David Oppenheim, Chief Rabbi of Moravia, Prague and Bohemia (c.1664 - 1736) MP

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Birthplace: Worms, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany
Death: Died in Prague, Czech Republic
Occupation: Rabbin
Managed by: Herman Frances
Last Updated:

About David Oppenheim, Chief Rabbi of Moravia, Prague and Bohemia

David was Rabbi of Prague. His famous collection of books was acquired by the University of Oxford in 1830.

David Oppenheim (1664–1736), chief rabbi of Prague; bibliophile. Oppenheim was born in Worms, where his father, Abraham, was a communal leader. Samuel Oppenheim, financier and war contractor to Habsburg Emperor Leopold I, was his uncle. David Oppenheim’s teachers included, among others, Gershon (Ulif) Ashkenazi and Ya‘akov Sack (father of Tsevi Ashenazi, the Ḥakham Tsevi). In 1681 he married Gnendl, daughter of the court Jew Leffmann Behrens (Lipmann Cohen) of Hanover.

From 1689 to 1702, Oppenheim served in Nikolsburg (Mikulov) as landesrabbiner, or chief rabbi, of Moravia, a post previously held by such prominent figures as Yehudah Leib ben Betsal’el (Maharal of Prague) and Yom Tov Lipmann Heller. In 1701, Oppenheim was also named Nasi Erets Yisra’el and later rabbi of Jerusalem, no doubt in recognition of his financial support, and linking him to the Jewish population of the Land of Israel.

Oppenheim subsequently moved from Nikolsburg to Prague, where he took up the post of chief rabbi in 1702. His wife died in 1712, and he subsequently married Shifra, daughter of Binyamin Wolf Spira-Wedeles and widow of Yitsḥak Bondy, the leader of one of Jewish Prague’s political factions. With this marriage, he expanded his already substantial familial connections with the most influential circles of Prague Jewry. From 1713 on, he shared the duties of landesrabbiner of Bohemia, whose rabbinate was separate from that of Prague, with Spira; after Spira’s death in 1715, he held that position alone.

Oppenheim’s most significant legacy to posterity is his vast collection of Hebrew and Yiddish printed works and manuscripts, kept from 1703 at the home of his father-in-law in Hanover because of a justified fear of possible confiscation or destruction of Hebrew books in Prague. He acquired these books and manuscripts as gifts and by purchasing them directly from authors and owners—often heirs of deceased bibliophiles—throughout Europe, at commercial fairs, and possibly through dealers. He prepared and, on at least one occasion, even published lists of desiderata. Today this collection constitutes a significant portion of the Judaica collection of Oxford University’s Bodleian Library.

A wide range of works interested Oppenheim, from classical rabbinic texts to local ephemera. Hundreds of titles—particularly Yiddish compositions, including songs, “historical songs,” plays, stories, and legends—are known to us only through unica in his collection, indispensable to contemporary scholars’ understanding of seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Yiddish literature. By the time of Oppenheim’s death, his library contained approximately 7,000 printed works and 1,000 manuscripts. It has formed the basis of the most significant bibliographies of Hebrew literature, including Moritz Steinschneider’s Catalogus librorum hebraeorum in Bibliotheca Bodleiana (1852–1882).

Steinschneider also published a separate bibliography of printed Yiddish books, pamphlets, and small ephemera, based on Oppenheim’s collection, in the journal Serapeum (Leipzig) in the years 1848–1849 (reprinted in 1961 as Jüdisch-Deutsche Literatur by the Yiddish Department of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem).

Oppenheim wrote several rabbinic tracts, including Mo‘ed David on the Talmudic tractates Shabat and Betsah (1698); responsa, including the posthumously published volumes Nish’al David (1972–1982); and Seliḥot (1713). Most of his writings remain in manuscript; these include homiletic and theological works, additional Talmudic commentaries, correspondence, and catalogs of his library.

He also wrote introductions to Gershon Ashkenazi’s Sefer ‘avodat ha-Gershuni and Tif’eret ha-Gershuni and numerous approbations to rabbinic works. He supported the publication of other scholars’ works and published a few of the manuscripts he collected, such as the Torah commentary by Shemu’el ben Me’ir (Rashbam, grandson of Rashi), to which he wrote an introduction. In 1720, students in Oppenheim’s yeshiva published a purim-shpil in Yiddish whose title page states that the work was performed publicly that year.

Oppenheim’s family life, beginning with his first marriage, exemplifies the close interactions between rabbinic families and those of court Jews. His son, Joseph, married Telze, daughter of Samson Wertheimer, who was Samuel Oppenheim’s nephew and his close associate in many court-related business affairs.

