The Crown of the “Giant” Queen of Tonga and the Star of David

How did a glittering Star of David become the centerpiece of the royal crown and state symbol of a Pacific island nation? What does the Kingdom of Sheba have to do with circumcision? Join us on a journey around the globe as we follow the six-pointed star to the most unexpected of places…


Queen Sālote Tupou III wearing her crown adorned with the Star of David, source: Wikimedia, colorization: MyHeritage

Tonga, a small island kingdom in the southwest Pacific Ocean made headlines in early 2022, when an underwater volcano erupted near its shores causing a tsunami. This was followed by a strong earthquake less than two weeks later. As sometimes happens when a faraway place suddenly appears in the news, our curiosity was piqued, and we wanted to learn more.

The town of Neiafu in Tonga, source: Wikimedia

What do we know about Tonga? Well, not much. We know it’s an island nation in the South Pacific; that at the Olympic opening ceremony, the flagbearer tends to wear a straw skirt; and that the Disney movie Moana takes place in that general area. The Tonga Islands – there are about 150 of them – are sometimes known as the “Friendly Islands,” a name given to them by Captain James Cook, who chose it, allegedly after having been received on the islands with kindness when he landed his ship there during a major local festival.

The inhabitants belong to the Polynesian peoples that stretch across the islands of the vast Pacific Ocean from Fiji to Hawaii. Admittedly, Polynesian culture, rich with demi-gods and folk tales about such things as the creation of the coconut, is very far from Jewish and Israeli culture. Which is why I was very surprised when shortly after beginning my search for information about this distant kingdom, I came across a very familiar symbol.

A coronation photograph of Tonga’s revered Queen Sālote Tupou III, who ascended to the throne in 1918, shows her wearing a white gown with a ribbon sash across her chest and an ermine fur-trimmed robe in the best European tradition. Around her neck is an elaborate necklace with a pendant in the shape of a cross. However, the most surprising detail of all is her crown, which features at its center the six-pointed Star of David, an ancient symbol not usually associated with the Pacific Islands.

Queen Sālote Tupou III’s 47-year reign (she died in 1965), is the longest of all of Tonga’s monarchs. One could say she was their “Queen Elizabeth.” Yet, unlike Queen Elizabeth II of England, Sālote was famous for her height – she was 6 foot 3 inches tall (1.91 m) – and was dubbed “The Giant Queen” by the world media.

“The New York papers tell of the world’s largest queen, though ‘her country is one of the world’s smallest'” – The Hebrew press reports on the New York press’ coverage of Tonga and its queen, Davar, March 27, 1932


Her fame reached as far as Israel, when in 1953, she told reporters while attending the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London that her grandmother had been present at the coronation of Queen Victoria. Tonga’s queen won over the masses at the coronation when during the heavy rainfall, she refused to close the roof of her carriage and rode through London while smiling and waving to the crowds lining the streets despite the downpour.

We cannot conclude this episode without relating this little anecdote: During her visit, journalists asked how she came to acquire her perfect English accent, to which Queen Sālote smiled and replied, “What is so surprising? English blood flows through my veins, for, back in the day, my grandfather devoured two English missionaries who had come to our island to spread the Christian faith.”

Queen Sālote Tupou III wearing her crown adorned with the Star of David, source: Wikimedia


Returning to Queen Sālote’s coronation photograph, how did this allegedly Jewish symbol find itself in Polynesia, and particularly in a country known to be devoutly Christian since the 19th century? In my quest to find out, I realized that the six-pointed star also appears several times on Tonga’s national coat of arms! At the center is a large white Star of David overlaid with a red cross, while three smaller Stars of David appear at the top left. Some say the group of three stars symbolizes the three main island groups that make up the kingdom. Others say they stand for the three royal dynasties that comprise the current monarchy. The same design also appears on Tonga’s royal flag. What’s more, the Star of David has occasionally appeared on the kingdom’s official stamps and coins.

Tonga’s national coat of arms, source: Wikimedia

I wanted to know why Tonga’s people use this particular symbol, but it turns out that in Israel there aren’t many historians who are experts in the history and culture of the Pacific Islands. I tried a different route. I sent my question to the Israeli ambassador to New Zealand who is also responsible for Israel’s relations with Tonga and who just happened to be visiting the islands at the time, but even when he asked his hosts, he couldn’t get a precise answer.

