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Early History of the Rabbinical Weil Family

(Clarifying Some Historical Errors)

by Werner L. Frank

Part II

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The time span between the births of Stammvater Rabbi Jakob Weil and Rabbi Nathanel Weil is three hundred years. The recitation of the above lineage recorded by R. Nathanel would yield an average generation period of 43 years which is excessively long. The introduction of the additional Rabbi Jakob would bring this average down to 37 years, which is still considerably above the 25 year average that seems more typical for the period (F18).

Another recording of the Weil family history can be found in the book Mishpachot Atikot b’Yisrael (Ancient Jewish Families) [18]. Here many rabbinical families are identified and linked due to the prevalent intermarriages. In particular, the Weil chain of rabbis are tied to the Shapiro and Halperin rabbinical dynasties, as well as showing the Weil relationship to the sixteenth century anchor of what has become the family of Rabbi Abraham Yehoshua Heschel of Krakow. The Weil chronology in this book recognizes the existence of the "additional" generation of Rabbi Jacob Weil.

After review of four other resources that deal with the lineage of the early Weil family, it appears that the Löwenstein book, based upon the recorded lineage in the Korban Nathanel, is the only source that has not shown this Rabbi Jacob Weil (F19). The evidence, therefore, seems heartily in favor of the additional generation of Rabbi Jakob.

The confusion regarding the presence and absence of the generation of Rabbi Jakob Weil has also led to a mix up in the identification of the locations of rabbinical service by this Rabbi and his father. My review of the literature points to the association of both R. Jona and his son R. Jakob with the community of Burgau, and the land of Schwaben and all of Switzerland. On the other hand, R. Tiah Weil notes in Beilage 1 of Löwenstein [13, p.5 and 42] that R. Jona Weil had only served in Nördlingen and its surroundings (see also [18, p. 147]).


Figure 4 (click on the image for a larger view). To view a descendant chart in text format, click here. Surnames include: Ashkenazi, Katzenellenbogen, Lubliner, Shor, and Weil.

The eight generation descendant diagram of Figure 4  traces the beginning Weil history from R. Yehuda of the mid fourteenth century to the generation of R. Moses Meir Weil, the Mahara"m of Stühlingen, of the early seventeenth century (F20). It is striking to note that the number of descendants in each generation is significantly limited by the available information. Since families were generally large, we observe that there are a lot of missing branches.

Assumptions were made in Figure 4 with respect to likely birth years for the line of descent in order to do a reasonableness check on the fit of a number of the descendants. The birth year guess is shown wherever a date includes my initials: /wlf. Fortunately we had several boundary value points with which to start the process: the birth year of Rabbi Jakob Weil estimated at 1385, the birth year of Rabbi Abraham Yehoshua Heschel in 1596 and the birth year of Rabbi Nathanel Weil in 1679. A generation separator of 25, 30, or 35 years was employed rather arbitrarily. It was through this process that two generations were postulated separating the Mahari"v from the R. Moshe Halevi branch.

Three important conclusions can be derived from Figure 4:

  1. There are a number of intra-marriages leading to multiple family inter-relationships.
  2. A number of Weil descendants married into other well known rabbinical families.
  3. Key family nodes are identified that can be further followed and analyzed.

In the chart of Figure 4, there are two main lines of descent that we have been able to track to this day. The primary branch is that of Rabbi Jona Weil, author of Hanekor. A second branch emanates from Rabbi Moshe Halevi, a descendant of Rabbi Jakob Weil (F21). This branch is tied to the first through the marriages of two female descendants- names not known- of Rabbi Jona (Fnn1 to Rabbi Jacob of Lublin and Fnn3 to Rabbi Klonimus Kalman).

A grand daughter of R. Moshe Halevi married Rabbi Efraim Naftali Hirsch, rabbi in Brisk and Ladmir, who was the great grandson of Rabbi Jona Weil (F22). The relationship between this husband and wife is fourth cousins, once removed. Their son is Rabbi Jakob Lubliner, rabbi in Brisk and Lublin, who achieved great acclaim, being the target of the adage, "from Rabbi Jakob Pollak to Rabbi Jakob from Lublin, there was no other Jakob in Poland." (F23)

Rabbi Jakob from Lublin was married twice, his first wife being the daughter of Rabbi Samuel Uri Schraga Weil (also known as Shmuel Yotkes), making them second cousins, once removed. At least one source has created confusion regarding which of the two Samuel Uri Schragas (identified in footnote 19) was the father-in-law of Rabbi Jakob. In Sefer Otzar Harebbi R. Heschel [19, p. 47] the connection is made with Samuel Uri Schraga, son of R. Jona, while other references show the more likely connection to be with Samuel Uri Schraga, son of R. Jakob [see, for example, 18].

Liaisons with other rabbinical families were profuse. A daughter of Rabbi Jona Weil married Rabbi Klonimus Kalman, a descendant of fifteenth century Rabbi Israel of Regensburg and a grandfather of Rabbi Efraim Naftali Hirsch [18] (F24). Their son, Rabbi Yosef Yona, married a daughter of the Shor family, the latter leading to connections to the very old sixteenth century rabbinical families headed by Rabbi Moshe Efraim Zalman Shor and Rabbi Naftali Hirtz Treivish.

