Discovery: Ancient Kabbalistic sword which was in the possession of the holy gaon Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein of Kolomyya, one of the greatest disciples of the Chatam Sofer, regarding whom the verse “Kodesh Hillulim L’Hashem” was stated (Hillulim=Hillel). He was admired by the other rabbinic leaders of his generation as well, and Rabbi Chaim of Sanz stated regarding him: “Anyone who questions him, it is as if he is questioning the Divine Presence.” The sword was passed on from Rabbi Hillel of Kolomyya to his son-in-law, the author of Lev Ivri, Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger, who was a disciple of the Ktav Sofer and of the Maharam Schick, and one of the leading rabbis of Hungary and of Jerusalem.
The sword bears an ivory handle with a metal blade engraved with pure gold letters. The letters join together to form words in Hebrew that create the Tetragrammaton, and other Holy Names and verse excerpts. The engraving of the letters was done using special craftsmanship during the blade’s casting, which preserved the inscription in the best possible manner, even with the passage of hundreds of years since the sword was made, including the special gold sheen. Due to the sword’s sanctity and the Names engraved on it, Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger prepared a special fabric case for it, something like a tefillin bag. He wrote his name and address in Jerusalem on the case by hand, in a foreign language.
Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger attested that this sword was found by a Jewish officer in 1848, at the height of the “Spring of Nations” war which swept through Europe demanding liberty and equality. Rebellion broke out in Hungary as well. (Hungarian Jews, as usual, were among the rebel leaders; the first victim of the rebellion was a Jew, a student at the local technological college, Heinrich Shpitzer). In the storm of the battles, the masses conquered the famous Petrovaradin Fortress (currently next to Novi Sad, Serbia). The officer discovered this exquisite sword with Hebrew letters engraved on the blade among the ruins of the Fortress. Despite rust stains on the blade, the beauty of the gold letters was not the least bit dulled. The Jewish officer understood that this was not only a historic sword, but a holy one, a sword with the Tetragrammaton engraved on it. He, therefore, felt a moral obligation to bring it to one of the leading rabbis of Hungary, Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein of Kolomyya. After about twenty years, Rabbi Hillel gave the sword to his son-in-law, Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger, author of HaLev HaIvri, for protection when he ascended to Jerusalem, which was a dangerous place in those days. Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger wrote in his book that he paid his father-in-law “a gold ring with a brilliant [diamond]” for it.
Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger and his father-in-law, Rabbi Hillel of Kolomyya, treated this sword with reverence. Rabbi Akiva Yosef, aside from being a halachic adjudicator, was also known for his Kabbalistic greatness. He published a halachic-Kabbalistic study of this sword and the holy Names engraved on it. In this treatise, he deliberates various theories about the source of the sword, and its beginning, and arrives at King David and his General, Yoav ben Tzeruyah. He writes that there is a tradition that Yoav ben Tzeruyah conquered Hungary and there is a nearby mountain with “Yoav ben Tzeruyah arrived until this point” engraved on one of the rocks. Another source in his study is the book Seder HaDorot which states that Methuselah had a sword engraved with the Tetragrammaton. The sword went from him to Ya’akov our patriarch, and so forth. Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger explains the reasons that brought about inscribing Holy Names on the war swords. The first reason, obviously, was for protection and defense. The second reason was to relate the weapon’s purity. Another reason was to turn the sword into a kind of amulet so that is would be permissible to carry on Shabbat, and this is also the reason – according to Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger – for the relatively small dimensions of the sword, so that it would be used for other things, like cutting food, and this would make it permissible to carry.
Historians of Hungarian Jewry (and also in Hungarian-Jewish folklore,) speak almost unanimously about a sword bearing Hebrew script with great importance, which they call “The holy sword of Hungarian Jewry,” a sword which constitutes a source of many legends. It stirred the imagination of Hungarian Jewry regarding its spiritual segulah. This special attention can be explained by the fact that Jews were generally not allowed to bear arms in medieval Europe (nevertheless, there were several instances in Hungarian history when some of the Jews were allowed to do so.)