In fact, the six-pointed star appears in many cultures, and is not necessarily related to the Jewish Star of David. The symbol is often displayed as two superimposed triangles, like on the Israeli flag, and it has been known in Eastern cultures for thousands of years, being adopted by the Jews only at a relatively late stage. The historian Dr. Ian C. Campbell, who researched the history of Tonga, told me that the Rev. Shirley Waldemar Baker, a Christian missionary who lived in the Kingdom of Tonga for some thirty years in the late 19th century, was the designer of the above-mentioned coat of arms. Other sources claim a local prince as its creator. In any case, the symbols on it are clearly Western, and likely originated under the influence of external factors, most probably Christian missionaries.

The Free Church of Tonga, in the capital city Nuku’alofa. A Star of David adorns the central rose window, source: Wikimedia

It would appear that the story doesn’t end with the coat of arms. The rose window of the Free Church of Tonga in Nuku’alofa, the nation’s capital, also features a large Star of David, while the highest peak in Tonga is called “Mount Zion.” It turns out that the same missionaries probably introduced additional stories connecting the people of Tonga to the ancient peoples of the Near East, as a way to foster an emotional connection among the islanders with the stories of the Bible.

An English priest by the name of James Egan Molton, who served as head of the Methodist Church in Tonga in the early 20th century, wrote an article claiming that the people of Tonga originated in the Persian Gulf. According to historian Dr. Paula Latu, a native of Tonga, Molton wrote another text that featured the interesting claim that the king of Sheba and his subjects settled in Tonga, Hawaii, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Samoa. The kingdom of Sheba is believed to have been located in the Gulf of Aden, in Yemen or Ethiopia. However,  the missionaries who came to the Tonga Islands, “with the Bible in hand,” likely based their improbable claim of the connection between Tonga and the kingdom of Sheba on Psalm 72, verse 10, in which it is written: “The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall render tribute;  the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.” The Christian missionaries’ imaginations were probably aroused by the mention of the islands in connection with the kings of Sheba and Seba.

The local theologian Dr. Ma’afu Palu expanded on this point. He claims the verse from Psalms deals with gifts that the kings will give to the Messiah. “These are qualities that characterize Tongans everywhere. They are known for their generosity,” he says of the people who, as we recall, inhabit the “Friendly Islands.” “According to this theory, the son of the queen of Sheba abdicated the throne and set sail from the Mediterranean Sea, arriving at last in Tonga,” he says.

A portrayal of the biblical Queen of Sheba. From the Joseph and Margit Hoffman Judaica Postcard Collection, the National Library of Israel

According to Palu, the missionaries found additional similarities between the Bible stories and the reality they encountered in Tonga. “The first book of Kings, chapter 22, tells of pagan leaders, whose worship was similar to ours here in Tonga before the spread of Christianity in the 19th century. Furthermore, male circumcision was customary in Tonga from ancient times. The belief was that the same prince of Sheba who – allegedly – started the settlement in Tonga brought these customs here.” On the common local custom of circumcision, Palu adds that the bodies of the kings of Tonga were considered sacred, so they were the only men in the kingdom who were not circumcised.

Clearly, these stories and the Star of David all derive from Christian missionaries who sought to convert the locals by connecting them to the stories in the Bible. The island state enthusiastically adopted these, along with an affinity to the ancient Hebrews, the Star of David, and the name Zion. Nevertheless, besides the mysterious connections to biblical symbols, Tonga and Polynesia also have their own fascinating ancient local traditions with a wide pantheon of gods and myths.

And what of Queen Sālote’s beautiful crown? We still have many questions for which we could not find any answers. We were unable to find any mention of the crown that appeared in the coronation photograph, or when or where it was made. We weren’t able to find out if other kings used it before or since or where it is located today. Perhaps our readers can shed light on additional threads linking the Middle East to the peoples of the Pacific.

‘Bitter’ Women at the Seder Table and the Men Who Pointed at Them

This long-forgotten Passover custom was dealt a bitter blow by a sharp wife in a 15th century Haggadah...

The wife in the 14th century "Brother Haggadah" doesn't look too pleased with her husband's custom. From the British Library collection; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

Pesach, matza, maror. Father lifts the matza, symbolizing our speedy exit from Egypt. Then, the maror (bitter herb) reminds us of the bitterness of slavery, the bondage and subjugation, so father points at… mother!

This long-forgotten custom, which apparently was never mentioned in any Rabbinical codes or books of traditional practices (yet in recent history has been discussed on the Seforim Blog), is depicted in many medieval illustrated Haggadot going back to 14th century Provence.

It is based upon Bible and Talmud (Yev 63b):­ “A bad woman is so terrible. ‘I have found a woman to be worse (mar) than death’ (Ecclesiastes 7:26)”.

