Eliyahu Guttmacher Papers
Scope and Content Note
The papers of Eliyahu Guttmacher span the latter years of his life at Grätz, mainly the 1850s to his death in 1874. They consist predominantly of kvitlekh (notes written to a rabbi requesting blessings, amulets, or advice) and letters resembling kvitlekh but also include correspondence, family papers, and financial documents.
The Papers of Eliyahu Guttmacher have been divided into three series. Series I includes kvitlekh and letters resembling kvitlekh. Series II consists of general and family correspondence, telegrams, and miscellaneous documents. Series III includes receipts for contributions to Palestine, postal receipts, and financial documents.
The papers of Eliyahu Guttmacher are a valuable source for the following areas of research: the life of Rabbi Eliyahu Guttmacher, the history of the early Zionist movement, the social and economic history of the Jews of Poland during the mid-nineteenth century, and genealogical studies. The collection at YIVO generally parallels the types of documents found in the Guttmacher papers at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem except that the YIVO collection does not include Guttmacher's manuscripts. A brief description of the papers at the Hebrew University is in the RG folder of this collection.
- 1828-1908, 1958
- Majority of material found within 1847-1874
- Guttmacher, Elijah, 1796-1874 (Person)
Language of Materials
Hebrew, Yiddish, German, and French.
Conditions Governing Access
The collection has been digitized and is available online without restrictions. The physical collection is closed.
Conditions Governing Use
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Rabbi Eliyahu Guttmacher, Talmudic scholar, mystic, forerunner of Zionism, and an early advocate of Jewish settlement in Palestine, was born in Borek in the district of Posen (Poznan, Western Poland) to Rabbi Shlomo and Tzipporah Guttmacher on August 5, 1796. At the age of nineteen, he entered the yeshiva of famous scholar Rabbi Akiva Eiger of Posen, where he became his disciple. There he began to study Kabbalah in addition to traditional Talmudic literature.
In 1822, Guttmacher was appointed the rabbi of Pleschen (Polish Pleszew). In 1841, he became the rabbi of Grätz (Polish: Grodzisk Wielkopolski) in the Poznan province of Western Poland where he remained until his death on October 5, 1874.
Guttmacher's study of Kabbalah led him to delve into mysticism and Hasidism. While Guttmacher was not a Hasid, he adopted an austere way of life and acquired a reputation as a holy man. People began coming to him for blessings, cures, amulets, and advice despite his efforts to discourage them. During his later years at Grätz, he received thousands of visitors and letters, mostly from Poland and Russia but also from Prussia, France, England, and America. Guttmacher was the only rabbi in Western Poland to be revered and sought after by masses of Jews in the manner of the Hasidic rabbis of Eastern Poland. Toward the end of his life he became known as the Tsadik of Grätz.
Guttmacher's study of Kabbalah also led him to develop mystical Zionist theories and to support the activities of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, forerunner of the Hibbat Zion movement, whose work Drishat Tsiyon outlined the first practical plan for Jewish settlement in Palestine. Guttmacher believed that the Jewish people would be redeemed only after they returned to the land of Israel, worked the land, and observed the commandments relating to the land. Instead of waiting passively for the Messiah, Jews should purchase land in Palestine, establish agricultural settlements, and send poor Jews from Europe to be farmers. In the interim, Guttmacher urged increased financial support for Talmudic scholars in Palestine and issued a public appeal for funds in 1860 together with Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger of Altona.
To implement his ideas, Guttmacher joined Rabbi Kalischer in various appeals to European Jewry to raise money for Jewish settlement in Palestine. Together with Kalischer he attended the conference in Thorn (Torun, Western Poland) in 1860 which laid the groundwork for a society to promote such settlement. Later, he became an active member of the Society for the Settlement of the Land of Israel which was founded at Frankfort [Frankfurt am Main] by Dr. Haim Turia. When the society foundered, Guttmacher and Kalischer reestablished it and served as its directors. Like Kalischer, he was in contact with Adolph Cremieux of the Alliance Israelite Universelle of France and with Sir Moses Montefiore in an effort to secure financing for settlement projects. He collected funds for Mikveh Israel, the agricultural school established near Jaffa in 1870, and for Petah Tikva, the first settlement outside Jerusalem, established in 1878.
Guttmacher also organized a Kabbalist study group in Jerusalem, "Shenot Eliyahu," and, with the help of Rabbi Yaakov Mordechai Hershenson, he founded two societies for the support of Talmudic scholars in Jerusalem, "Sukkat Shalom," and "Meor Yaakov." He solicited yearly contributions to these funds from visitors, students, and disciples and also forwarded to Jerusalem monies collected for these and other institutions by emissaries (agents) who traveled to the Jewish communities of Europe.
Although less of an activist than Kalischer, Guttmacher lent his considerable rabbinic stature to the support of the early Zionist movement. He wrote "haskamot" (a preface and statement of approval) for Kalischer's Drishat Tsiyon and for the writings of another Zionist, Rabbi Nathan Friedland. He also wrote letters of recommendation for rabbis who undertook to raise money, corresponded on matters of Jewish law with activists in Palestine, issued a pamphlet on the renewal of sacrifice in the Holy Land, and helped lessen the opposition of the Ashkenazic rabbis of Jerusalem (led by Rabbi Meir Auerbach, formerly of Kalisz) to Zionist projects.
