I love opinionated non-PC people. This blog is to vent my opinions on life, the universe and everything. Which is 42 which in gematria is "My Heart" (LBY) according to Rabbi Abulafia. The Divine Heart is the centre of everything.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Rebbe Moshe ben Zalman: the Catholic son of the Alter Rebbe

Schneur Zalman of Liadi the Alter Rebbe

Four years ago in 2006 I wrote an article on the Shklov Khasidim and their connections to the Frankists and the Catholic son of the first Lubavitch Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi. Around that time I read an article on Rebbe Moshe in Ha'aretz (an Israeli newspaper) about the research of David Assaf. I had also been studying the background of this story for some time. David Assaf wrote in his Hebrew language book about the discovery of the Church records of the conversion of Rebbe Moshe in 1820. However it only now in July 2010 that I have finally obtained the English edition of David Assaf's book entitled "The Untold Tales of the Hasidim: Crisis and discontent in the History of the Hasidim". It is an interesting book and certainly worth reading. However it is obvious that David Assaf writes from a modern perspective that seems to reek of scepticism and negativity towards Hasidism and its dynastic families. The problem for me with writers like David Assaf and his associates is they don't understand the mystical spirituality of these people and thus continually misinterpret them. Of those associated with David Assaf, that I have read, the only writer that I find does have a deeper understanding of the mystical life of the Hasidim is Zvi Mark.

It seems strange to me that in writing about Reb Moshe of Chabad (aka Rebbe Moshe of Shklov), who became a believer in Jesus as the Messiah according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, that David Assaf nowhere mentions the numerous Frankists hidden in the Jewish and Catholic communities. The events of this story of Rebbe Moshe is set in the very heartlands of the Frankists. He mentions sources that speak of a Russian officer who in some way influenced Reb Moshe. I identitfied this officer as a member of the Scottish crypto Jewish family (who became secret Frankists in the Catholic Church) who had for a number of generations served in the Russian military. This officer was Lewis Seton Wilson. There were two Russian officer's called Lewis Seton Wilson who served in the Czar's armies. They were uncle and nephew and the nephew was General Lewis Seton Wilson (b.1779). Joshua George Lazarus (1799-1869) who was a religious Jew who became an Anglican (Hebrew Christian)wrote in his book 'Ebenezer' that this officer was a General: "... a Russian General happened to stay with the Rabbi mentioned above [Dov Ber the 2nd Lubavitch Rebbe], whose name was Rabbi Moshe. This General...conversed with the Rabbi about Christianity and gave him a New Testament, which he diligently read so that in three nights he was by the grace of God convinced of the Truth, and wished to make an open confession of his faith. The general fearing that this might occasion a disturbance in the place amongst the Jews, thought it prudent to send him to St Petersburg...". It is interesting that some Jews claimed that the family of the Chabad dynasty were descended from a Scottish woman who came to Eastern Europe and was of crypto-Jewish ancestry.
Professor David Assaf

In 1820 Isaac Ber Levisohn wrote to his friend Joseph Perl about the events recently happening in Ule (where Reb Moshe was the Rabbi). David Assaf quotes this letter in his book. It is important to note that Levisohn is a maskil and thus opposed to Hasidism and may exaggerate any conflicts in the Chabad dynasties or put his own spin on the events. " I now find myself obliged to report some current events to his honour...Rabbi Zalman Liozner [Schneur Zalman of Liadi], the Head of the Habad faction, was survived by three sons, Reb Ber, Reb Moshe and Reb Avraham. And it came to pass after their father's death that conflict broke out between Reb Ber and Reb Moshe, each of whom wished to fill his father's place. And Reb Ber sat on the throne of the rabbinate in the town of Lubavitch...but his brother Moshe outstripped him and was appointed rabbi of the town of Ule. The conflict between them began about two years ago until Reb Ber defeated Reb Moshe. Upon seeing that Reb Ber had become greater than he, Reb Moshe approached the priests and converted. And although there had been a schism between the two factions in Habad - for the previous two years Habad had split into two factions- they made peace among themselves, and collected much money and bribed the priests and the town and provincial officials to return Moshe to them, claiming that he was incompetent and insane. And Reb Moshe shrieked like a crane and stated that he had done so in sane, sound mind, and wrote a letter to Prince Golitsyn recounting the entire matter. And the news reached Czar Alexander. The Czar sent for Reb Moshe and had him brought to St Petersburg in order to interview him and to determine if he spoke the truth, for he was portrayed as incompetent and as having been subjected to undue influence. And this Reb Moshe had already been sent to St Petersburg and came before the Czar. This event took place about a month ago... And the Hasidim around here go about aimlessly, and are jumping out of their skin, and would harm themselves if they could."

