Yom Tov Lippmann Heller (Tosafos Yom Tov)
(1579 - 1654)
The author of one of the classic commentaries on
the Tosafos Yom Tov, Rabbi Yom Tov Lippmann Heller, was
a yasom, an orphan from his father, from birth in the City
of Wallerstein in the German Province of Bavaria, and was raised by
his grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Wallerstein. As a young man, he studied
under both Rabbi Yehudah Loewe
(the Maharal) and Rabbi Ephraim Luntchitz (the Kli
Yakar), of Prague
commentary was written in the first part of the seventeenth century,
a century in which the spirit of learning was rising in the world after
the Dark Ages, but the Jewish People would still have to suffer much
oppression from their neighbors.
In 1624, he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Vienna.
Earlier he had served for twenty-eight years as a dayan,
a judge in matters of Jewish Law, in Prague, and for a short time as
the Rabbi of Nikolsburg in Moravia. He was chosen to be Chief Rabbi
of Prague in 1627, following in the tradition of his great teachers,
the Maharal and the Kli Yakar.
As a result of the costs of the Thirty Years
War, the Jews of Prague were assessed a huge tax of forty thousand thalers
(it is likely that the thaler was an antecedent of the American
dollar). The rabbi, in an effort to be fair, assessed the
rich citizens of Prague considerably more than their less affluent neighbors,
which did not please the wealthier and more influential group. The richest
among them, along with several co-horts and members of the government
and the Church, agreed on a plan to frame the Rabbi.
It was falsely alleged that Rabbi Heller had defamed
Christianity in his works Maadanei Melech and Lechem
Chamudos. A mock trial was held, in which the Rabbi more than
held his own, so that the death sentence that was the usual penalty
for such crimes was commuted to a prison sentence for the Rabbi and
expulsion for the Jewish Community, except for the Chief Accuser who,
as mentioned above, was himself Jewish. Through the efforts of various
diplomatic channels set into motion by his son, Rabbi Heller was released
from prison and the edict of expulsion against the community was rescinded.
For all of his future descendants, the Tosafos Yom Tov decreed
a fast day on the anniversary of his imprisonment. In Megilas Eivah
(The Megila of Hatred), a parallel name to Megilas Eichah,
that describes the tragedy that befell Yerushalayim, Rabbi Yom Tov Lippmann
Heller describes his own bitter experience.
After a confinement of forty days, Rabbi Heller was
released from prison. On Rosh Chodesh Iyar, Rabbi Yom Tov was offered
the position of Rabbi in the town of Ludmir. After accepting that position,
he turned his attention to another problem. Unworthy candidates were
purchasing rabbinical positions from local princes. There was a standing
ban against this practice but the ban was breaking down. The Rav became
an active participant in a rabbinical convention known as the Vaad
Arba HaAratzos, The Council of the Four Lands, and the ban was
renewed and intensified. This active involvement threatened to place
Rabbi Yom Tov in jeopardy again. But this time his fortune changed for
In 1643, he was offered the position of Rabbi of Krakow,
succeeding Rabbi Yoel Sirkus (the Bach). He also joined
the author of the Pnei Yehoshua as co-Rosh Yeshivah of the
Yeshiva of Krakow, a position that was among the highest in the Jewish
world at that time. The Tosafos Yom Tov decreed upon his
descendants that they celebrate the anniversary of his election to the
Rabbinate of Krakow as a holiday.
The Chmielnicki Massacres of Tach VTat
(1648-1649) produced many agunos, women whose husbands were
missing with none to testify as to the actual death. Rabbi Heller did
all that he could to find ways that they could re-marry.
As mentioned at the beginning, the most famous of his
writings was a commentary on all of the Mishnah,
in which he incorporated his vast knowledge of the Talmud to clarify the meaning of the more concise Mishnah. This commentary
is called Tosafos Yom Tov, after his name, with the incorporation
of Tosafos, because he viewed the role of his commentary
to the Mishnah as analogous to the role of the Baalei HaTosafos
in relation to Rashi and
A few of the other sefarim that he wrote were Tzuras
HaBayis, a description of the Third Temple as found in the Book
of Yechezkel, and a two-part commentary on the works of the Rosh, Maadanei
Melech and Lechem Chamudos, innocent enough in design
but serious enough when their contents were distorted, to nearly cost
him his life and expulsion for the entire Jewish community.
The Tosafos Yom Tov was niftar in Krakow
in 1654. Among his many outstanding descendants was Rabbi Aryeh Leib
HaKohen, the Ketzos HaChoshen.