The Maror page of the “Brother Haggadah“, produced in Provence or Catalonia in the 14th century. From the British Library collection; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection. On the type of Maror depicted, see here.
Closeup of the man pointing at his “bitter” wife in the “Brother Haggadah

Since antiquity, lettuce was used at the Passover Seder as maror, the bitter herb. The Talmud, already bothered by the fact that lettuce is not bitter, says that it is sweet at first, when young, when normally consumed, but at the end of its growth, as the leaves wither, lettuce becomes extremely bitter, just like our servitude in Egypt was sweet when Joseph and his brothers arrived and only became bitter under the new Pharaoh (Jerusalem Talmud, Pesahim 2:5). So too, the medieval custom hints that at first a woman is sweet, during the courting period, but eventually, after years of marriage, she becomes bitter, mar, “worse than death”.

In the 15th century, the custom spread to Germany and Italy, where it was depicted in several illustrated Haggadot, for example:

The Maror page of the “Tegernsee Haggadah” produced in, Bavaria in the 15th century. From the collections of Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munchen; available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection
Closeup of the man and his “bitter wife” in the “Tegernsee Haggadah
The “Washington Haggadah“, produced in Italy in the 15th century. From the Library of Congress collection
Closeup of the man and his wife, depicted as even “more bitter than death” as she wields a sword in the “Washington Haggadah

By that time, many Ashkenazi Jewish communities had begun to replace lettuce with horseradish as maror (Yiddish: Khrain; German: Meerrettich). This transition is shrouded in mystery. In the Mishna, something called “tamkha” is listed as one of the plant species that can be used for maror. Based upon Arthur Schaeffer’s research, I propose that Rabbi Meir ha-Cohen (author of Hagahot Maimoniot and a disciple of Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, c. 1215-1293) identified “tamkha” as horseradish because “meer” sounds like the Hebrew word “mar” (bitter) and the first syllable of the French/Italian marubia (horehound, which is the identification of Rashi, as well as an opinion in the Arukh, the important medieval dictionary of Talmudic and Midrashic words).  Marubia itself was possibly selected because it also sounds like the Hebrew mar (or vice-versa, the vernacular name following the Hebrew).

Maror was identified as “Meerrettich” in Hagagot Maimoniot, the earliest Ashkenazi gloss on Maimonides. From the Frankfurt a. M. Universitätsbibliothek (Fol. 15 – 227v); available via the National Library of Israel Digital Collection. Click image to enlarge

In addition to the phonetic similarity between the Old French and the German, there are also physical characteristics shared by horehound and horseradish, especially small white flowers:

Marrubium vulgare (horehound), from Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen (Public domain)
Horseradish (Photo: Pethan)

Interestingly, at first, the bitter leaves of the horseradish plant were used for maror, not the sharp roots.

One can only imagine that Jewish women did not take kindly to the “bitter wife” custom, and we find that they ultimately struck back at the men with literary flair as sharp as the horseradish itself. This is attested to in the late 15th century Hileq and Bileq Haggadah.

The wife responds to her husband’s pointing in kind, pointing back at him dominantly from the left. The knives on the table, easily available to the wife only add to her power in the scene.

The “Hileq and Bileq Haggadah“, produced in Germany, 1450-1500. From the National Library of France collection

The man states the following, which rhymes in the original Hebrew:

“מרור זה קולי בְּהָרֵם, בזה וזה גורם”

“I raise my voice about this bitter maror, it is caused by both this and that.”

Both the herb and the wife are causes of bitterness, referencing the Babylonian Talmud (Pesahim 27a) on dual causes.

The wife retorts:

“הלא חשבתיך כאחד מהם, ויבוא השלישי ויס’ריח ביניהם”

“Well, I consider you one of them; let the third one in to stink between them!”

The wife’s response cleverly paraphrases the last rule of the famous 13 homiletical methods of Rabbi Ishmael, which is found in Jewish prayer books and was presumably familiar to the Haggadah’s readership:

“When two Biblical verses contradict each other, we require a third to decide (yakhria’) between them”.

The wife poetically states that the maror will stink (yasriakh) between us, meaning that both husband and wife are equally bitter. Alternatively, she signals that it’s stink will also decide:

“That’s what you think, but I say that you are the bitter one! [How can we decide who is right?] Let’s consult a third opinion to decide between us, [the maror itself. Smell it. It stinks like you, so you must be the bitter one!]”

The men apparently began dropping the custom in the late 15th century. Perhaps they were devastated by this witty reply.