However from the accounts it would seem that this was not the beginning of Rebbe Moshe's strange spiritual journey. It would seem that from the age of 8 he had mystical experiences with a spiritual messenger or angel called Abraham [possibly apparitions of the Patriarch Abraham or Rabbi Abraham ha Malach (d.1777)] who taught him things that upset his father. He would continue over the years to experience these mystical phenomenon. Moshe was the most handsome of the three sons of the Alter Rebbe. He is described as tall and blonde like his father Schneur Zalman and a master of Halakah and Kabbalah. Napoleon is said to have envisioned the blonde Rabbi who was opposed to him and the red haired Rabbi the Rimanover Rebbe who supported him. Napoleon said "I see the Red Jew walking by my side through the heat of battle, assuring me of victory: he is my stategist! Whenever I ride I also see the Blonde Jew always railed against me". Some believed Reb Moshe was one of the mystical 36 hidden (lamed vavs) Tzaddikim of his generation. He was able to memorise all his father's talks and repeat them and write them down afterwards. No doubt his deep interest in the Zohar and the Kabbalah led him to many of the same conclusions as the other Zoharists (later called Frankists).

This interest in Kabbalah led to him marrying the daughter of the Zhidichov Rebbe Tzvi Hirsch in 1796 when he was 13. Rebbe Tzvi Hirsh was a master of the Kabbalah, the Zohar, and the writings of Luria (the Ari). He was passionate about encouraging Jews to study these mystical works. Due to Rebbe Tzvi Hirsh's enthusiasm and the efforts of his students some Jewish Yeshivahs in Polish Galicia added the study of Kabbalah to their curriculum. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh intergrated the mystical teachings of the Baal Shem Tov with the kabbalah of Luria. After Rebbe Moshe's public conversion his connection with the Zhidichov Rebbe was hidden and while the genealogies admit that his first wife Shifra Hirsh was a daughter of a Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh, they don't say that he was the Zhidichov Rebbe.

Until the death of his wife Shifra Hirsh in 1802/3 after child birth of a daughter Shifra, Rebbe Moshe lived and studied with his father-in-law and deepened his kabbalistic understandings. Shifra has been confused with her daughter also called Shifra Hirsh who went with her husband and daughters to live in Palestine in the 1840's. Galicia at this time contained numerous Zoharists (Frankists). It was in Galicia at this time that he met Rebbe Sender (his future father-in-law)who was a secret Frankist and a very wealthy merchant. Reb Sender was also known as Benjamin Ephraim Alexander Broide (Brody) and Alexander Margolioth. He was also the father-in-law of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. In 1802 Alexander disappeared from Podolia and he moved to Sheklov (Shklov) were he became the Shklov Rebbe Sender and he married his daughter Leah Golda Broide to Rebbe Moshe. Rebbe Moshe then became known as Reb Moshe of Shklov. At this stage he was a secret unbaptised Frankist.
Reb Moshe in later life is said to have look very much like his father Schneur Zalman (above)

It was while living with his father-in-law Rebbe Sender in Shklov in 1812 that he was imprisoned by the French. However after his encounter with the Russian officer in 1814 he decided to become a Christian and went to Mogilev to study with the Russian Orthodox Bishop. This caused conflict with his family and they went to Mogilev and insisted that Moshe was mentally unwell and bribed the officials to return him to their care. It is said that Reb Moshe first met the Czar in 1815 with his brother Reb Ber when the Czar was visiting Babinovichi. The Czar and the Bishop of Smolensk organised  for Moshe to go to a monastery in Jarcevo to study and reflect. There was disagreement about accepting him as a convert by the priests and he was sent back home to his family for further discernment. He went to Shklov and was then sent by his father-in-law to Latvia (Courland) where he became the Rabbi of Kreitzburg (Krustpils)as Rabbi Moshe Zvi Broide. He left Krustpils in 1816 when he became an assistant in the Rabbinical Court at Shavel in Lithuania where his wife Leah had relatives. She was the neice of Rabbi Azriel Zvi Broide of Shavel. It was in Krustpils that he wrote his Kabbalistic work on the sign of the Cross. Moshe returned to Belarus (White Russia) and then became the Rabbi of Ulla (Ule/Vola) after this. His daughter Shifra married a member of the Rivlin family there. However finally in July 1820 he was secretly baptised as Peter Alexandrovitch by Catholic Frankists in Ulla and later he received a more official conditional Catholic baptism in September 1820 as Leoni Joliwicz (Leon Yulievich). In the process of his conflict with his family it would seem that Moshe became disillusioned with the Catholic priests and doctors who were successfully bribed by his family to declare him mad. He then appealed to the Russian Orthodox Church for help. In the conflict between the different parties over the original baptism it was necessary to protect and hide the secret Frankists who were involved. The secret Jewish Frankists who were his godparents were Justina Benkovska and Rebbe Sender (Alexander) of Shklov his father-in-law. Reb Moshe disguised them as two Catholics from Ule Justina Alexandrovna Ruett and her father the estate owner of Ule Alexander Petrovich Ruett (they didn't exist as the estate owner was one Ignace Ruett not Alexander).

