Yom Tov Lipmann ben Nathan Heller (1578–1654)
Megillat Eivah (Scroll of Adversity)
Copy by Solomon ben Abraham Plohn
Acquired through a transfer from the Jewish Museum's depository
The first of September 2014 (6 Elul 5414) marks the 360th anniversary of the death of Yom Tov Lipmann Heller, one of the most important rabbis of the 17th century.
Heller was born in Wallerstein, Bavaria, in 1578, soon becoming an orphan. He was an exceptionally gifted student (the pupil of Jacob Ulma-Günzburg) and married into the prominent Prague Munk-Horowitz family whose privilege enabled him to become a rabbinical judge at the early age of 18. During the internal political struggles of the mid-1620s, Heller switched to the party of Jacob Bassevi, a rival of Munk's party, and with his help later became Chief Rabbi of Moravia, Vienna and, in 1627, of Prague. Heller angered a portion of the community by supporting Bassevi's ruthless policies. In 1629 his enemies falsely accused him of blasphemy against the Catholic religion. He was arrested in Prague and then sent to Vienna, where he was imprisoned for several weeks and given a high fine. Subsequently accused of circumventing the state's jurisdiction, he was also dismissed from office. Heller left the Habsburg Monarchy and served as rabbi in the Ukrainian communities of Nemirow and Ludmir. In 1644 he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Cracow.
Heller was an outstanding expert not only on religious law, but also on philosophy, mysticism and natural science. His key work is Tosefot Yom Tov (The Additions of Yom Tov), a commentary on the Mishnah. His liturgical poetry is also highly praised. Heller described his experiences with particular focus on his work in Prague and on the Vienna trial in the book Megillat Eivah (Scroll of Adversity). Heller's descendants were obliged to read this scroll on the anniversary of his release from prison. In the following centuries, the need to fulfil this duty led to numerous copies being made of his book – including a Prague manuscript written by the wine merchant Solomon Plohn (1706-1784). The first printed edition of the book dates from 1837.
Inv. no. JMP 170.185 (MS 25)
Manuscript and pen-and-ink drawing on paper, 23 ff.
Open book, 195 x 330 mm