Many decades ago, the Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Kook, related a story that was more recently popularized in Rav Menachem Getz’s book, The Heavenly City.
The Blessing that was a Curse
One fine day, a Prussian Jewess told Rav Binyomin Diskin of Grodno (father of the Maharil Diskin of Brisk and Yerushalayim) the shocking story of her father’s past. In his earlier years, her father had eked out a painful living as a melamed in Lithuania. Then it was rumored that he became lax in Torah observance. Left with no parnossa, he fled to London, converted to Christianity, and authored the infamous Nesivos Olam (Ways of Old), a book whose sole purpose was to ridicule the Oral Torah.
Not long ago, her father had turned up at her door professing his regret at his past and begging for shelter under her roof. Shortly before his death, he had begged her and her husband to pray for his soul and to enlist a great rav to do the same.
Then her father revealed to her the source of his wickedness.
Her grandfather had been an avid supporter of Rav Yaakov Emden and even authored an inflammatory pamphlet against Rav Yonasan Eibshitz. On the day it was printed, which was also the day of her father’s bris, Rav Yaakov gave her father a blessing that he should grow up the opposite of Rav Yonasan. Tragically, Rav Yaakov’s blessing materialized and he indeed turned out to be the absolute opposite of the righteous Rav Yonasan.
What was the Ways of Old that he wrote in his evil years, and what was its purpose?
As pointed out in a 5745/1985 article on this subject, the instigator of the Ways of Old was the Anglican cleric Alexander McCaul (5549/1799-5623/1863) who had become interested in the Jews as a young man and was sent to Poland as a missionary by the ‘London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews.’ There he studied Hebrew and German at Warsaw and served as head of the mission to the Jews until 5590/1830. In later years he became professor of Hebrew and rabbinical literature at King’s College.
“The London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews” had been founded in 5569/1809 and functions until today as “The Church’s Ministry among Jewish People” (CMJ). Intriguingly, in addition to its general interest in converting Jews it also included an agenda of encouraging the physical restoration of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, so that in Eretz Yisroel, decades before the creation of any Jewish Zionist party, we had the same goal promulgated by an Anglican organization. The society first began its missionary work among the poor, vulnerable immigrants of London’s East End and later spread its activities worldwide.
Realizing the enormous power of the pen, the society disseminated tens-of-thou- sands of books and tracts yearly, none of them more notorious than the series of scurrilous pamphlets titled “The Ways of Old” that Alexander McCaul began publishing in January 5606/1836 and continued for sixty weeks.
Cannily aware that the root of Jewish continuity was the respect the Jewish masses held for rabbinic leadership, these pamphlets did their best to denigrate the Oral Law, hypocritically commiserating with the poor common Jew who was “forced” to bear the yoke of rabbinical law and interpretation. McCaul and his fellow society members hoped that once detached from their faithful shepherds, these Jews would fall like ripe fruit into the Church’s embrace.
The 5597/1837 collection of all the pamphlets states on its title page that it is “by the Rev. Alexander McCaul,” and so insisted his daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Finn, wife of the famous James Finn who served as British Consul in British Palestine.
McCaul had the book translated into Hebrew in 5599/1839, German in 5615/1855, and Yiddish in 5636/1876, and it became one of the most widely read and dangerously influential books of its time. As McCaul boasts in the introduction to his second edition of 0606/1846:
“Nine years have now elapsed since ‘The Old Paths’ appeared as a volume. They have been translated, in the meantime, into Hebrew, German, and French; and their merits discussed by the learned and unlearned of the Jewish people, in all the countries of their dispersion. The assembled rabbies (sic) at Brunswick and Frankfort have discussed topics similar to some treated in the ‘Old Paths,’ and in some cases come to similar conclusions. The Reform Societies of Germany have commenced a formidable attack upon the Oral Law, and a free discussion is now carried on in the numerous Jewish periodicals of that country.”
In other words, McCaul’s goals were concomitant with the Reform goal of distorting Judaism into a new, distorted paradigm.
Who translated the book into Hebrew? Although the Hebrew edition, Nesivos Olam is anonymous, a likely candidate for the job would be the Polish apostate Yechez- kel Stanislaw Hoga, who had a very similar history to that of the subject of Rav Kook’s story, and he produced various publications for the CMJ.
