Nov 24, 2017

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00038

Last Name
BEN SHEMAYA (CHRISTFELSS)
First Name
Mordechai (Phillip Ernst)
Life Span
1671-1759
Publications
Neues und Altes Judenthum. 7 vols. (1735-39)
Sources
CEJSH abstract from Kwartalnik Historii Zydow (Jewish History Quarterly) 2009, 3(231), pages: 269-289; Chad Gadya controversy from מבחר כתבי מ"ג שנאבר לעווינזון
Details
Jewish printer who, in the wake of the 17th century Shabbatai Zvi debacle, converted to the "true Messiah, Jesus" in 1701. Mordechai ben Moshe Shemaia (1671-1759) was a Messianist Jew. In 1700, he studied together with Abraham Rovigo, who was staying in Fürth at the time. When an anathema was put on Rovigo's book entitled 'Eshel Abraham', published in 1701, Rovigo and his disciples were expelled from Fürth. Mordechai, who received baptism in 1701, and with it took the name of Philip Ernst Christfels, was also excommunicated. He declined an offer of a Leipzig University job and became a publisher of Jewish books in Wilhermsdorf. His printer was Zvi Hirsch, a friend of him from their youth, who signed the books they published. Christfels successfully defeated the competitors from nearby Fürth, forcing them to close down their printing shop. His accusations of blasphemies allegedly contained in Jewish prayer books resulted in confiscations of Jewish books in many principalities. This led to a surge in demand for religious literature whose orthodoxy was guaranteed by Christfels as the censor. Christfels established contacts with the Jesuit Franz Haselbauer, the supreme censor of Jewish books in Poland. Without his consent, no Jewish books could be printed or imported. Christfels won his trust and the books published by him received approval, and consequently a captive market in the Czech, Austrian, Hungarian and Moravian lands, which was practically off limits to his competitors. This is where most of the books were distributed. Christfels ended his publishing activity in unclear circumstances in 1739, when his printer Zvi Hirsh returned to Fürth and revived his own publishing business. During hs career as a printer, he became also embroiled in various accusations and controversies aimed at discrediting unscriptural Jewish practices such as, for example, the singing of Chad Gadya that had made its way into the Passover seder liturgy.

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