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Prossnitz, Judah Leib ben Jacob Holleschau

PROSSNITZ, JUDAH LEIB BEN JACOB HOLLESCHAU (c. 1670–1730), Shabbatean prophet. Born in Uhersky Brod, he settled in Prossnitz (Prostejov) after his marriage. An uneducated man, he made his living as a peddler. About 1696 he underwent a spiritual awakening and began to study the Mishnah, and later the Zohar and kabbalistic writings. Believing that he was visited by the souls of deceased, he claimed that he studied Kabbalah with Isaac *Luria and *Shabbetai Ẓevi. Whether his Shabbatean awakening was connected with the movement in Moravia around *Judah Ḥasid, Heshel *Ẓoref, and Ḥayyim *Malakh is still a matter of conjecture. Possibly he was won over by Ẓevi Hirsch b. Jerahmeel *Chotsh, who spent some time in Prossnitz in 1696. Judah Leib first turned to teaching children but later his followers in Prossnitz provided for him and his family. Taking up residence in the bet midrash of Prossnitz, he led a strictly ascetic life; he became generally known as Leibele Prossnitz. Before long he started to divulge kabbalistic and Shabbatean mysteries and to preach in public in the manner of a revivalist preacher (mokhi'aḥ). He found many adherents, his most important supporter for some years being Meir *Eisenstadt, a famous rabbinic authority who served as rabbi of Prossnitz from 1702. At the same time his Shabbatean propaganda, especially since it came from an uneducated lay mystic, aroused strong hostility in many critics. Between 1703 and 1705 he traveled through Moravia and Silesia, causing considerable agitation in the communities. Along with other Shabbatean leaders of this period, he prophesied the return of Shabbetai Ẓevi in 1706. His open Shabbatean propaganda led to clashes in Glogau and Breslau, where the rabbis threatened him with excommunication unless he returned to Prossnitz and stayed there. As 1706 approached his agitation reached a pitch. He assembled a group of 10 followers who studied with him and practiced extravagant mortifications.

Judah Leib was widely credited with magical practices connected with his attempts to bring to an end the dominion of *Samael and is reported to have sacrificed a chicken as a kind of bribe to the unclean powers. The facts concerning this and his promise to reveal the Shekhinah to some of his followers, including Eisenstadt, are shrouded in legend, but they contain some kernel of historical truth. Since by then he was widely considered by his foes to be a sorcerer, Eisenstadt left him and Prossnitz was put under a ban by the rabbinical court and sentenced to exile for three years; however, he was allowed to return after several months. He persisted at the head of a secret Shabbatean group in Prossnitz, again working as a children's teacher. Maintaining connections with other Shabbateans, in 1724 he tried to obtain the appointment of one of his closest followers, R. Sender, to the rabbinate of Mannheim (L. Loewenstein, Geschichte der Juden in der Kurpfalz (1895), 198–9). Jonathan *Eybeschuetz, a pupil of Meir Eisenstadt in Prossnitz for several years, is said to have studied secretly with Judah Leib, who was then propagating teachings close to the radical wing of Shabbateanism. Along with others in this group, he supported heretical teachings regarding divine providence. When Leib b. Ozer wrote his memoir on the state of Shabbateanism in 1717, Judah Leib was refraining from public manifestations of Shabbatean faith and was said to be working on a kabbalistic commentary on the Book of *Ruth. With the resurgence of Shabbatean activities in 1724, in the wake of the emissaries from Salonika, Judah Leib again appeared publicly on the scene, claiming to be the Messiah ben Joseph, the precursor of the Messiah ben David. Once more, he found many followers in Moravia and even in Vienna and Prague. Some of his letters to Eybeschuetz and Isaiah Mokhi'aḥ in Mannheim were found among the papers confiscated from Shabbatean emissaries. In the summer of 1725 Judah Leib was again excommunicated by the rabbis of Moravia in Nikolsburg (Mikulov) and after that led a vagrant life. When he came to Frankfurt on the Main in early 1726 he was not allowed to enter the Jewish quarter, but he was given material assistance by one of his secret supporters. His last years were reportedly spent in Hungary. Whereas the friendly contact between Judah Leib and Eybeschuetz is well established, there is no conclusive proof of Jacob *Emden's claim that Judah Leib saw Eybeschuetz as the future leader of the Shabbateans (J. Emden, Beit Yonatan ha-Sofer (Altona, 1762 (?), 1b), or that he would even be the Messiah after Shabbetai Ẓevi's apotheosis (Shevirat Luḥot ha-Aven (Zolkiew, 1755), 18b). After Judah Leib's death a strong group of Shabbateans survived in Prossnitz during the 18th century.


J. Emden, Torat ha-Kena'ot (Amsterdam, 1752), 34bf., 41a–42a; A. Neubauer, in: MGWJ, 36 (1887), 207–12; D. Kahana, Toledot ha-Mekubbalim ve-ha-Shabbeta'im, 2 (1914), 168–75, 184; M.A. Perlmutter (Anat), R. Yehonatan Eybeschuetz, Yaḥaso el ha-Shabbeta'ut (1947), 43–47; Chr. P. Loewe, Speculum Religionis Judaicae (1732), 80–82.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.