Photo Credit: Israel Mizrahi

A nice find I had this week was a first edition of the Responsa of Chacham Zvi, published in Amsterdam in 1712. R. Tzvi Hirsch Ashkenazi (1656-1718), known as the Chacham Tzvi, was a prominent rabbi and rabbinical authority of his era, having lived in many different communities in Europe and serving in the rabbinate in different locales along the way. In his introduction he writes of the many troubles that befell him, starting with his having narrowly escaped his home in Alt-Ofen during wartime, leaving behind his books, belongings and worldly possessions. In 1686, Alt-Ofen was invaded by the Austrian army, and R. Tzvi Ashkenazi’s young wife and his daughter were killed by a cannon shot. He then found himself rabbi in Bosnia (then under the Ottomans), followed by Altona and Hamburg. After this he served as rabbi in Amsterdam, where his attacks on Nechemiah Chayun (accusing him of apostasy) raised the ire of the local community leadership and he was forced to flee, this time to London.

In the introduction to the first edition, Chacham Zvi writes of the city of Amsterdam: “The great city of Amsterdam, has business dealings with all the countries of the world. It is a city great in the crafts and intellectualism, its people intelligent and expert craftsmen. Particularly the art of printing, printing such as that of this city does not exist in the entire world. I feel that now I have finally arrived in the place where I shall print my book.” The Responsa is indeed a fine printing and the Amsterdam paper is of the highest quality.


In responsa 93 of this volume we find a fascinating answer, often quoted due its applicability in the age of robots and computers. The author writes that his ancestor, Rav Eliyahu Ba’al Shem of Chelm (1550-1583) created a human-like being (a golem) using the Sefer Yetzirah. Chacham Tzvi discusses the ability of a golem to participate in mitzvot, such as being counted for a minyan. He supposes that, being that it is created by a tzaddik and considered as the tzaddik’s offspring, perhaps it should be considered like an offspring child of a Jew.


Previous articleThe War On Truth
Next articlee-Edition: July 22, 2022
Israel Mizrahi is the owner of Mizrahi Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY, and He can be reached at [email protected].