Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Wehle Family

Followers of Sabbatianism in Prague. The earliest reference to the Wehle family is on the tombstone of Mordekhai bar Yisra’el Wehle (d. 1614), in the Prague Jewish cemetery. The Wehles were among the richest and most prominent Jewish families in Prague. The brothers Efrayim (ca. 1710–1770) and Hersh (d. 1796) engaged in the silk trade and held many important posts in the community. A series of well-arranged marriages cemented the position of the family. Hersh’s son, Aharon Beer (1750–1825), married Esther, the daughter of the leader of Bohemian Jewry, Shim‘on Frankel-Spira; his brother Yonah Beer (1752–1823) married a daughter of the president of the Prague community, Ofner; their sister Rösel married the rich merchant Shim‘on Eger. By the 1770s, the Wehles were the unquestioned secular leaders of Prague Jewry.

The Wehles are counted among the first Sabbatians in Prague and were probably connected to the circle around Yonatan Eybeschütz. Bohemian Sabbatianism of the eighteenth century was a kind of family religion cultivated by a number of well-established, wealthy, and to all appearances perfectly conventional people. The phenomenon of mass conversion to Christianity, similar to what transpired in Poland under the influence of Jakub Frank, did not occur. The Prague Sabbatians were not very numerous, but—due to their economic and social standing—enjoyed a very strong position. Although the Sabbatian leanings of some of the city’s most prominent families were a matter of rumor, the issue was treated by Jewish authorities as kind of an open secret. Since, in contrast to the Polish Frankists, the Prague Sabbatians did not engage in obvious propaganda, and their external moral conduct was impeccable, the rabbinate preferred to avoid confrontation and let the matter rest.

After the death of Chief Rabbi Yeḥezkel Landau (1793), the Prague Sabbatians’ public profile became more conspicuous. In 1798–1800, Landau’s successor, El‘azar Fleckeles, delivered three famous anti-Sabbatian sermons. Portions of these were printed, with the permission of the Austrian censors, under the title Ahavat David (1800). As the members of the Sabbatian group belonged to the richest and best-connected citizens, their position generated much resentment. Shortly after the sermons were delivered, riots erupted in the city, and, despite the fact that Fleckeles did not mention any names, the mob apparently knew very well whom to assault.

According to the testimony of Moses Porges, Yonah Beer Wehle was a leader of the Sabbatians in Prague. On several occasions, he visited the Frankist court in Offenbach and was the main financial supporter of Ewa Frank. His sons Avraham and Akiva spent a period of time at the Offenbach court and reportedly recorded Ewa’s visions, which were later included in the unpublished manuscript “The Prophecies of Isaiah.” During their stay in Offenbach, Akiva and Avraham were baptized and assumed the names of Joseph and Max Klarenberg. Yonah’s daughter Deborah married Löw Enoch Edler von Hönigsberg, another important Sabbatian leader and author of numerous kabbalistic manuscripts.

In 1849, Gottlieb Wehle (1802–1881), the great-uncle of Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis and a first cousin of Zacharias Frankel, settled in New York. In his last will, Gottlieb Wehle presented the Sabbatianism of his ancestor as an emancipatory movement of social and moral advance, leading revolution against petrified orthodoxy.

Suggested Reading

Majer Bałaban, “Zur Geschichte der Familie Wehle in Prag,” Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Juden in der Tschechoslowakei 3 (1933): 113–115; Arthur Mandel, The Militant Messiah: Or, the Flight from the Ghetto; The Story of Jacob Frank and the Frankist Movement (Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1979); Gershom Scholem, “A Sabbatian Will from New York,” in The Messianic Idea in Judaism, pp. 167–175 (New York, 1971).