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Hannover, Natan Note

(d. 1683), chronicler of the Khmel’nyts’kyi uprising (gzeyres takh vetat). Presumably born in Ostróg in Volhynia, Natan Note (often Neta‘ or Nata) Hannover studied at the local yeshiva and then seems to have traveled across Europe as an itinerant preacher before marrying and settling in Zasław, Ukraine. He published a sermon from this period—presented in Kraków in 1646—in Sefer ta‘ame sukah (1652).

After the fall of Zasław to Khmel’nyts’kyi’s forces in 1648, Hannover fled Ukraine, reaching Germany, Holland, and, in 1652, Italy, where he studied Kabbalah. In Venice in 1653, he published a Hebrew chronicle, titled Yeven metsulah, describing the sufferings of the Jews in the first years of the rebellion, and including an account of the flight from Zasław. Written in simple Hebrew prose, it is a complex work that recounts not only the cruel fate of Ukrainian Jewry, but also the socioeconomic and political factors that led up to the rebellion.

Hannover seems to have based his account largely on oral testimony, and it is noteworthy that he is able to give details of various political and military developments within the Polish camp. Despite the fact that he presents the book as a simple reporting of events, with many details that can be verified from outside sources, Hannover on occasion reworks stories he heard from various witnesses into a literary account that trades historical accuracy for emotional effect. He concludes the text, which remains an important source for social and cultural historians, with a moving panegyric for Polish Jewish society.

In 1660, Hannover published Safah berurah, a phrasebook with entries in Hebrew, German, Latin, and Italian, presumably meant to assist refugees like himself. Two years later, he published a kabbalistic prayer book, Sha‘are Tsiyon. His study Tokef yayin, on the significance of Purim, is preserved in manuscript form at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. His collection of sermons, “Neta‘ sha‘ashu‘im,” as well as two other kabbalistic works, “Neta‘ ne’eman” and “Yafeh nof,” were never printed and are now lost. In 1662, he was appointed rabbi of Iaşi in Walachia, later serving in Ungarisch Brod (mod. Uherský Brod) in Moravia. Turkish soldiers killed him there in 1683.

Hannover’s two major works, Sha‘are Tsiyon and Yeven metsulah, greatly influenced Ashkenazic culture, the former serving as a conduit for the introduction of Lurianic prayers into the daily service. The latter remained popular for generations, and even influenced a number of modern authors, including Sholem Asch and Sha’ul Tchernichowsky, who treated the theme of gzeyres takh vetat in their writing. There have been numerous editions of the text (notably that of Israel Halpern; 1966), and it has been translated into many languages including Yiddish (cf. the YIVO edition edited by Yankev Shatzky; 1938) and English (under the title Abyss of Despair, trans. Abraham Mesch; 1950).

Suggested Reading

Edward Fram, “Creating A Tale of Martyrdom in Tulczyn, 1648,” in Jewish History and Jewish Memory, ed. Elisheva Carlebach, John M. Efron, and David N. Myers, pp. 89–112 (Hanover, N.H., 1998); Y. Izraelson, “Nosn-Note Hanover: Zayn lebn un literarishe tetikayt,” Historishe shriften, vol. 1, pp. 1–26 (Warsaw, 1929); Adam Teller, “Yavein Metsulah by Natan Neta Hannover and the Creation of a Polish-Jewish Consciousness,” in Jewish Culture in Eastern Europe, ed. Benjamin Nathans and Gabriella Safran (Philadelphia, forthcoming).