Place
of Judah HeChassid. That synagogue later became the chief Ashkenazic
synagogue in Jerusalem. Judah HeChassid's followers can still be
recognized in Jerusalem.
They continue to wear the white and gold striped robes of their
ancestors. They no longer have Shabbatean tendencies.
to Jewish Heritage