Guttmacher's influence extended beyond his immediate community because of his reputation as a rabbinic scholar. He was recognized unofficially as the rabbinic authority for many small communities in Poznan and throughout Germany. In addition, many of his students who became religious functionaries in Europe and America turned to him for advice in dealing with communal problems. He published commentaries on Mishna and Talmud and composed numerous novellae and responsa, most of which are still in manuscript form at the Hebrew University and the Mossad Harav Kook in Jerusalem.
Guttmacher's published works include Zafenath Paneah (Brody, 1875), Shenot Eliyahu (1879), Sukkat Shalom (1883) and commentaries in the Vilna edition of the Talmud published by Romm publishing house. Letters and essays by Guttmacher may also be found in the published works of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, Rabbi Nathan Friedland, and R.A. Slutzki.
Two works that have appeared about Rabbi Guttmacher are: Aliyat Eliyahu, a memorial volume published by the Kabbalists of Jerusalem, and Hadrat Eliyahu, a book of wonder tales by Rabbi Yudel Rosenberg (which was translated into Yiddish as Der Graiditzer, Piotrkow-Warsaw).
Guttmacher's rabbinate coincided with the rise of the Reform movement in Germany. Although opposed to the movement and to the Reform rabbinate, Guttmacher nevertheless permitted his students to study German and to enroll in secular universities so that they would be able to make a living.
- Sokolow, Nahum Hibbath Zion 1934, p. 17-28.
- Bromberg, A. Harav Eliyahu Guttmacher, Jerusalem, 1969.
- Enziklopedia shel ha-ziyyonut ha-datit, 1958, p. 448-56.
6.67 Linear Feet
Eliyahu Guttmacher was a rabbi, Talmudic scholar, mystic, communal leader, and early Zionist. During his lifetime he was known as the Tsadik of Grätz and thousands of Jews flocked to him for blessings and advice. Guttmacher was also known for his support of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer, an early Zionist, and for his extensive collection of funds for institutions in Palestine. The bulk of the collection consists of several thousand kvitlekh (written requests to a rabbi asking for a blessing or advice). The kvitlekh were received from Jews residing in Poland and other, mostly European, countries. They reflect the social history of European Jews in the mid-19th century and relate to financial, medical, and family problems. In addition, the collection contains the following: general correspondence, including inquiries relating to religious matters, family correspondence, legal documents such as court and government papers, bills, certifications by unidentified authors, discussions on Jewish law by unknown authors, amulets, business documents, and receipts for contributions to charitable institutions in Palestine.
This collection is arranged into three series:
- Series I: Kvitlekh, undated, 1854-1874
- Series II: General and Family Correspondence, undated, 1828-1908, 1958
- Subseries 1: General Correspondence, undated, 1839-1874, 1958
- Subseries 2: Family Correspondence and Papers, undated, 1847-1908
- Subseries 3: Miscellaneous Correspondence, undated, 1828-1880
- Series III: Financial Documents, undated, 1853-1898
According to an article by Zalman Reisen, "Letters from America to the Tzaddik of Graetz," YIVO Bleter, Yorbukh fun amopteyl, (1939, v.2) 191-218, the Guttmacher papers were discovered by YIVO zamlers (collectors) in an attic in Grätz and brought to YIVO, Vilna some time prior to or during 1932. By 1939, part of the collection had been transferred to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Reisen does not provide a detailed inventory of the collection, nor does he explain why or when the collection was divided. However, it is apparent from his article that the original collection included documents that are not among the papers currently at YIVO.
During the Nazi occupation of Vilna in 1942, the records were looted by the Einsatzstab Rosenberg and sent to the NSDAP Institute Zur Erforschung der Judenfrage in Frankfurt-am-Main. In 1945 they were recovered by the U.S. army and returned to the YIVO in New York, via the U.S. army archival depot in Offenbach. The records arrived in New York in 1947.
The Guttmacher materials that arrived at YIVO in 1947 were unsorted and in poor physical condition. Some appeared to have been deliberately mutilated. Partial attempts to arrange the collection were begun by Isaiah Trunk and Steven Lowenstein. The collection was finally arranged and described in 1982 by Sandra Berliant with the assistance of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Documents that remained hidden in Vilna throughout the Nazi occupation were brought to YIVO after the war by Abraham Sutzkever and Szmerke Kaczerginski and were originally part of the Papers of Abraham Sutzkever and Szmerke Kaczerginski, RG 223. These documents were integrated into the Guttmacher Papers in 2019.
Partial attempts to arrange the collection were begun by Isaiah Trunk and Steven Lowenstein. The collection was finally arranged and described in 1982 by Sandra Berliant with the assistance of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Edited by Rivka Schiller in 2007 with the assistance of a grant from the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation. Collection was put in new folders and new boxes and given more precise folder titles and dates and collection description was updated by Rachel S. Harrison in 2019.
- Guide to the Papers of Eliyahu Guttmacher (1796-1874) 1828-1908, 1958 (bulk 1847-1874) RG 27
- Processed by Sandra Berliant with the assistance of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, 1982. Edited by Rivka Schiller in 2007 with the assistance of a grant from the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation.
- © 2019
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- Processed, conserved and digitized as part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project (2015-2022)
- 2019: Collection was re-foldered and additional description was added by Rachel S. Harrison.
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