One of the most important exhibits in the Jewish Museum in Budapest is a sword with an inscription similar to the one on this sword, but that sword bears the engraving in silver, not in gold. That sword had been in Count Andrássy’s family’s possession, and was acquired by the museum in 1951. Experts’ estimates of the sword’s age range from between the 14th and 18th centuries. The historians have differing opinions about the source of that sword. Historian Samuel Kohn in his book HaHistoriah shel HaYehudim B’Hungariah (p. 884; 46) is of the opinion that the sword was made for a high-ranking Jew by a Jewish craftsman. Professor Shivar, in the expanded English edition of the book Jewish Ketubot in Hungary (pp. 390-391) expresses the opinion that the creator of the silver-engraved sword, unlike his customer, was not Jewish. Otherwise, in his opinion, he would not have used the Tetragrammaton known for its sanctity among Jews. Professor Moses Reichman from the Rabbinical Institute in Budapest goes further: The owner of the sword was not Jewish, but a Protestant aristocrat. This is due to it being prohibited for Jews of that era to bear weapons. Despite this, in the Jewish-Hungarian Lexicon (p. 352), under the title “The Hebrew-Engraved Sword” describes the sword as the Hungarian Jewish elder’s sword (their moniker for the leaders of Hungarian Jewry). According to sources in period literature, during the reception held by the Jewish community in 1476 in honor of King Matthias of Hungary when he brought his fiancée from Italy, “The Jewish Elder [Rabbi Ya’akov Mendel] rode a white horse at the front of the procession, the holy sword inscribed ‘Hash-m Uzi’ in his hand.”
The sword before us (in contrast to the sword in the museum which was in the possession of non-Jews), remained a Jewish possession most of the time, and was in the possession of two rabbinical leaders, who left much written about it. The signature of the author of Lev HaIvri is even displayed on its case. According to carbon dating tests done on the sword at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, and by the Israel Antiquities Authority (test results included), the sword dates at 1473-1662.
When the existence of the sword before us became known, different in form, but with the identical inscription, much interest was aroused among historians, and in 1998 the Jewish Museum in Budapest published an in-depth study about the two swords. (Museum link: http://www.zsido.hu/tortenelem/kard.htm) The study deals with the ages of the swords; the inscriptions they bear; the authenticity of the legends surrounding them, and more.
Conclusions from this study include, among others:
1. The sword with the gold engraving is an original Jewish-Hungarian creation, that until now was known only to a very small circle. It remained a Jewish possession most of the time. It is “The holy sword of Hungarian Jewry.”
2. The sword with the silver engraving (which until now had erroneously been considered “The holy sword”) is also a Jewish creation, and it cannot be ruled out that it was made by a Jewish craftsman as a copy of the gold sword. It was given as a gift of appreciation to Count Andrássy for protection of the Jewish community in Buda.
3. At the time of the sword(s)’ creation, in Buda, during the Turkish period, according to several sources, Jews were permitted to bear weapons, and they enjoyed high economic and political standing.
4. The Hebrew inscription on the sword has mystic, Kabbalistic significance, and the verses on it were selected intentionally and created in a Kabbalistic manner (circled). For Divine assistance and protection.
This sword, which constitutes a rare museum exhibit, will be offered at auction at Winner’S Auction House on Tuesday, 7 Adar (March 3rd, 2020). 135 rare items will appear at this auction, including:
A rare 18th century copy of the first edition of Ohr HaChaim;
A scroll of Esther written by the G-dly Kabbalist Rabbi Yehudah Pattiyah for his own personal use;
The wonder-worker Rabbi Yeshayahleh of Kerestir’s personal siddur, as well as an amulet for salvation given by him;
The Ribnitzer Rebbe’s kiddush goblet;
King Umberto I of Italy’s ‘Piano of Sienna,’ and many other important items.