The last known description of the custom to point at the wife is found in one of the first printed illustrated Haggadot, the Prague Haggadah from 1526. Nonetheless, according to scholar Israel Peles, in that example it is simply a textual relic of an already dead custom copied from an earlier source, and the wife is not even depicted in the illustration.

Explanation of the custom appearing in the early 16th century Prague Haggadah


In the spirit of the popular book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, perhaps the Passover version could be: “Men are Meerrettich, Ladies are like Lettuce”.


This article was written in memory of the author’s mother, Bruria Jacobi, of blessed memory. An earlier version of the article was originally published in Új Kelet, in a Hungarian translation. It appears here in English for the first time, part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.



“Art of the Washington Haggadah” by Bezalel Narkiss, appearing in The Washington Haggadah: A Facsimile Edition of an Illuminated Fifteenth-century Hebrew Manuscript at the Library of Congress 

Controversies Regarding Customs That Can Be Gleaned from Haggadot” (in Hebrew) by Yisrael Mordechi Peles

The History of Horseradish as the Bitter Herb of Passover” by Arthur Schaffer

A Haggadic Sister: New Acquisition Illuminates Artist’s Journey

In 2012, artist Maty Grünberg decided to revisit his 1984 work, The Bezalel Haggadah – ranked among the finest modern illustrated Haggadot. The resulting volume, The Sister of the Bezalel Haggadah, reveals the artist's creative process, from concept to final print.

From "The Sister of the Bezalel Haggadah": Grünberg's visual language derived from various sources, including Egyptian art

The National Library of Israel’s collection of Haggadot is considered the most comprehensive in the world, containing more than 15,000 examples from different periods and from across the globe. The collection was recently enriched by a singular new addition: an artist’s proof of The Sister of the Bezalel Haggadah by Israeli artist and sculptor Maty Grünberg, renowned for his limited edition artist books, produced using techniques such as etching, silk screen, and woodcut.

Dr. Yoel Finkelman, Curator of the Haim and Hanna Solomon Judaica Collection at the National Library of Israel views The Sister of the Bezalel Haggadah with artist Maty Grünberg.

The volume is a companion piece, a “sister”, due to its close relationship to Grünberg’s 1984 Bezalel Haggadah. Considered one of the finest modern illustrated Haggadot, the Bezalel Haggadah has been in displayed exhibitions together with Haggadot by Marc Chagall and Ben Shahn. Copies have been collected by museums, libraries and private collectors.

The “sister” story, however, is about the artistic process. In 2012, Grünberg reviewed his preparatory sketches, and placed them alongside their final versions. The resulting Sister of the Bezalel Haggadah, documents the transformation from early sketch to final print. In this sense, it is also the work of the artist as an older man looking across the bridge of time, revisiting the work of his younger self.

From The Sister of the Bezalel Haggadah: preliminary sketch for “Tam”, the innocent of the Four Brothers contrasted with the final woodcut print

Grünberg is still a working artist whose latest creations – monumental bronze and stone sundials situated in locations like Ascot, UK, the New York Hall of Science, and Teddy Kollek Park in Jerusalem – express a fascination with the passage of time. His most recent was inaugurated on April 7th, 2022, at the Madatech – Israel National Museum of Science, Technology and Space in Haifa. Speaking from his car on the drive up to the ceremony, Grünberg says his motivation for revisiting the Bezalel Haggadah stemmed from an interest in how the process developed.

The story begins following the 1978 exhibition of Grünberg’s Megillat Esther, a boldly colorful volume of silkscreens that drew controversy at the time due to its modern approach. The Jewish Theological Seminary then expressed interest in having Grünberg create a Haggadah, “but they didn’t want a contemporary one,” he says. In the end, the Haggadah was commissioned in 1979 by the Friends of Bezalel Academy of Arts & Design, Grünberg’s alma mater.

The Bezalel Haggadah itself took five years to create. According to Grünberg, the bulk of that time was spent searching for the visual language that would express his view about the creation of the Jewish nation through the story of Exodus from Egypt. His initial sketches for the project were colorful drawings in mixed media. Then something happened.

From The Sister of the Bezalel Haggadah: initial color sketches for the Four Questions, as compared with the pared-down final woodcut

It was the high point of his search – though perhaps, for the artist, the lowest – a day locked in a heavily guarded room in the British Library in London with the Golden Haggadah (c. 1320-1330). This small but richly illustrated and gilded volume from Catalonia, Spain, is considered among the world’s most famous illuminated manuscripts. Even today, Grünberg says of that encounter, “My hands were trembling. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

“I was taken to a private room and given white cotton gloves, the librarian came in, rolled a cart in front of her with the ancient book on it, and handed it to me with extreme caution. I was shivering at the beauty of this ancient book. I realized I could not compete with this glorious Haggadah.”

