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Elchanan by legend the Jewish Pope (ben Simeon), אלחנן - האפיפיור היהודי

Nicknames: "Elchanan", "Elchanan ben Shimon HaGadol of Mainz", "by legend Pope Andreas"
Birthdate:
Birthplace: Baghdad, Baghdād, Iraq
Death: Died in Rome, Rome, Lazio, Italy
Immediate Family:

Son of Shimon HaGadol of Mainz and wife Shimon HaGadol of Mainz, אשת שמעון הגדול ממיינץ
Brother of Yosef Ben Shimon or Yizhak ben Abun Ben Shimon Abun, יוסף בן שמעון - סבו של רש"י; Abun ben Shimon? HaGadol of Mainz and Yehoshua ben Abun haGadol of Mainz

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About Elchanan by legend the Jewish Pope (ben Simeon), אלחנן - האפיפיור היהודי

Pope Andreas The legend first appears in print in 1602 in the Basle edition of the Yiddish Mayse Bukh. Four earlier Hebrew versions of the legend, written between the early fourteenth and the early sixteenth century, are preserved in manuscripts. Three of them occur within commentaries on the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah.

Some say that R' Shimon, the maternal uncle of Rashi, who is quoted several times in Rashi's Talmud commentary is the father of Elchanan, a Jewish child who, according to a legend which dates back at least 500 years, was kidnapped by his Christian babysitter and grew up in the Vatican to become the Pope.    Many of R' Shimon's liturgical compositions are part of our Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Yom Tov prayers.

Sources:

1. The Artscroll Rishonim, p.117;

2. Rashi to Shabbat 85b and Eruvin 42a;

3. Machzor Korban Aharon: Mavo Hapiyutim;

4. Notes to She'eilot U'teshuvot Rabbenu Gershom Me'or Hagolah, No.  32.  

Our thanks to R' Ephraim Kanarfogel shlita, Dean of Jewish Studies at Stern College and a noted historian, for additional information

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The morning prayers on Rosh HaShanah includes “Melech Amon Ma’amar’cha”. This piyut comprises a strange acrostic-: (For piyut see profile photo)

Rosh Hashana Prayer - “Melech Amon Ma’amar’cha”

Shimon son of Yitzchak, Elchanan my son

May he live for long days, for eternal life may he be inscribed. Amen, Selah.”

The explanation for this strange acrostic may be the popular story that R’Shimon’s son Elchanan was kidnapped and – without R’Shimon’s knowledge – was raised as a Christian. Eventually, unbeknownst to his father, he became pope. Once R’ shimon visited the pope to plead on behalf of the Jews, and in the course of the visit realized that his host was his long lost son. (Matzreif Dahava; see ArtScroll Rishonim, p. 118).

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“Inside every Christian is a Jew.” Pope Francis

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The story of Elchanan

Jewish Pope Andreas is a legend about a Jewish pope of uncertain accuracy. The 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia writes. "According to an old Spanish document discovered among some penitential liturgies by Eliezer ben Solomon Ashkenazi, the editor of "Ṭa'am Zeḳenim" (Frankfurt am Main, 1854), Andreas was a Jew who, upon becoming a Christian, distinguished himself so markedly as to become successively cardinal and then pope.

During his pontificate, it is alleged, a calumny was lodged against the Jews, as the result of which an outbreak of the persecutions of the Jews was imminent. At the critical moment, however, the pope appeared on the scene and, by delivering a speech in favor of the Jews, succeeded in subduing the popular passion. The Jews sent a delegation of their most prominent and taught men to bear to the pontiff the expression of their gratitude. In response, the pope handed to the delegates a Selichot, or penitential prayer, which he had composed in the sacred tongue, and which he now requested them to spread broadcast among all Jewish communities, and to have incorporated in their books of prayer. This they did. The prayer bore the pope's signature "Andreas," though in print one letter was inverted."

The legend is sometimes associated with Antipope Anacletus II or with Pope Alexander III, who apparently was well-disposed toward Jews.

The legend

The legend has been varied from source to source until it was accepted in its final form.