Born in Casimir, Poland, Hoga started out as a follower of the Chozeh of Lublin before becoming a Maskil and getting a job as chief censor of Jewish seforim in Warsaw. Then he was found guilty of bigamy and converted to Christianity to save his skin. Later he went to London and fought against Judaism.
By March 5607/1847, Hoga had repented his evil ways. This is evident from a letter published in the London “Jewish Chronicle” discussing an article by Hoga that explains why the term Elokim is no contradiction to monotheism. Later that year, the Tishrei 5608/1847 edition of Isaac Leeser’s “Occident” newspaper reported that Hoga was earnestly trying to repair the damage he had done through his missionary work.
“A very extraordinary advertisement appears in No. 79 of the “Jewish Chronicle,” issued by Stanislaus Hoga, proposing a ‘new Jewish monthly publication, in Hebrew and English, to be called Tzir Nee- man, The Faithful Missionary,” the “Occident” reports. “The program set forth, which occupies two columns and a half, promises an expose of operations of the ‘London Society for promoting Christianity among the Jews. It appears that this Mr. Hoga, who is admitted to be the greatest Hebrew scholar in England, was formerly in the employ of this society; but, either from conviction of his errors, or through some misunderstanding with his employers, he seems to have declared war against them, and promises to expose their machinations….’
“Besides this, he proposes to refute attacks against Judaism by professors of Christianity, and to explain the history and character of both. There is no doubt that this extraordinary publication, if it ever do come to anything, will create considerable agitation and alarm among the officers and dependents of the ‘London Society,’ whose situations will be jeopardized by some of the revelations promised to its patrons and supporters. The Jews will look on with some interest, and regard the affair as a ‘pretty quarrel as it stands.’”
However, a year later, in 5608/1848, the “Occident” reported that Hoga’s efforts to reinstate himself had so far failed. Apparently he was neither fish nor fowl; a violent enemy of his former missionary friends, he was still not behaving like an observant Jew.
“Hoga’s work has not continued since the first number,” the paper reported. “He was too violent against Christianity to win the honest Christian by his exposure of the doings of the ‘London Society,’ and too much a renegade to elicit patrons or partisans amongst the Jews, so that his project has to all appearance become a failure. He certainly makes a mistake if he thinks he can reinstate himself into the confidence or even fellowship of the Synagogue merely by displaying violent opposition to the Church. The Synagogue only recognizes one course for the repentant sinner, and that Mr. Hoga knows quite as well as the best of us.”
The last heard of Hoga’s fate was reported in the “Jewish Chronicle” of January 5667/1907 in the course of an interview with Reverend D.W. Marks of London.
“On the day before Passover, in the year 1848, he came to me, and begged that he might be allowed to come to the Seder,”
Rev. Marks stated. “He added, ‘I can bear the hypocrisy no longer, and henceforth I shall live as I was born, a Jew.’ ‘But what will you do for a living?’ I asked. ‘I shall starve,’ he said, ‘and that shall be my atonement.’
“Towards the end of 1849 I heard that Hoga was very ill… I went to see him. It was a bitter winter’s night. He lay in a garret on a truck bed. I shivered with cold and offered him money to purchase fuel. He refused to be warmed. Mrs. Marks sent him food and various comforts, but they were all returned. And so the wretched man died. Let us hope he atoned for his apostasy.”
Was Hoga the subject of Rav Kook’s story? As pointed out in the 5745/1985 article mentioned earlier, it seems difficult to make such an assertion. As the son of the Rav of Casimir in Poland and a follower of the Chozeh of Lublin in his younger years, Hoga would have had little to do with the conflict in far away Altona, and besides, Hoga was alive at the time of Rav Bin- yomin Diskin’s passing in 5604/1844.
It would thus seem that there may have been two apostates in London during the production of Days of Old, one of them Hoga, and the other the personage of Rav Kook’s story. Despite the protestations of McCaul and his daughter that McCaul wrote the book, Rav Kook’s story maintains that it was actually written by the unnamed apostate from Altona, while the Hebrew translation may well have been rendered by Hoga.
Both ultimately repented; one died miserably in London and the other in his daughter’s home.
(Sources: Leiman, Shnayer Z. “The Baal Teshuvah and the Emden-Eibeshuetz Controversy, ” Judaic Studies, Summer 1985. Onthemainline.blogspot.com).