Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipmann Heller (1579–1654), best known for his Tosfot Yom Tov commentary on the Mishnah, was a leading rabbinic leader and author in the 17th century, though his life was hardly an easy or peaceful one. This week, I acquired one of his published volumes, titled Ma’adane Melech, a halachic work which sheds insight into an episode that led to his arrest and near murder, ending with his eventual exile.
Born in Bavaria, R. Yom-Tov Lipmann Heller studied under the Maharal in Prague and by 1597, aged just 18, he was appointed a dayan in Prague. From 1627 until 1629, he was Chief Rabbi of Prague. In 1628, this volume was published in Prague. The title translates literally as “King’s Delicacies.” It was during this period that the Jews of Prague began suffering intensely from anti-Jewish decrees. On account of the Thirty Years’ War (an estimated 4.5 to 8 million soldiers and civilians died as a result), the government had imposed heavy taxes on the Jewish communities of Bohemia, including that of Prague, which had to pay a yearly tax of 40,000 thalers, an exorbitant amount.
Chief Rabbi Heller was tasked with collecting the fines from the local Jewish community, with the brunt of the cost being placed on the wealthier class of the community. This led to much friction and complaints from the rich merchants who felt they were being burdened disproportionately. Several of those took the rabbi to task personally and appealed directly to the local government, accusing the Chief Rabbi of being anti-Christianity. Some believe that Ma’adane Melech was used as evidence against him, as it was accused that this showed his aspirations to be a king and overthrow the local government.
Indeed, in all subsequent editions, the title of this book was changed to Ma’adane Yom Tov (“Yom Tov Delicacies”). Despite the Tosfot Yom Tov defending himself and dispelling the fabricated charges, he was sentenced to death. After intervention, the king agreed to impose a fine of 12,000 thalers instead. After negotiations it was reduced to 10,000 thalers (still a huge sum). Afterward the king declared that Rabbi Heller could no longer serve as a rabbi. After spending more than a month in prison, Rabbi Heller was released. He then spent two years paying off the fine. In 1631, Heller left Prague and spent the second part of his career in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
As a result of the persecution and accusations, the remaining copies of Ma’adane Yom Tov are generally heavily censored and in which terms such as Talmud, avodah zarah and Nochri, etc. were erased. This copy is unusual, though, in that it was not censored and bears no censor’s markings.