According to a Midrashic account, El-hanan, or Elhanan, a Jewish boy, the son of Simeon the Great, Rabbi Simeon hag-Gadol,(c. 950), is stolen on a Shabbat by a Christian maidservant at night while he is asleep in his bed. When he wakes up in an unfamiliar room, he is told his parents are dead. He is held prisoner in a monastery where he receives an ecclesiastical education and rises rapidly in hierarchic circles, until he becomes pope.

The Jewish Encyclopedia writes of the story: "All the while, however, he is perfectly cognizant of his origin and consanguinity, though the splendor and the majesty of his position keep him from disclosing his identity.

Finally he is overcome by a craving to see his father, to which end he promulgates an edict of persecution against the Jews of Magonza, being certain that the latter would send delegates to him to plead for its revocation, and that then Simeon, as one of the most prominent men of his community, would doubtless be found. The pope does not miscalculate. In due time the delegates of the Jews of Magonza, headed by Simeon, pope's father, arrive in Rome. Simeon questions the cause of the cruel edict; but his astonishment is increased when, upon being given audience, he detects in the pope a quite rare degree of Jewish knowledge. The pope, moreover, invites Simeon to call in the evening for the purpose of playing chess with him. During the game, Simeon, a noted chess-player, has great cause for wonderment as the pontiff uses a move that Simeon taught only his son El-hanan. The pope, unable to contain himself longer, puts the mask aside and embraces his father.

He is anxious to return to the religion of his fathers, and his resolve is strengthened as his father points out to him the Jewish doctrine concerning the regenerative power of repentance. Simeon then returns to Mayence, bearing with him a repeal of the edict, while Elhanan stays in Rome long enough to compose an anti-Christian dissertation, which he charges all his successors to peruse. He then flees to Mayence, where he lives as a pious Jew." His father Simon writes a hymn of gratitude for his son's return: El hanan nahalato nahalato be-no'am le-hashper: "God has dealt graciously" [= El hanan] with the name acrostic of both his son and himself. According to other versions, the pope leaps to his death. In Rome his fate remains forever unknown. Source

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The Jewish Pope -- There are a number of legends about a Jewish pope. One is connected with a poem incorporated into the morning prayers on Rosh HaShanah, “Melech Amon Ma’amar’cha, see profile photo.

For generations, a Jewish legend has been told concerning Elchanan the son of Rabbi Shimon of Mainz, which is both curious in its details and the fact that it has survived some 1000 years of oral transmission. Various versions exist, but all agree that there was a Jewish boy who was abducted and raised as a Christian, he became a priest and in time a pope, he learned or knew of his Jewish origins.

In Jewish versions he is thought to have been Elchanan, one of two sons of Rabbi Shimon ben Yitzchak ben Abun of Mainz, a 10th century liturgical poet and an associate of Rabbenu Gershom Me’or HaGolah, “The Light of the Exile”.

The stories involve the pope’s father coming to Rome to plead for anti-Jewish measures to be rescinded. Father and son recognise each other; some say the father describes his son’s birthmarks. Playing chess, both know distinctive moves which the father had taught his son. Perhaps they discuss the Bible and the pope offers interpretations which outsiders would not know.

In some versions the pope had deliberately imposed restrictions on the Jews, knowing that his father would be sent to Rome to intercede with him. In others the pope, obsessed with his Jewish background, summons his father to explain Judaism.

One narrative says that the pope disappears from Rome and returns to Mainz to his father’s house. Another is that, shocked at what he now thinks of as his own perfidy, he decides to perform an act of Kiddush HaShem and commits suicide.

Read the legend of Elchanan the Jewish Pope

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References:

1. The earliest version of this legend first appeared in the Mayse-bukh (Basle 1602)

2. Another version, “Rabbi Shimen Barbun oder der drayfakhiker troym” was produced by Vilna’s own best-selling writer Ayzik-Meir Dik (1814-1893) and was published by the house of Romm in Vilna in 1874.

3. In 1958, Y.Y. Trunk wrote, “Der yiddisher poypst: historisher dersteylung”.

4. Isaac Bashevis Singer in 1943 published his version of the myth.

5. Rabbi Eugene & Annette Labowitz , A Sacred Trust (Volume 1. 304 pages, ISBN 0-914615-12-2).

6. "The Jewish-Pope, A Yiddish Tale", by Yudel-Mark

7. "Elchanan: The Legend of a Jewish Pope", by George H. Handler

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Could Catholic Christianity have once been led by a Jew?

