Vilna Gaon

Vilna Gaon

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Telza, the Mother of Rabbi Moshe Rivkas

Telza, the mother of Rabbi Moshe Rivkas.
(updated 30.03.2011)

My article "Ancestry of the Gaon of Vilna – Descent from King David" was published in "Avotaynu" Volume XXI, Number 3, Fall 2005.

Hebrew translation by Benyamin Pantelat

Further research provides  a possible explanation for the confusion between Moshe Rivkas' father's identity as Naftali Tzvi Hersh Sofer of Prague or Hersh Fass of Krakow.

I discussed the identity of Rabbi Moshe Rivkas' mother:

"Little is known about the Gaon's female ancestors. There are two versions as to the identity of Naf­tali Tzvi Hersh Sofer's wife. Shapira[1]  refers to Naftali as Tzvi Hersh Fass and records his wife's name as Rivka, a daughter of Natan Mandel, son of Meir of Krakow.

But Hersh Fass lived in Krakow, whereas the father of Moshe Rivkas, Naftali Tzvi Hersh lived in Prague where he held the position as Sofer (scribe) of the Kahal.i Hersh Fasi held a position as Parnes Umanhig (a community leader) in Krakow. Kahana[2] lists the children of Hersh Fass but the name of Moshe Rivkas is not included. Naftali Tzvi Hersh Sofer died in Prague in 1601, whereas  Hersh Fass is recorded in the Pinkas Hakahal (a community register book) in 1632. Therefore it can be seen that Shapira has confused two individuals. A possible explanation for the confusion may be due to the fact that Fass ' son Leib was the father-in-law (by his first marriage) of Rabbi Gershon Ashkenazi of Nikolsberg and Vienna (1615-1693, author of Avodat Hagershuni) who referred to Moshe Rivkas as his “Mekhutan” (meaning that their children were married) in Gershon’s approbation to Rivkas’ Be’er Hagolah" 

Benymin Rivlin[3] identifies Moshe Rivkas' mother:

About Reb Naftali Hirsh Sofer of the Holy Community of Prague, son of Reb Petakhiah, related his son Reb Moshe Rivkas, in the above introduction [to his book Be’er Hagolah] that “he drew water and served before the rabbi the Gaon our teacher the Rabbi Reb Falk Katz of blessed memory in the Holy Community of Lvov, after his marriage, in the year 5356 and 5357 [1596 and 1597], and there edited the Shulkhan Arukh and wrote at the side some matters from the Shulkhan Arukh of the above rabbi the Gaon of blessed memory.
His wife was Mrs. Telza – of the root of the Gaon Reb Shaul Wahl, and apparently he was “His Honor Hirsh the son of the master the honorable Petakhiah Sofer, tender in years, Sofer son of Sofer, who passed away in Elul 5361 [1601] in Prague.

This reference to Telza, Moshe Rivkas’ mother, appeared prior to Benyamin Rivlin’s comment in 1971, in 1900 in Bentzion Eizenstadt’s Dor Rabanav Vesofraf[4]

Rivlin refers to other relatives of Moshe Rivkas[5]:

c. According to Rabbi Moshe in Be’er Hagolah his relatives were the Rabbi Reb Yeshaya Horowitz, the author of Shnei Lukhot Habrit (43) and the Rabbi Mordekhai Krasnik of the holy community of Zeil (44.
d. The Rabbi the Gaon our teacher the Rabbi Reb Gershon Ashkenazi Av Beit Din of Nikolsberg and Vienna, who was among the approbants to the book of Reb Moshe, writes of him that he was his Mekhutan.
(43). Be’er Hagolah, Orakh Khaim 645, 7, 30 and see there Khoshen Mishpat 67, 68.
(44). Ibid, Orakh Khaim 586. 1. 5.

Questioned my relative the Rabbi Reb Mordekhai Krasnik P of the Holy Community K [an abbreviation which may mean Parnes of the Holy Community of Krakow][6]

Moshe Rivkas' father was clearly identified by Moshe Rivkas in his introduction to "Be'er Hagolah" as Naftali Hersh Sofer of Prague who died in Prague in 1601.

Moshe Rivkas was then a young boy of five. His mother was a young widow aged about twenty one. It is reasonable to assume that she remarried.

Hersh Fass' first wife Rivka, daughter of Natan Mandel died in 1606. She was the mother of Leib Fass whose daughter married Gershon Ashkenazy (also know as Ulif and Fass, 1615-1693) who is referred to by Moshe Rivkas as "Mekhutani"[7]. In modern times this term indicates the relationship between the parents of a married couple. In the rabbinic literature it indicates any relationship by marriage.

Hersh Fass' second wife was "Teltzel"[8] who managed the considerable fortune left by her husband.

Details of Mordekhai Krasnik, referred to by Moshe Rivkas as "She'ar Besari" meaning a blood relative state that Rivkas lived in Krakow "among his relatives" before he settled in Vilna.

Since Fass' first wife died in1606, and since Moshe Rivkas' father's wife, also claimed to be Telza, was left a widow in 1601, it is possible that she moved to Krakow where lived a relative Mordekhai Krasnik, and there became the second wife of Hersh Fass.

Thus the apparent contraditions in the sources as to the identity of Moshe Rivkas' father as either Nafatli Tzvi Sofer of Prague or Hersh Fass of Krakow, arose from the possibility that Fass was Rivkas' step-father from his mother Telza's second marriage.

This also explains the term "mekhutan" used by Rivlas to refer to Gershon Ashkenazy who was a son-in-law to Rivkas' step-brother Leib Fass.

Additional Notes:
1) Eliyahu Landa's notes on the family of the Vilna Gaon do not mention the above relationships.
2) "Sefer Yukhsin" by Ch.Y.D Weiss (2007) confuses the relationships.
3) Gershon Ashkenazy in his book "Avodat Hagershuni" refers also to Rabbi Shabtai Hakohen the "Shakh" as "mekhutni". This may be explained by the fact that Ashkenazy's father-in-law Leib Fass had a sister who married Moshe Leizers, a nephew of Moshe Isserles, the "Rema", whose great-great-grand-daughter was the wife of the Shakh.


[1] Shapira, Yaakov Leib. Mishpakhot Atikot Beyisrael. Tel Aviv 1981.
[2] Kahana, S.Z. Anaf Etz Avot. Krakow 1903.
[3] Rivlin, Benyamin. Reb Moshe Rivkas. Jerusalem 1971
[4] Eizenstadt, Bentzion. Dor rabanav Vesofrav. Vilna 1900.
[5] Fishman-Maimon, Yehuda Leib. Sefer Hagra. Jerusalem, 1954.
[6] Dembitzer, Chaim Natan, Krakow 1893
[7]  "Yeshurum"  1999,  page 685 article by Betzalel Landau, originally published in "Hamodia" in Av 1964, "Rabbi Moshe Rivkas – author of "Be'er Hagolah",
[8]  Dembitzer, Chaim Natan, Krakow 1893.

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