It would seem that in 1828 he became Russian Orthodox. Due to his great learning he was also ordained as a secret Russian Orthodox priest and made an Archmandrite to serve the needs of Christian Jews. He left St Petersberg for Shklov where he returned to a total frum orthodox Jewish observance while being the Rebbe to the Frankist Jews hidden in the Jewish community. He reverted to being a secret Catholic Frankist Jew. He may have also been ordained as a secret Frankist Bishop by Archbishop Mihail Levitsky of Lviv (Lvov / Lemberg), Cardinal Fransoni and his father-in law Reb Sender (who in turn had been ordained as a secret Frankist Bishop by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, Cardinal York and Archbishop Antin Angelovych of Lviv (from a Frankist family) in 1808). Reb Moshe wandered throughout Europe at times as a wealthy Jewish merchant and at others as a poor mad holy fool. He was a close friend and guide to Czar Alexander I's mistress Princess Zinaida Volkonskaya among others.

Reb Moshe descendant the 5th Rebbe of Chabad Shalom Dover

Reb Moshe of Sheklov and Leah Golda were the great grandparents of the 5th Rebbe of Chabad through his mother Rivkah (daughter of Aharon Moshe Alexandrov). The identity of Reb Moshe (Chaim Moshe Leb) as the Catholic convert son of Schneur Zalman was disguised. Other Hasidic Dynasties were already loathe to intermarry with the Chabad dynasty so it was necessary to disguise the identities and rework some of the stories of the family. Rebbe Moshe ben Schneur Zalman's son Levi Isaac was the father of Nachum Yosef Schneursohn who married his cousin Sarah Rivka whose mother Shifra Hirsh was the half-sister of Levi Isaac. They settled in Palestine in the 1840's. Their son Chaim Zvi Schneursohn visited Australia in the 19th century and died in South Africa in 1881. Rebbe Moshe's son Gershon Yehuda Leb took his mother's name Broide and his children used variants of this name such as Brady, Broidy and Brody. Reb Moshe himself used the names of Leon Brody and Leon Judah.

Some of his descendants went to England and Ireland. Reb Moshe's Catholic grandson Leon Brody or Brady lived in Manchester and Dublin. Leon's daughter Mary Brady married in Dublin and went with her family to Australia in 1865. Leon in 1860 returned to Russia to his grandfather Moshe and became an observant Jew with his two youngest children Adelaide (Adel) and Alexander (Aharon Moshe). Reb Moshe's wife Leah Golda Broide had a brother Berend Natan Broide who went to live in Cavan Ireland with other members of the family and took the name Bernard Brady. He was the father of John Brady who became the first Catholic Bishop of Perth in Australia and later the Bishop went back to Europe and became a hermit. Bishop Brady died in France as a hermit in 1871. John Brady had met his uncle (by marriage) Moshe in Italy in the 1830's as did the future Benedictine Bishops Serra and Salvado.

Reb Moshe had been friends with Princess Zinaida since 1815 when she was the mistress of Czar Alexander I and he attended her artistic Salons in the 1820's in Russia. He also spent time directing Zinaida in Rome during the last half of the 1830's when the Princess became a Catholic and began to have spiritual Salons. She was very enthusiastic in her support of the Jews who had become Christians. She was a good friend and benefactor of the Ratisbonne brothers Theodore and Alphonse (see "The Pilgrim Princess" by Maria Fairweather). She was very influenced by the spiritual teachings of Reb Moshe to become very little and a fool for God. It was at the literary and artistic Salons of Princess Zinaida in Russia that Rebbe Moshe ben Zalman also met the Catholic Frankist Adam Mickiewicz. Reb Moshe ben Zalman was an important link between those Zoharists (Frankists)who were openly Catholics and those that were openly Jewish.
Adam Mickiewicz the famous Polish Frankist literary figure

Note: I first wrote the article on Shklov Hasidim in 2006 and published it on this blog on 24th of January 2007 (this version is still here in my draft section). I transferred this article to my other blog in September 2007 with some changes.

Note 2: The article on the later years of the Alter Rebbe reveals some more information about Reb Moshe in his earlier years and the high status he was held in by his father. It reveals that even at this earlier stage Reb Moshe was studying Catholic and Christian teachings and had been many times to St Petersburg mixing with high officials. He was fluent in Russian and French.


Anonymous said...


Fr. Andreas of the Catholic 'Community of the Beatitudes' in Emmaus once told me that a number of years ago, when he had been the superior of their religious house in Emmaus, Israel - that he had one day personally witnessed two Hasids enter their Eucharistic Adoration Chapel, kneel before the Eucharist, adore for an hour or so and then rush out without even a 'hello' or a 'goodbye.' So I would imagine that there have to be a number of 'hidden Hebrew Catholics' among the Hasids living in Israel. Reminds me of the 'Lamed-vav Tzaddikim.'

(Aharon Yosef) Athol Bloomer said...

Father Elias Friedman also told a similiar story of Jewish rabbis or chasids coming and doing adoration at the Stella Maris Monastery where he lived on Mt Carmel.

Tsion Avienu said...

Very interesting information. There are lots of Chassidim both in Yisrael & Crown Heights who secretly know Yeshuah.

My inquiry is about the Kabalistic view on the Sign of the Cross, could you point to a site or provide more information?

Jorge Quiñónez said...

Thanks for your informative article. I'm just beginning to read Assaf's interesting book, an English translation of his earlier Hebrew work. Thanks for your work on Levertoff's lineage: it helped flesh out a few things in my understanding of Levertoff. In 2002, I wrote a paper on him.