Vatican history and Jewish lore tell tales, some definitely tall ones and others more credible.

The idea that the highest figure in Catholic Christianity could be Jewish has been circling for millennia, intriguing both Jews and Christians. It was a thing of legend and a convenient accusation to rattle political rivals. But was there ever a Jewish pope?

Yes. Or rather, that depends how you define Jewish, and how you define pope.

St. Peter is clearly one of the most important figures in Christianity, but he was also a legendary figure among Jews, with a story spread among Medieval Jewry that Peter abandoned Christianity and returned to the religion of his ancestors before he died. According to this legend, he wrote the prayer “Nishmat Kol Chai.”

In the early days of Christianity, the two religions were not so rigidly distinct. It is true that from quite early on, most Christians were gentiles, that is - non-Jews. Still, many were ethnically Jewish. This has led to speculation that some of the early popes may have been Jewish. But it remains speculation as little is known about these early pontiffs.

One of the most likely candidates to be a “Jewish pope” is Pope Zosimus, a 5th century pope.

The theory is based on records showing that he came from Greece, which had a sizable Jewish community, and that his father was named Abram, which would have been an extremely unlikely name for a non-Jewish Greek. Still, that is all we know.

Jewish antipope?

Another candidate is Antipope Anacletus II. In the 11th century, a Jewish Roman apparently named Baruch, who had become rich and powerful, converted to Christianity. Pope Leo IX personally baptized Baruch as Leo de Benedicto. His son Peter Leo (Pierleone), further established the family as a powerful Roman patrician family, which from the next generation bore his name Pierleoni.

A day after Pope Honorius II died in 1130, a group of eight cardinals rushed to elect Cardinal Gregory Papareschi as his successor - Pope Innocent II. Later that day, the rest of the cardinals, scandalized by this underhanded attempt to steal the pontificate, elected a member of the Pierleoni family - Pietro Pierleoni, great grandson of Leo de Benedicto, as Pope Anacletus II.

Pope Innocent II fled Rome and went north, where he gained powerful allies. In the meanwhile, Anacletus II was the recognized Bishop of Rome, at least in Rome itself. Only after he died, almost eight years after ascending to the Throne of St. Peter, was a new pope elected. But he yielded the papacy to Pope Innocent II and Anacletus II was branded antipope.

The expulsion of Jews from Spain by the Alhambra Decree in 1492 was accompanied by a mass conversion of Jews to Christianity. A fear arouse among many Christians that some Jews were only converting outwardly to save their skins and property, but continuing to practice Judaism at home. Some feared that these crypto-Jews would rise in influence and gain authority in the Church, and destabilize Christianity. Thus the Spanish inquisition was formed to root out "secret Jews."

Lampooned as a Jew

Pope Alexander VI, the infamous Borgia Pope, was often lampooned as Jewish by his enemies, most notably by Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, who would later be Pope Julius II. Because the family was of Spanish origins coming from Valencia, the Borjas were often called Marranos, that is, Jewish converts to Christianity. The fact that Pope Alexander VI was friendly to the Jews and allowed Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 to settle in Rome didn’t help his reputation.

It is unlikely that the Borgias were Jews, but if they were the other Borgia pope - Pope Calixtus III - would have been Jewish too.

While Christians were fearing a Jewish pope, Jews started telling themselves stories of Jewish conversos who rose in Church ranks to and became Pope. These stories circulated in many variations, with the most common being the myth of Pope Andreas. According to one account of the story, a son of a wise rabbi is kidnapped by Christians and reared as a wise and pious Christian cleric, eventually becoming pope.

In one account of the story, Pope Andreas demands to learn his origins, and when one of his older underlings recounts the story of his early kidnapping, he sends for his father. After ascertaining that he was in fact his father, they talk theology and the Pope is persuaded that of the error of Christianity. He calls a convection of cardinals in which he repudiates the Christian faith and rejects the divinity of Jesus. Then he throws himself off a tower and dies. There is however no historical account of any such pope.