That day, Grünberg decided to change direction, abandon vibrant color, and find another language for creating his Bezalel Haggadah. “I discovered the Prague Haggadah and I switched to woodcuts.”

The Prague Haggadah, 1556, the Valmadonna Trust Collection at the National Library of Israel

The Prague Haggadah (c. 1526), the earliest printed Haggadah, featured woodcut illustrations and large, elaborate fonts – now standard elements for Haggadot. The National Library of Israel holds one of the two earliest existing copies of the Prague Haggadah, as part of its Valmadonna Trust Collection; the other copy resides at the British Library.

Now inspired, Grünberg began exploring 19th century woodcut techniques in creating a unique visual language for his Haggadah. “What I like about woodcuts is that it’s very concise,” he says. “Unlike other media, you have to eliminate what is irrelevant.” The inspiration for the images in the Bezalel Haggadah derives from motifs found in synagogues and other sites in Jerusalem, as well as additional ancient Jewish scripts and early Egyptian art.

From The Sister of the Bezalel Haggadah: Grünberg’s visual language derived from various sources, including Egyptian art

The resulting volume consisted of 75 pages of original woodcuts printed on handmade acid-free paper, and pulled by the artist on an 1860 Albion printing press. Published in 1984 in a signed, limited edition of 150 copies, the Bezalel Haggadah immediately sold out, acquired by leading institutions such as the libraries at Harvard and Yale, the Jewish Museum, as well as private collectors.

In 2012, twenty eight years after the Bezalel Haggadah was published, Grünberg reopened his files, selected several drawings, placed them alongside the final versions of the woodcuts prints, and began the work on what would become The Sister of The Bezalel Haggadah. The resulting volume contrasts the freehanded concept sketches with their final woodcut print versions – sometimes similar, other times wildly different – to surprising and moving effect.

A decade later, Dr. Yoel Finkelman, Curator of the Haim and Hanna Solomon Judaica Collection at the National Library of Israel, was invited to visit Grünberg’s studio to view the work. For Finkelman, the companion volume represented an exciting opportunity for researchers to understand and track the artist’s creative process: exploration, absorption, interpretation, and expression.

Maty Grünberg presents The Sister of The Bezalel Haggadah to Library staff

On February 22, 2022, Grünberg presented his work at a modest ceremony held at the National Library of Israel. Finkelman stated “The selection of this volume will enable research on Grünberg’s work, which takes its place in the long tradition of Haggadot, along with the great inspiration and respect for the ancient Haggadot that he examined.”


The Sister of The Bezalel Haggadah was acquired on behalf of the Library through the generosity of Lord Simon Marks of Broughton.

The Last Will and Testament of Rabbi David Friesenhausen

Published in 1820, the work contains some surprising, candid views on science, faith, women, and more...

"My children and your descendants through the last generation! Place the book of the Will in the bookcase..." (Image: Moritz Daniel Oppenheim's "The Examination". From The Joseph and Margit Hoffman Judaica Postcard Collection, part of the National Library of Israel Digital Collection)

In Vienna 1820, Rabbi David HaKohen Friesenhausen (ca. 1756-1828) published a work in Hebrew entitled Mosdot Tevel (Foundations of the Universe). Friesenhausen procured rabbinic letters of recommendation which he printed in Mosdot Tevel, including such a letter from the illustrious Rabbi Moshe Sofer (known as the “Ḥatam Sofer”, 1762-1839), who, together with other rabbinic personalities in Hungary and Moravia, was even a prepaid subscriber to the book.

Title page of Mosdot Tevel, Vienna, 1820. From the National Library of Israel collection. Click image to enlarge

On its title page, Friesenhausen tells us that his work contains three sections that heretofore had not appeared in Hebrew. The first section deals with the heliocentric cosmology as formulated by the Polish astronomer and mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), and the second section is a discourse with the geometry of the Alexandrian Greek, Euclid (ca. 300 BCE). In addition to the rabbinic recommendations, Friesenhausen mentions that his mathematical work could also be vouched for, though not by rabbinic personalities.

The third section of the work, entitled “The Book of the Will: Instructions of the Author to his Children after Him,” contains Friesenhausen’s own Ethical Will.