His daughter Sarah married Ḥayim Yonah Te’omim-Fränkel (d. 1727), scion of a prominent rabbinic family and himself rabbi of Breslau. Sarah wrote a copy of Megilat Ester with her own hand; her father ruled in a rabbinic responsum that a megillah written by a woman was indeed fit for ritual use.

Oppenheim’s daughter Blumele married Aaron Ber Oppenheim of Frankfurt am Main; his daughter Jente married Phoebus, son of Seligman Cohen of Hanover; and his daughter Telze married Ber Cleve Gomperz.

To what extent Oppenheim himself engaged in the financial activities with which these families are so closely identified, alongside his rabbinic career, is an open question in the scholarly literature. Some claim that he devoted his time to business and to the enrichment of his own personal library at the expense of his rabbinic duties. These claims found their way into much subsequent writing about Oppenheim, but they have also been rejected by other scholars. Much documentary evidence regarding Oppenheim’s life and activities remains untapped, and a full biography has yet to be written.

Suggested Reading

  1. Charles Duschinsky, “Rabbi David Oppenheimer: Glimpses of His Life and Activity, Derived from His Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library,” Jewish Quarterly Review 20 (1929/30): 217–247;
  2. Tobias Jakobovits, “Das Prager und Böhmische Landesrabbinat, Ende des siebzehnten und Anfang des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts,” Jahrbuch der Gesellschaft für Geschichte der Juden in der Čechoslvakischen Republik 5 (1933): 79–136;
  3. Alexander Marx, “The History of David Oppenheimer’s Library,” in Studies in Jewish History and Booklore, pp. 238–255 (New York, 1944), see also pp. 213–219.

Yivo Article Author: Rachel L. Greenblatt

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Rabbi David Oppenheim (1664–1736) was the chief rabbi of Prague.  Oppenheim was born in 1664 in Worms, where his father, Abraham, was a communal leader. David Oppenheim's teachers included Gershon Ashkenazi and Ya'akov Sack (father of Tsevi Ashenazi, the Hakham Tsevi). In 1681, he married Gnendl, daughter of the court Jew Leffmann Behrends (Lipmann Cohen) of Hanover.

Austrian rabbi, cabalist, liturgist, mathematician, and bibliophile; born at Worms 1664; died at Prague Sept. 12, 1736.

After studying at Metz under Gershon Oulif, Oppenheim married Genendel, the daughter of Leffmann Behrends (Liepmann Cohen), court agent of Hanover. Through associations thus formed, combined with an immense fortune bequeathed to him by his uncle, Samuel Oppenheim, court agent of Vienna, he became one of the leading Jews in Germany.

In 1691 Oppenheim was appointed rabbi of Mikulov (Nikolsburg), Moravia (Czech Republic) and chief rabbi of Moravia. In 1698 he accepted a call to the rabbinate of Brest-Litovsk, but continued to reside at Mikulov (Nikolsburg), Moravia (Czech Republic) until 1702, when he became chief rabbi of Prague.

In 1713 Oppenheim was apappointed "Landesrabbiner" over one-half of Bohemia, and in 1718 over the whole of it. These nominations were confirmed by decrees of the emperors Leopold I., Joseph I., and Charles IV.

Oppenheim, concurrently with his rabbinical duties, engaged in business transactions on a large scale, which necessitated his frequent absence from Prague. About this time a controversy arose between him and Jonathan Eybeschütz, the rabbi of Prague. The latter, profiting by Oppenheim's frequent absences, tried continually to win the favor of the Jews of the city. As Oppenheim was a distinguished cabalist, he welcomed Nehemiah ?ayyun, the well-known Shabbethaian, whose erudition he admired, and gave him both moral and material aid.

Moreover, when, later, Oppenheim was drawn by the other rabbis into the fight against ?ayyun, he seemed to avoid any direct attack on the latter. In 1725 Oppenheim refused his signature to the excommunication of the Shabbethaians, probably because Eybeschütz was one of the signatories. Toward the end of his life he became blind.

Oppenheim was a prolific author, but of his works only the following have been published:

"Mo'ed Dawid,"

novellæ, a part of which was printed with the

"Bet Yehudah" of Judah b. Nissim (Dessau, 1698);

novellæ on "Sugya Arba' Mittot" (Prague, 1725);

several responsa printed in the collections

"Shiyyure Keneset ha-Gedolah,"

"?awwot Ya'ir," and others.


