Yeḥezkel ben Yehudah Landau and his son Shemu’el. František Sir after M. Klauber, ca. 1840. Engraving. The Hebrew inscription under the senior Landau’s name refers to him as Noda‘ bi-Yehudah (Prominent in Judah), the title of his book of responsa, often used as an alternate name for Landau himself. (YIVO)

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Landau, Yeḥezkel ben Yehudah

(1713–1793), halakhic authority, Talmudic scholar, and chief rabbi of Prague. Yeḥezkel (Ezekiel) Landau was born in the Polish city of Opatów into a prominent and wealthy family. He was educated by his father and by Rabbi Yitsḥak of Ludmir (Rus., Vladimir; now Ukr., Volodymyr Volyns’kyi). Shortly after his marriage at age 18, Landau entered the elite Brody kloyz, which was then the center of kabbalistic study in Poland, and remained there for 13 years. In Brody, he established connections with many leading scholars and mystics. In 1733, he also became the head judge of one of Brody’s four Jewish courts.

In 1745, Landau became the chief rabbi and head of the Talmudic academy in the Polish city of Jampol, a post he held for nearly 10 years. There he gained a reputation both for his learned homilies—subsequently collected and published as Doresh le-Tsiyon (1827)—and for his responsa. In 1752, he gained further acclaim for his Igeret ha-shalom, which he wrote to reconcile the divisive Emden–Eybeschütz controversy, a bitter dispute that resulted when Ya‘akov Emden accused Yonatan Eybeschütz, a leading eighteenth-century rabbi, of creating Sabbatian amulets. Landau’s compromise proclaimed Eybeschütz’s innocence but demanded that the amulets be removed.

Largely due to the respect he acquired from issuing Igeret ha-shalom, in 1754 Landau was appointed to the post of chief rabbi of Prague. This city, which boasted one of the largest Jewish populations in the world, made him the Jewish community’s supreme authority on religious, political, and judicial matters, as well as the spiritual leader of Bohemian Jewry. He headed both Prague’s rabbinic court and its Talmudic academy, an institute that attracted students from all over Central and Eastern Europe. Landau remained Prague’s rabbinic leader until his death.

Landau was one of the first rabbinic authorities to confront challenges posed by enlightened absolutist rulers. Beginning with the 1781 Toleranzpatent, Habsburg emperor Joseph II issued a series of decrees that officially abolished the Jews’ communal autonomy and aimed to systematically Germanize Habsburg Jewry. Although Landau strongly defended tradition, he did not challenge certain Habsburg reforms. In response to the doctrine that required all children to receive a secular education, Landau helped found a government-supervised Jewish Normalschule (modern elementary school), which opened in Prague in 1782. Similarly, he supported the conscription of Jewish recruits into the Austrian military when, in 1788, Joseph II became the first European ruler to enlist Jewish soldiers. Recognizing Landau’s authority and erudition, the monarchy also consulted with him on various matters of Jewish law, such as the permissibility of delayed burial, the possibility of imposing civil marriage laws, and technicalities concerning the Jews’ oath (a special—at times humiliating—oath that Jews were required to take in gentile courts during the medieval and early modern periods). Landau used his diplomatic skills to facilitate both Prague Jewry’s acceptance of various innovations and to convince government officials to moderate new rules. His intervention helped to mitigate potential threats to traditional Judaism.

Although Landau played an important political role, his major contributions were to Jewish legal, or halakhic, scholarship. His influence extended well beyond Prague and continued long after his death. During his career, he wrote more than 850 responsa that addressed almost every facet of Jewish law. These responsa were published in a monumental two-volume collection titled Noda‘ bi-Yehudah (1776, 1811). The collection is so well known that Landau himself is commonly referred to by this title. He also wrote a widely acclaimed Talmudic commentary titled Tsiyun le-nefesh ḥayah (referred to by the acronym Tselaḥ) on Pesaḥim (1783), Berakhot (1791), Betsah (1799), and various other tractates, which were published posthumously. Many of Landau’s sermons and eulogies were published in the collections Ahavat Tsiyon (1827) and Derushe ha-Tselaḥ (1884). Landau’s extensive writings also include Dagul me-revavah (1794), a gloss on the Shulḥan ‘arukh, as well as unpublished glosses on Ḥayim Vital’s kabbalistic manuscripts Derekh ‘ets Ḥayim and Peri ‘ets Ḥayim. Landau also published numerous patriotic writings, including Gebeth um die Wiedergenesung Ihro kais. königl. apostolischen Majestät, a prayer for the recovery of Empress Maria Theresa (1767); Derush hesped, a eulogy for the empress (1780), and Tefilat Leopold, a prayer for Emperor Leopold II’s coronation (1791).