More recently, Aaron Lustiger, son of two Polish Jews who converted to Catholicism when he was 13 and baptized Jean-Marie Lustiger, rose up the ranks of the Catholic Church, eventually becoming cardinal. In 2005, after the death of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Lustiger's name came up as a potential candidate to succeed him.

Ultimately Cardinal Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger was elected and became Pope Benedict XVI. Lustiger died in 2007. Source

LEGENDS ABOUT A JEWISH POPE

There are a number of legends about a Jewish pope. One is connected with a poem incorporated into the morning prayers on Rosh HaShanah, “Melech Amon Ma’amar’cha”.

R’ Shimon b. Eliezer (HaGadol)

R’ Shimon HaGadol had a small son by the name of Elchanan who was kidnapped, made a priest and eventually rose to be- come Pope . . .(He questioned closely his subordinates regarding his genealogy, and they answered him) Our holy master, because you demand this of us we will tell you; you are a Jew. You were the son of a prominent Jewish leader and were kidnapped when yet young . . . The name of your father is R’ Shimon.

The Pope commanded them to bring his father from Germany, and they did so. R’ Shimon came, atremble with wonder about what the Pope could wish from him . . . The Pope said to him, “Tell me the truth and don’t deny it, did you once have any children that are now lost to you?.”

R’ Shimon answered him, “My Master the Pope, I once had a son named Elchanan but he was taken from me many years ago.” The Pope asked him, “Did he have any marks on his body?” R’ Shimon said yes, and the Pope showed him these selfsame marks on his own body, crying, “My father, my father, I am your son.” The Pope asked his fa-ther, “Will you take me back to be your son and teach me to be a Jew?” His father told him, “My son, you have inadvertently desecrated Hashem’s name, you must now publicly sanctify it.”

Elchanan called together a congress of principal Christian leaders, and declared to them that Christian doctrine was absurd . . . They wanted to kill him, but he denied them the opportunity, throwing himself from the dais that had been erected and kill- ing himself. When his father heard of his martyrdom, he com- posed a poem to be recited on the second day of Rosh Hashanahas a remembrance of his son Elchanan (this poem is recited by some communities,

This legend contains perhaps a kernel of truth, for there was a Jewish apostate named Peter Pierleone who became Pope Anacletus II in 1130; his election was not widely accepted, mainly because he was of Jewish stock. Otzar HaMidrashim

The Pope's Game of Chess

Nearly a thousand years ago in the town of Mayence, on the bank of the Rhine, there dwelt a pious Jew of the name of Simon ben Isaac. Of a most charitable disposition, learned and ever ready to assist the poor with money and wise counsel, he was reverenced by all, and it was believed he was a direct descendant of King David. Everybody was proud to do him honor.

Simon ben Isaac had one little son, a bright boy of the name of Elkanan, who he intended should be trained as a rabbi. Little Elkanan was very diligent in his studies and gave early promise of developing into an exceptionally clever student. Even the servants in the household loved him for his keen intelligence. One of them, indeed, was unduly interested in him.

She was the Sabbath-fire woman who only came into the house on the Sabbath day to attend to the fires, because, as you know, the Jewish servants could not perform this duty. The Sabbath-fire woman was a devoted Catholic and she spoke of Elkanan to a priest. The latter was considerably impressed.

"What a pity," he remarked, "that so talented a boy should be a Jew. If he were a Christian, now," he added, winningly, "he could enter the Holy Church and become famous."

The Sabbath-fire woman knew exactly what the priest meant.

"Do you think he could rise to be a bishop?" she asked.

"He might rise even higher--to be the Pope himself," replied the priest.

"It would be a great thing to give a bishop to the Church, would it not?" said the woman.

"It is a great thing to give anyone to the Church of Rome," the priest assured her.

Then they spoke in whispers. The woman appeared a little troubled, but the priest promised her that all would be well, that she would be rewarded, and that nobody would dare to accuse her of doing anything wrong.

Convinced that she was performing a righteous action, she agreed to do what the priest suggested.

Accordingly, the following Friday night when the household of Simon ben Isaac was wrapped

in slumber, she crept stealthily and silently into the boy's bedroom. Taking him gently in her arms, she stole silently out of the house and carried him to the priest who was waiting. Elkanan was well wrapped up in blankets, and so cautiously did the woman move that he did not waken.