The Book of the Will: Instructions of the Author to his Children after Him
Friesenhausen’s Ethical Will is lengthy, containing 43 detailed instructions spread over 74 pages. Though it would be rightly classified as an Ethical Will, most of the instructions do not focus explicitly on ethical behavior – the ethical guidelines in Mosdot Tevel are often subtle. Thus, Mosdot Tevel begins with matters of a theological nature, including detailed principles of faith, his understanding of central themes in Jewish thought, and fidelity to Torah. He even included a harsh critique of maskilim (followers of the Haskalah movement, sometimes called the “Jewish Enlightenment”) who he saw as having forsaken tradition, as well as an honest appraisal of the failings of traditional rabbinic Judaism in his day.


The Intended Readership
At the beginning of his Ethical Will, Friesenhausen turns to God, stating the purpose of his writing:

“My entire salvation and my desire in this written will is to instruct my descendants in Your good ways which they should follow, and to help them cleave to You so that they will be in awe of You out of love, and so that they will keep Your statutes and Your commandments that You have bequeathed to our forebears… and in order that they will straighten out their deeds in Your eyes and they will attain happiness and true success for all time and for eternity.”

Throughout the treatise, Friesenhausen specifically turns to his descendants whenever he wants to emphasize a particular point. The final page of the Ethical Will is adorned with a poem and here too Friesenhausen implores his descendants to preserve the document for posterity:

Poem at the end of David Friesenhausen’s Mosdot Tevel, Vienna, 1820. From the National Library of Israel collection. Click image to enlarge

“My children and your descendants through the last generation!
Place the book of the Will in the bookcase
Guard it, please, more than the treasure of kings
For it will renew its youth for lengthy days to come
[I] authored it so that you will serve your God
David the son of Meir the Kohen, your father.”

Yet printing an Ethical Will in a book with prepaid subscribers indicates that the author believed the message to be relevant to a wider readership. Indeed, in some passages, Friesenhausen addresses both audiences:

“And now, you my children! And every reader besides you! Know…”

Perhaps Friesenhausen’s decision to publish his Ethical Will addressed primarily to his children can be understood in light of his view on the success of others:

“And since for every person who truly loves people, he does not suffice with his own success and that of his children and generations who come after him, rather, he will seek and greatly desire the success of everyone else.”

The dual nature of Friesenhausen’s audience remains apparent throughout the work.


Pursuit of Knowledge
Another aspect of Friesenhausen’s legacy is the importance he places on the need to pursue both Torah study and “Ḥokhmah“, literally wisdom, a reference to scientific inquiry. In one place, he talks of his unparalleled achievement in attaining mastery in both fields:

“And you, my descendants, know that I myself, your father, studied much Torah, more than most of those who know science in our day. Neither did I neglect science, more than most and almost more than all the masters of Torah in our time.”

Aware that these words may sound a bit arrogant, he offers a parenthetical explanation reminding the reader of his primary intended audience:

“I cannot protest the dear reader who will consider me haughty, but he should consider that I address [primarily] my children and not strangers, who may or may not believe.”

He nonetheless goes on reinforcing his self-appraisal, adding that his wide travels justifiably led to such bold assertions:

“And apart from this, what can I do if I have traversed almost all of Germany, Bohemia, Moravia and Hungary, and I have not found a person who knows sciences yet has studied Torah properly, nor someone who has studied Torah properly and has also sufficiently delved into science.”

When Friesenhausen discussed Haskalah and those maskilim whose scientific pursuits led them away from Torah, he insisted that the two – Torah and science – are complementary, and those who make a claim to the contrary are merely revealing their own inadequacy in one of the disciplines.

Though studying natural sciences was important to him, time was not to be divided equally between the two topics. Friesenhausen felt that minimal time investment was sufficient for an understanding of science, while the bulk of one’s time should be dedicated to studying classic Jewish texts, explaining:

“There is no need to study the aforementioned works of sciences for great amounts of time of the days of his life, for even if he will delve into them for only an hour or two a day, he will reach his goal. To recognize the greatness, wisdom and exaltedness of the Creator, may He be blessed, it is not necessary to know the aforementioned sciences in their entirety, rather it is sufficient to know the main ideas of each.”

Friesenhausen was aware that the study of the natural sciences could not be done effectively from books written in Hebrew, and so he offered a form of annotated bibliography of the few recommended books in Hebrew and supplemented this list with recommended books in German.


A further aspect of the intended audience, is the choice of language – not so much the language of the Ethical Will but more so the language of the scientific portions of the book. Friesenhausen was well aware that a scientific work in Hebrew would not appeal to all. It was in this vein that Friesenhausen offers an insightful comment on the book’s sales potential to the list of prepaid subscribers, and later laments the lack of available scientific literature in Hebrew:

“Indeed most lovers of science seek it not in the Hebrew tongue, and most lovers of the Hebrew tongue, seek not science.