Landau’s legal rulings are based primarily on the Talmud and rishonim (medieval Talmudic commentators). His decisions often exhibit bold disregard for Talmudic commentators who had written at the time of the Shulḥan ‘arukh and later. Overall, these rulings tend toward leniency. Among his best-known decisions, some of which stirred great controversy, was his decision to grant permission for men to shave under certain circumstances during intermediate festival days (Noda‘ bi-Yehudah, pt. 1, OḤ, no. 13; pt. 2, OḤ, nos. 99, 100, 101); his disqualification of a divorce writ that a messenger gave to a woman against her will (pt. 1, EH, nos. 75, 77; pt. 2, EH, no. 112); his endorsement of the Cleves divorce writ in 1766–1767, a decision that stirred the wrath of the Frankfurt rabbinate (Or ha-yashar [1769]; Derushe ha-Tselaḥ, sermon 28); and his consent to autopsies in limited cases (Noda‘ bi-Yehudah, pt. 2, YD, no. 210). Landau’s teachings were also spread by his students, many of whom held important rabbinic posts throughout Europe. Among them were Aharon Chorin, Avraham Danzig, David ben Menaḥem Mendel Deutsch (1756–1831), Efrayim Zalman Margoliot, and El‘azar ben David Fleckeles.

Notwithstanding Landau’s frequent protestations that he only engaged in legal matters and did not delve into esoteric teachings (Noda‘ bi-Yehudah, pt. 1, YD, no. 74; pt. 2 YD, no. 201; Tselaḥ, Berakhot 33b; Derushe ha-Tselaḥ, sermon 12), as well as his condemnation of Hasidic kabbalistic practices (Noda‘ bi-Yehudah, pt. 1, YD, no. 93; Tselaḥ, Berakhot 28b), he believed in and, at times, taught Kabbalah. He integrated kabbalistic notions into his halakhic worldview and used them in many of his writings and public addresses. He also regularly practiced and promoted kabbalistic and ascetic rites, such as the nightly tikun ḥatsot (midnight vigil), frequent fasting, and penitential weeping.

Despite the efflorescence of Prague’s rabbinic culture during Landau’s tenure, various internal trends—such as the Haskalah, Sabbatianism, and Frankism—presented challenges to traditional life. Landau played a major role in responding to these trends. He emerged as a leading critic of maskilic projects, beginning with his sermons that denounced Naftali Herts Wessely’s Divre shalom ve-emet (1782), a text that advocated giving priority to secular subjects in school curricula. Still, Landau was not categorically opposed to secular studies; he himself was acquainted with various worldly fields and gave approbations for historical, mathematical, and scientific works.

Landau censured Moses Mendelssohn’s German Pentateuch translation (1783)—and was censured in turn by the maskilim—as he feared that it would lead to the study of High German. Even more ominous than the maskilim, Landau believed, were the mystical Sabbatian and Frankist sectarians, who had gained a foothold in Prague; he repeatedly denounced their practices and doctrines. The rise of Hasidism in nearby PolandLithuania, with a changed model of leadership, also posed a potential threat to traditional rabbinic authority. In several of his writings, Landau laments the increasing popularity of these “new Hasidim.” Despite Landau’s efforts, the convergence of many modernizing trends at end of the century led to the rapid decline of Prague’s traditional culture following his death.

Landau’s legacy was carried on by his sons, all of whom participated in Jewish communal life. His oldest son, Ya‘akov (ca. 1745–1822), a Talmudic scholar and wealthy merchant living in Brody, associated with maskilim in Galicia; Shemu’el (1750–1834) served as the Oberjurist of Prague’s rabbinic court (the effective religious authority of Prague Jewry) from 1826 to 1834; Yisra’el (1758–1829), a Hebrew printer, was influential in Prague’s Haskalah. Yisra’el’s son Mosheh served as the head of Prague’s Jewish community and, in his role as a distinguished Prague Hebrew publisher, became a leading maskil.

Suggested Reading

Sharon Flatto, “Prague’s Rabbinic Culture: The Concealed and Revealed in Ezekiel Landau’s Writings” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 2000); Leon Gellman, Ha-Noda‘ bi-Yehudah u-mishnato (Jerusalem, 1962); Yisra’el Hes, “Rabi Yeḥezkel Landa u-mekomo be-toldot ha-halakhah” (M.A. thesis, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, 1979); Yekuthiel Aryeh Kamelhar, Mofet ha-dor: Toldot Rabenu Yeḥezkel Halevi Landa . . . (1933; rpt., Jerusalem, 1968); Ruth Kestenberg-Gladstein, Neuere Geschichte der Juden in den böhmischen Ländern, pt. 1, Das Zeitalter der Aufklärung, 1780–1830 (Tübingen, 1969); Mosheh Samet, He-Ḥadash asur min ha-Torah: Perakim be-toldot ha-ortodoksiyah (Jerusalem, 2005).

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 128, Rabbinical and Historical Manuscripts, Collection, 1567-1930s; RG 435, Herman (Chaim) Lieberman, Papers, 1920s-1950s.