The priest said not a word. He just nodded to the woman, and then placed Elkanan in a carriage which he had in waiting.

Elkanan slept peacefully, totally unaware of his adventure, and when he opened his eyes he thought he must be dreaming. He was not in his own room, but a much smaller one which seemed to be jolting and moving, like a carriage, and opposite to him was a priest.

"Where am I?" he asked in alarm.

"Lie still, Andreas," was the reply.

"But my name is not Andreas," he answered. "That is not a Jewish name. I am Elkanan, the son of Simon."

To his amazement, however, the priest looked at him pityingly and shook his head.

"You have had a nasty accident," he said, "and it has affected your head. You must not speak."

Not another word would he say in response to all the boy's eager queries. He simply ignored Elkanan who puzzled his head over the matter until he really began to feel ill and to wonder whether he was Elkanan after all. Tired out, he fell asleep again, and next time he awoke he was lying on a bed in a bare room. A bell was tolling, and he heard a chanting chorus. By his side stood a priest.

Elkanan looked at the priest like one dazed. Before he could utter a word, the priest said: "Rise, Andreas, and follow me."

The boy had no alternative but to obey. To his horror he was taken into a chapel and made to kneel. The priests sprinkled water on him. He did not understand what the service meant, and when it was over he began to cry for his father and mother. For days nobody took the slightest notice of his continual questionings until a priest, with a harsh, cruel face, spoke to him severely one day.

"I perceive, Andreas," he said, "thou hast a stubborn spirit. It shall be curbed. Thy father and mother are dead--all the world is dead to thee Thou hast strange notions in thy head. We shall rid thee of them."

Elkanan cried so much on hearing these terrible words that he made himself seriously ill.

How long he was kept in bed he knew not, but when he recovered, he found himself a prisoner in a monastery. All the priests called him Andreas, they were kind to him, and in time he began to doubt himself whether he was Elkanan, the son of Simon, the pious Jew of Mayence.

To put an end to the unrest in his mind, he devoted himself earnestly to his lessons. His tutors never had so brilliant a pupil, nor so intelligent a companion. He was a remarkable chess player.

"Where did you learn?" they asked him.

"My father, Simon ben Isaac, of Mayence, taught me," he replied, with a sob in his voice.

"It is well," they replied, having received their instructions what to say in answer to such remarks, "thou art blessed from Heaven, Andreas. Not only dost thou absorb learning in the hours of daylight, but angels and dead sages visit thee in they sleep and impart knowledge unto thee."

He could obtain no more satisfactory words from his tutors, and in time he made no mention whatever of the past, and his tutors and companions refrained from touching upon the subject either. Once or twice he formed the idea of endeavoring to escape, but he soon discovered the project impossible. He was never allowed to be alone for a moment; he was virtually a prisoner, although all men began to do him honor because of his amazing knowledge and learning.

In due time, he became a priest and a tutor and was even called to Rome and was created a cardinal. He wore a red cap and cloak, people kneeled to him and sought his blessing, and all spoke of him as the wisest, kindliest and most scholarly man in the Church.

He had not spoken of his boyhood for years, but he never ceased to think of those happy days. And although he tried hard, he could not believe that it was all a dream. Whenever he played a game of chess, which was his one pastime, he seemed to see himself in his old room at Mayence, and he sighed. His fellow priests wondered why he did this, and he laughingly told them it was because he had no idea how to lose a game.

Then a great event happened. The Pope died and Andreas was elected his successor. He was placed on a throne, a crown was put upon his head, and he was called Holy Father. The power of life and death over millions of people in many countries was vested in him; kings, princes and nobles visited him in his great palace to do him homage, and his fame spread far and wide. But he himself grew more thoughtful and silent and sought only to exercise his great powers for the people's good.

This, however, did not altogether please some of his counselors.

"The Church needs money," they told him. "We must squeeze it out of the Jews."

But Andreas steadfastly refused to countenance any persecutions. Many edicts were placed before him for his signature, giving permission to bishops in certain districts to threaten the Jews unless they paid huge sums of money in tribute, but Andreas declined to assent to any one of them.

