Since I briefly mentioned Rabbi Joseph Delemedigo of Crete in last week’s installment, I thought I’d elaborate a little bit more this week. Yosef Shlomo Rofe Delmedigo of Candia, Crete (1591-1655), better known as Yashar, was a colorful Jewish personality of the 17th century, what some might call a true “Renaissance rabbi.” He was a descendant of Rabbi Eliyahu Delmedigo (painting right). The Delmdigo family lived on the Greek Island of Crete (then part of the Kingdom of Venice) but had originated from old Ashkenaz (it was not uncommon for Jews from Romaniote lands [the old Eastern Roman Empire] to emigrate to and also from German-speaking lands]). Yashar himself was the quintessential “wandering Jew”; he toured most of the major European capitals, temporarily settling in some of them and even accepting rabbinical posts in others.
Yashar writes that he followed the lectures of the famed Italian scientist Galileo Galilei in Padua during the academic year 1609-1610, and was accorded the rare privilege of using Galileo’s own telescope (he even refers to him as “Rabbi Galileo”).
Yashar finally settled in Prague, where he passed away in 1655.
Continuing in his tradition are his descendants, the Nachmani family. At the end of the 19th century, the patriarch of the family, then 18-year-old Mordechai Gorodinsky (pictured, center) (later hebraized to Nachmani in honor of a biblical figure who ascended to the land during the time of Nechemia), a passionate Zionist, left the Volozhin Yeshiva, where he had just received his rabbinical ordination, and his hometown Gorodin in White Russia—to work in the swamps of the burgeoning yishuv. He did not belong to any particular organization or group but was motivated solely by religious Zionism. In fact, the family maintained close ties with the Ashkenazic chief rabbi and seminal religious Zionist figure Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. Mordechai married there and went on to become one of the founders of the city of Rechovot. Gorodinsky/Nachmani was thought to bear a striking resemblance to his ancestor (judge for yourself in the photos).
Two of Mordechai’s six children later left Israel to study in the United States, where they settled permanently. One of them, Amihud, studied engineering in New York and is remembered fondly by the writer Reuven Alpert, who remembers him as one of the jolly old timers in the synagogue he attended as a child. Alpert, in his “Caught in the Crack: Encounters with the Jewish Muslims of Turkey” describes Amihud as a bit of an eccentric. His (Amihud) testimonies and visions (one describes a ship of Hebrew sailors—what Alpert calls the Jewish version of the “flying Dutchmen”—another talks of the Yiddish poet Yehoash coming to him and his wife in a dream appealing to be reburied in Israel) appear in Aaron Zeitlin’s book on parapsychology המציאות האחרת .
Joel Davidi Weisberger is an independent researcher and translator. He also runs the Channeling Jewish History group and can be reached at [email protected]