The best known of his unpublished works are

"Me?om Dawid," a dictionary of all the places mentioned in the Talmud and of the events that occurred there;

"Me?udat ?iyyon," collectanea;

"Yad Dawid," commentary on the Pentateuch;

"Tefillah le-Dawid," homilies;

"Shelal Dawid," containing homilies, novellæ, and responsa; "

'Ir Dawid," collectanea and novellæ;

"Nish'al Dawid," responsa in the order of the four ?urim.

He left besides a large number of writings, containing novellæ on the Talmud and commentaries on many cabalistic works. In 1713 Oppenheim composed two seli?ot on the occasion of the epidemic which ravaged Prague at that time. In his epitaph he is praised as a great mathematician.

Oppenheim is especially renowned for his famous Hebrew library, the foundation of which was a numerous collection left to him by his uncle, Samuel Oppenheim, in which were some valuable manuscripts. Oppenheim labored energetically to increase the library, and spared neither money nor time in purchasing rare and costly books.

In 1711 he compiled a list of books which he did not possess and made efforts to obtain them. Wolf ("Bibl. Hebr." i. 290) estimated the number of works in Oppenheim's possession at 7,000, including 1,000 manuscripts. Oppenheim was desirous to throw open his library for public use, but could not do so at Prague on account of the censorship; he therefore removed it to Hanover, where it was thrown open under the protection of his father-in-law, Leffmann Behrends, who, owing to his position, had great influence in that city.

After Oppenheim's death the library came into the possession of his son Joseph Oppenheim, who pawned it with a senator of Hamburg for 50,000 marks ($12,000). In 1829 the collection, which had been stored in chests at Hamburg, was bought by the Bodleian Library, Oxford, for 9,000 thalers (about $6,435). It consists of cabalistic, theological, Talmudic, philosophical, mathematical, and medical works. Catalogues of it have been made by Tychsen (Hanover, 1764), Israel Bresslau (Hamburg, 1782), Isaac Metz, under the title "?ehillat Dawid" (ib. 1826), and Jacob Goldenthal (Leipsic, 1843).

The best-arranged catalogue is the "?ehillat Dawid." It contains 4,221 numbers, divided into four classes according to the sizes of the books, each class being subdivided into different branches, and each branch arranged in the alphabeticalorder of the titles. To the above-mentioned number of works must be added 1,200 bound with others. The manuscripts follow the printed books in each branch.

Bibliography: Hock-Lieben, Gal 'Ed (Hebr. part, No. 80;

German part, pp. 42 et seq.);

David Kaufmann, Samson Wertheimer, pp. 95 et seq.;

M. Wiener, in Berliner's Magazin, i. 27;

Grätz, Gesch. 3d ed., x. 313 et seq., 325.

On Oppenheim's library: Zunz, Z. G. pp. 235 et seq.;

F. Lebrecht, in Orient, Lit. v. 247;

L. Dukes, ib. xi. 250, 262, 297;

Hartmann, in Yedidyah, vi., Berlin, 1820-21.

Father: Abraham OPPENHEIMER b: 1633 in Worms, Deutschland (Germany)

Mother: Bluemle (Rechle) WOHL b: ABT 1638

Marriage 1 Genendel BEHRENDS b: ABT 1664 in Hannover (Hanover), Deutschland (Germany)

Married: ABT 1681

Children

Joseph ben David OPPENHEIMER b: ABT 1683
Sarah OPPENHEIMER b: 1695
Jente OPPENHEIMER b: 1696

Marriage 2 Shifrah SPIRA b: ABT 1671 in Praha (Prague), Bohemia (Czech Republic)

Married: ABT 1714

Sources:

Title: The Prague Jewish Community in the Late 17th and Early 18th Centuries

Author: Alexandr Putík

Publication: In 'Judaica Bohemiae' Issue no. XXXV /1999, Státni Zidovské Muzeum v Praze / National Jewish Museum, Prague, 1999

Repository:

Note: http://www.ceeol.com

Media: Book

Page: p. 93

Title: The Jewish Quarterly Review

Author: Dropsie University, Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning

Repository:

Media: Book

Page: New Series, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Jan., 1930), p. 217

Text: [From the article: 'Rabbi David Oppenheimer. Glimpses of His Life and Activity, Derived from His Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library' by C. Duschinsky]

Title: The Jewish Quarterly Review

Author: Dropsie University, Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning

Repository:

Media: Book

Page: New Series, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Jan., 1930), p. 217

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Rabbi David Oppenheim of Prague's Timeline

1664
1664
Worms, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany
1681
1681
Age 17
1695
1695
Age 31
1696
1696
Age 32
Prague, Czech Republic
1701
1701
Age 37
1702
1702
Age 38
1713
1713
Age 49
Bratislava
1720
1720
Age 56
1736
September 12, 1736
Age 72
Prague, Czech Republic
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