One day a document was submitted to him from the archbishop of the Rhine district, craving permission to drive the Jews from the city of Mayence. The Pope's face hardened when he read the iniquitous letter. He gave instant orders that the archbishop should be summoned to Rome, and to the utter amazement of his cardinals he also commanded them to bring before him three leading Jews from Mayence, to state their case.

"It shall not be said," he declared, "that the Pope issued a decree of punishment without giving the people condemned an opportunity of defending themselves."

When the news reached Mayence there was great wailing and sorrow among the Jews, for, alas! bitter experience had taught them to expect no mercy from Rome. Delegates were selected, and when they arrived at the Vatican they were asked for their names. These were given and communicated to the Pope.

"The delegates of the Jews of the city of Mayence," announced a secretary, "humbly crave audience of Your Holiness."

"Their names?" demanded the Pope.

"Simon ben Isaac, Abraham ben Moses, and Issachar, the priest."

"Let them enter," said the Pope, in a quiet, firm voice. He had heard but one name; his plan had proved successful, for he had counted upon Simon being one of the chosen delegates.

The three men entered the audience chamber and stood expectant before the Pope. His Holiness appeared to be lost in deep thought. Suddenly he aroused himself from his reverie and looked keenly at the aged leader of the party.

"Simon of Mayence, stand forth," he said, "and give voice to thy plea. We give thee attention."

The old man approached a few paces nearer, and in simple, but eloquent language, pleaded that the Jews should be permitted to remain unmolested in Mayence in which city their community had been long established.

"Thy prayer" said the Pope, when he had finished, "shall have full consideration, and my answer shall be made known to thee without delay. Now tell me, Simon of Mayence, something of thyself and thy co-delegates. Who are ye in the city?"

Simon gave the information.

"Have ye come hither alone?" asked the Pope. "Or have ye been escorted by members of your families--your sons?"

The Pope's voice was scarcely steady, but none noticed.

"I have no son," said Simon, with a weary sigh.

"Hast thou never been blessed with offspring?"

Simon looked sharply at the Pope before answering. Then, with bowed head and broken voice, he said: "God blessed me with one son, but he was stolen from me in childhood. That has been the sorrow of my life.'

The old man's voice was choked with sobs.

"I have heard," said the Pope, after a while, "that thou art famed as a chess-player. I, too, am credited with some skill in the game. I would fain pit it against thine. Hearken! If thou prove the victor in the game, then shall thy appeal prevail."

"I consent," said the old man, proudly. "It is many years since I have sustained defeat."

It was arranged that the game should be played that evening. Naturally, the strange contest aroused the keenest interest. The game was followed closely by the papal secretaries and the Jewish delegates. It was a wonderful trial of subtle play. The two players seemed about evenly matched. First one and then the other made a daring move which appeared to place his opponent in difficulties, but each time disaster was ingeniously evaded. A draw seemed the likeliest result until, suddenly, the Pope made a brilliant move which startled the onlookers. It was considered impossible now for Simon to avoid defeat.

No one was more astounded at the Pope's move than the old Jew. He rose tremblingly from his chair, gazed with piercing eyes into the face of the Pope and said huskily, "Where didst thou learn that move? I taught it to but one other."

"Who?" demanded the Pope, eagerly. "I will tell thee alone," said Simon.

The Pope made a sign, and the others left the room in great surprise.

Then Simon exclaimed excitedly, "Unless thou art the devil himself, thou canst only be my long lost son, Elkanan."

"Father!" cried the Pope, and the old man clasped him in his arms.

When the others re-entered the room, the Pope said quietly, "We have decided to call the game a draw, and in thankfulness for the rare pleasure of a game of chess with so skilled a player as Simon of Mayence, I grant the prayer of the delegates of that city. It is my will that the Jews shall live in peace."

Shortly afterward, a new Pope was elected. Various rumors gained currency. One was that Andreas had thrown himself into the flames; another that he had mysteriously disappeared. And at the same time a stranger arrived in Mayence and was welcomed by Simon joyfully as his son, Elkanan.

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THE MIRROR IN WHICH RABBI SIMON THE GREAT OF MAINZ DID NOT SEE CLEARLY

At the core of this article is a close analysis of Story No. 187 in the Basel Mayse Bukh of 1602, popularly known as "Elchanan the Jewish Pope".