For indeed they will not find the sciences written in a book in the Hebrew language, save for a miniscule amount. Moreover those that are to be found, the majority are unsatisfactory for what is needed.”

Further on Friesenhausen suggests that if he had the requisite funds he would start a biennial competition for family members to author beneficial books – either in the field of Torah or in the field of science – in the Hebrew language. Alas, Friesenhausen’s financial situation did not allow him to realize this vision, but he did instruct his descendants to carry out his plan should one of them merit sufficient wealth.

The first two stanzas of the poem printed at the end of Mosdot Tevel passionately describe the tribulations and tenacity of the Hebrew language, yet for Friesenhausen learning Hebrew was a functional necessity, not an ideological priority. This is apparent when he talks about education, emphasizing the importance of teaching the Hebrew language at an early age:

“And since it is necessary for the Israelite Nation to know the Hebrew language, not only for the boys to study Torah but also for girls to at least understand the prayers and supplications which we pray and beseech as prescribed for each day, it is, therefore, appropriate to train the children in verbs and nouns of the Hebrew language, and to explain to them all the prayers so that they have the ability to understand them.”

The same utilitarian outlook led Friesenhausen to encourage parents to instruct their children in the local vernacular, as well as a third language that could grant them access to scientific texts:

“Do not be negligent to teach your sons or your daughters the language of the local nation in which you dwell, for as long as the Israelite Nation will not dwell in its own land, and as long as God will not ingather His banished ones, there is an extremely great need that one should understand the language of each nation amongst whom he dwells.

Since I have already let it be known that knowledge of sciences is beneficial for perfection of the soul, yet you will not find the sciences well explained except in one of the following three languages, namely German, French and English, therefore the person with a broad spirit should know at least one of these languages.”


Friesenhausen dedicates one lengthy section of his Ethical Will to the topic of raising children, beginning by explaining the centrality of this pursuit:

“Training the children and accustoming them to the path of Torah and uprightness, and to be diligent in their work and pleasant to human company, is a supreme principle in human success, all the days of his life on this earth, and to inherit the eternal world after his soul separates from his body.”

He warned that available literature on child rearing was inappropriate, since Jewish education was distinctly different from the education offered by non-Jews. Nonetheless, Friesenhausen granted that one can consult these works, but only if his own advice takes precedence. Some of the directives he offers for taking care of babies includes: being extra careful to ensure that the baby does not catch a cold during the first three days after birth; emphasizing that the baby is in danger of being suffocated if it sleeps in the mother’s bed; promoting vaccination as opposed to variolation (an older practice of inoculating someone with the virus of smallpox to produce immunity), along with support for this position rooted in Jewish law; encouraging mothers to breastfeed; and warning against goading children to overeat.

Friesenhausen moves on to early childhood education, stressing instruction in the Hebrew language from a young age and continuing with a detailed educational program. He touches on a gamut of pedagogic issues, including reviewing material studied and rote learning; details regarding different forms of Bible study; the study of Hebrew grammar; prudence in Talmud instruction along with an acknowledgment that not every student will succeed in Talmud study; the need to teach a trade aside from Torah; and women’s education. The section on women’s education notably includes a warning to fathers not to hastily and inconsiderately marry off their daughters:

“Also be careful, my sons, not to give your daughters to a man whom she desires not. Therefore do not hasten to give her to a man while she is still without knowledge to choose for herself according to her will. And do not focus on money, rather on qualities and level of perfection of the soul and the body, according to which a person is called by the title ‘human’.”

Friesenhausen also includes an impassioned plea to his descendants, should they be conscripted to the army. He emphasizes that they remain loyal to the commandments of the Almighty so that the merit of good deeds will stand by them in battle, yet he also stresses both practical and spiritual matters should they find themselves on the battlefield:

“Furthermore, do this and live: Learn well the rules and tactics of battle, perhaps they will be to the help of God against mighty warriors.

And you should know that you are priests of God your Lord, who has distinguished you for the army of [holy] service, to go out and come forth before the nation of God to be scouts for them.”


One of the most interesting aspects of the Ethical Will is how Friesenhausen portrays Hasidism, and specifically the portrait of Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (1759-1841). Rabbi Teitelbaum, commonly known by the title of his posthumous work Yismaḥ Moshe, served as Rabbi and Hasidic master in Sátoraljaújhely, the Hungarian town where Friesenhausen served as a Dayan from early in the nineteenth century.

Document confirming that following its publication and after he completes payment, one Rabbi Zalman is entitled to receive a copy of Mosdot Tevel; the document was signed by Friesenhausen while he was a judge in Sátoraljaújhely. From the Abraham Schwadron Autograph Collection, National Library of Israel. Click image to enlarge

Without mentioning Rabbi Teitelbaum by name, Friesenhausen includes a scathing attack against him in his Ethical Will. The facts detailed by Friesenhausen – the origins of the anonymous protagonist, his fame before reaching Hungary, his use of amulets to cure ailments, his popularity, as well as other historical tidbits mentioned – fit the biography of Rabbi Teitelbaum perfectly. The assault was similar, though not as harsh, as the critique of many other opponents of Hasidism, with one significant difference: Friesenhausen’s attack was personal.

Friesenhausen begins by describing the contemporary Hasidic milieu and then instructing his children not join the ranks of the Hasidim without being certain of the righteousness of the particular Hasidic leader they were about to follow. Friesenhausen’s instruction was a result of his own encounter with the anonymous protagonist:

“When he arrived, I too was amongst those who respectfully greeted him, and I immediately recognized from his words and his actions that he was a conceited person who exceedingly sought honor: All the greats of our time were considered by him to be as naught and nothingness.”

This first impression, however, did not deter Friesenhausen, for he saw other qualities in the anonymous Hasidic leader:

“And since many a time I heard from his mouth halakhah [Jewish law] and aggadah [Jewish lore], deep matters that were pleasant to the listener, and also in fear of God and love of peers, I considered him to be a wholesome person, also in worldly matters and human conduct I saw him to be knowledgeable and erudite: Because of all these qualities he was esteemed and exceedingly worthy in my eyes, and I did not avoid coming to him twice or three times a week.”

Alas, as time passed Friesenhausen became disenchanted with the behavior of the local leader, seeing him as unethical:

“And after doing thus for many days, his actions proved themselves that he was not wholesome in fear of God and love of peers. And his inner self is outward appearance. For I recognized him to be a bad-tempered person, who reaps honor from the degradation of his friend: He boasts before the masses about his piety and asceticism and his great wisdom, and is not afraid to denigrate and embarrass others in public. He shows himself to be disdainful of profit, yet in truth he loves silver and gold in order to amass them for himself, his grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.”

Friesenhausen had no doubt in his mind: The more he observed the Hasidic leader’s behavior, the more he became convinced of his unethical conduct and his corrupt character. Friesenhausen chose to distance himself, though his local rabbinic duties sometimes required almost daily contact. These interactions led Friesenhausen to the conclusion that the Hasidic leader did not have an impressive command of Torah – not Talmud and halakhah, nor Kabbalah – though Friesenhausen did acknowledge that he had unrealized potential.

He ends this portion of the book with a clear instruction to his readership:

“And this matter has brought me to instruct you not to join people like this, unless you clearly know by repeated observation that he is [indeed] holy.”

Given the identification of the anonymous protagonist, this attack has a surprising twist: Rabbi Teitelbaum headed the list of prepaid subscribers at the beginning of the work. Moreover, in 1816, when Friesenhausen embarked upon a journey to raise funds for publishing his work, Rabbi Teitelbaum issued him with a letter of recommendation filled with praise!

Subscribers’ page at the beginning of Mosdot Tevel, Vienna, 1820. Moshe Teitelbaum is the first one listed. From the National Library of Israel collection. Click image to enlarge

It appears that Rabbi Teitelbaum increased his activities in the latter part of 1815, following the death of influential Hasidic masters in Poland and Galicia. According to one scholar, this was too much for Friesenhausen, who consequently decided to embark upon a journey.

While Friesenhausen was traveling, Rabbi Teitelbaum ruled in absentia to his disadvantage when he awarded Friesenhausen’s wife a higher weekly stipend from the capital Friesenhausen had left behind. When Friesenhausen returned to Sátoraljaújhely and saw his dwindled funds, he was angered by Rabbi Teitelbaum’s ruling. This ruling was certainly not the main source of contention between the two, as Friesenhausen’s distaste for the city’s rabbi centered on the latter’s Hasidic activity and his comments focused on his personal conduct. Nevertheless, one cannot help but wonder how much the ruling in his absence affected Friesenhausen’s general attitude not only towards the “anonymous” Hasidic leader, but regarding Hasidism in general.


A version of this article was originally published in Jewish Educational Leadership. It appears here as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.