The story tells of a Christian maid who kidnaps Elchanan, son of Rabbi Simon the Great, and hands him over to monastic teacher. The latter give him a sound Christian education and he becomes a priest, later a monk, then a cardinal and finally the Pope. However, he knows he is Jewish. One day he summons his father, reveals himself to him and after sharply criticizing the Christian faith, he leaps from a tower and becomes a martyr.

The tale is closely related to the international motif index AaTh 671 ('A Boy Pope' or 'The Three Languages'). 

A comparison of the Jewish story with the version in Christian folklore tells us a great deal about the specific intentions of the Mayse Bukh story.

Outstanding in the Jewish version is the exposition where we learn that the father possessed a wonder mirror, one which in this instance, however, did not reflect light and did not help him find his son. This surely hints at the limitations of the father's magical power, and also at the inner contradictions in Ashkenazic Jewish culture - magical wisdom versus the values of traditional scholarship. By Avidov Lipsker

(Chuliot, 3 (1996), pp. 33-57)

THE JEWISH POPE ELCHANON...

There are several legends over the course of Jewish history that present the picture of a Christian convert who actually became Pope. The legends persist, even though none of them have been proved or authenticated, even by Jewish historians.

One of the more persistent stories is the one of the son of Rabbi Shimon Hagadol of 10th century Mainz, Germany. According to the legend, Rabbi Shimon’s son Elchanon was captured and kidnapped as a child, baptized and raised as a Christian. Rabbi Shimon was heartbroken but never gave up hope.

The legend continues that somehow Rabbi Shimon gained an audience with the Pope to plead for the plight of the Jewish people. When the Pope and the Rabbi met they realized that they were father and son.

The further embellishment on the story was that they played chess together in that meeting. Historians will accept the fact that Rabbi Shimon had a son who was kidnapped and baptized.

The legend of his becoming the Pope has never been authenticated. The story gains a certain particular interest to us for the fact that there is a Piyut, a liturgical poem that exists in the Rosh Hashanah Machzor for the second day Shacharit

(page 268 in the Artscroll Rosh Hashanah Machzor. The legend is recorded in shortened form in the Artscroll notes at the bottom of the page.)

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‎האפיפיור היהודי

לתולדותיה של אגדה מימי הביניים באשכנז

סדרת תימה- סדרת מחקרים בתימטולוגיה של ספרות עם ישראל

מאת יוסף במברגר

תאור
האפיפיור היהודי הוא סיפור אגדה היסטורי על אלחנן, בנו של ר שמעון ממגנצה, שנחטף מביתו, התחנך כנוצרי ומאחר שהתבלט בחכמתו עלה במעלות הכמורה ונעשה לאפיפיור. הגרסאות הרבות לאגדה זו מספרות על הדרך בה ביקש להיפגש עם אביו ולחזור אל חיק היהדות ומקצתן מספרות במותו על קידוש השם. האפיפיור היהודי היא לגנדה השייכת לאוצר היסוד של הספרות היהודית מימי הביניים ועדיין היא חיה ומספרת את גרסאותיה החדשות בימינו. 
חיבור זה עוקב אחר גרסאותיו של הסיפור בעברית וביידיש קמאית, בכתבי יד מן המאה החמש-עשרה, בדפוסים ראשונים מן המאה השש-עשרה ובעיבודים ספרותיים חדשים מן המחצית השנייה של המאה התשע-עשרה, שהידוע בהם הוא הנובלה ההיסטורית של מרקוס להמן. 
מעשה האפיפיור היהודי מביא לידי ביטוי דרמתי את העימות בין האליטות הלמדניות היהודיות בימי הביניים לבין העולם הנוצרי סביבן, ובוחן באמצעות גילומים ספרותיים ערכי יסוד של יהדות אשכנז, כגון תשובה וקידוש השם. 

בסדרת תימה - מחקרים בתימטולוגיה של ספרות עם ישראל.
עורך הסדרה: פרופ אבידב ליפסקר


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Elchanan by legend the Jewish Pope, אלחנן - האפיפיור היהודי's Timeline

950
950
Baghdad, Baghdād, Iraq
1020
1020
Age 70
Rome, Rome, Lazio, Italy