There are also two marriages with daughters of the renowned Katzenellenbogen rabbinical family whose maternal line tracks back to the fourteenth century rabbinical families of Treves, Spira and Luria. In the first of these unions, Bina the daughter of the famous Mahara"m of Padua, Rabbi Meir Katzenellenbogen (1482-1564), married Rabbi Yakov Halevi Weil, the son of Rabbi Moshe Halevi [18]. By the looks of the naming pattern it appears that this Yakov Halevi took the surname Weil from his maternal ascent, possibly as a sign of respect for his great great grandfather Rabbi Jakob Weil, after whom he was apparently named. (F25)

Figure 5 (click on the image for a larger view). Surnames include Friedman, Katzenellenbogen, Halperin, Heschel, Lubliner, Perlow, Shor, Strauss, and Weil.

The second Katzenellenbogen marriage was between Rabbi Jakob Lubliner and his second wife, Debra [11, 27]. She was the daughter of Rabbi Meir Wahl Katzenellenbogen, the latter a grandson of the Mahara"m of Padua and son of Rabbi Saul Wahl (1545-1617). R. Saul Wahl was the incredibly famous, so-called, "King for a Night" of Poland so ably portrayed in The Unbroken Chain [15] (F26). Debra and Rabbi Jakob had son Abraham Yehoshua Heschel (1596-1663), known as the Krakow rabbi and the scion of the Heschel rabbinical dynasty that ultimately led to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) of blessed memory (F27). A direct descendant chart from Rabbi Jakob Weil to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is shown in Figure 5.

Notably absent from the descendant chart in Figure 4 is another Halevi Weil family branch emanating from Rabbi Jacob Yokel Weil which is prominently featured in the work of Ernest Weill [25]. One of the genealogical sources feeding Ernest Weill’s research was the Dutch book, Hets Geslacht de Weille [4]. This book reaches an extremely tenuous conclusion regarding the de Weille connection with our family Weil, based on an early seventeenth century diary, Die Memorien des Ascher Levi [8] (F28). Ascher Levi tracks his genealogy to a "R. Jakob Ha Levi, Lehrhausvorsteher und Gerichtsvorsitzender in Landau" who is also called Jequil Landau and was alive in 1500. For some undisclosed reasoning, the book jumps to the conclusion that this Jakob/Jequil is our ancestor, Rabbi Jakob Yokel Weil (who certainly is not a Levite).

The intrigue is furthered through two magazine articles that repeat this ill founded conclusion (F29). What makes the matter more than just a casual mistake is the notoriety of apostasy associated with this Levite family to whom Ernest Weill attached the family name of Weil. One of the descendants, Rabbi Moshe Asher HaLevi, was the first of three French based generations of rabbis located in Landau and Metz. His son and grandson were Rabbi Feibusch HaLevi and Rabbi David Vail de Weil respectively. Three of the latter’s great grandsons ultimately converted to Catholicism.

The saga of the baptism of three sons of Rabbi David Vail de Weil of Metz is detailed in Ernest B. Weill’s book [25]. All three siblings became noted Christian theologians, ultimately converting for a second time and ending up as Protestants in England and Holland. While the entire history of this family is told in [4] and repeated in [25], there really is no connection to the Weil family.

In order to sort out the flow of source data that ultimately builds the genealogical structure of our Weil family, it is necessary to understand the validity of each contribution and the dependency of the information. Hence, I submit a bibliology of the primary source material, showing how the various references fit together in yielding the flow of data from which is deduced the Weil history (fig. 6). From this chart it is possible to see the successive influences of prior works, and one can determine how incorrect data may have been propagated.

Based on our analysis, we can safely rule out as irrelevant the two sources: Die Memoiren des Ascher Levi and Het Geslacht de Weille. These sources were heavy contributors to the work of Ernest Weill [25], completely misleading his analysis in the several regards already cited. Since Weill has been a key reference in recent years, these errors have crept into a significant number of genealogical studies of the Weil family.


Figure 6 (click on the image for a larger view)

To be complete in this research, the search for sources had to go beyond the Western Europe (Ashkenaz) focus in the works represented in Figure 6.

As so ably pointed out by Shimon Shlesser [19], there are two major problems in tracking the history of families back to the middle ages:

Later generations forgot whether the pedigree trail to a key individual is through the male or female ancestor.

The families had reasonable recall of their immediate direct ancestors but lost understanding of those that moved to distant locations. Hence, the family in Germany was not familiar with their distant relatives in Poland, and vice versa.

Thus, the books focussing on the rabbinical family genealogies of Eastern Europe have also become important assets in understanding the history of the Weil family in Ashkenaz since a number of Weil daughters married rabbis and scholars living in Poland. These books include [10], [11], [15], [18], [19], and [27]. Of particular significance is the most recently published book, Sefer Otzar Harebbi R. Heschel [19] which has delved into significant detail regarding the Weil family, and is rich in citing sources for its many observations and conclusions.

The major problem in studying so many references are the ever present errors that seem to creep into almost every work. The conflicts among these sources needed sorting out and rationalization, which has been the objective of this effort. I have weighed the inconsistencies and arrived at a most likely scenario based on all of the inputs. However, just as other authors that precede me, all of them bringing more scholarship to paper than I can hope to accomplish, I must admit that I might also have carried forth some errors which others will undoubtedly discern in the future.

Werner L. Frank resides in Calabasas, California, and has been actively engaged in genealogy since 1996, having amassed a family database of over 28,000 names. This research has extended to the 13th century, achieved by tapping into a rabbinical line. He is currently writing a book devoted to the history of his family, including events leading to his 1937 emigration from Germany to the U.S.A. His web site,


18. Twenty five years is the standard generation measure employed by researcher Michael Honey, creator of the Jewish Historical Clock. This unique computer based graphical presentation shows the descendants of major rabbinical families dating from the thirteenth century. One such project undertaken by Honey (with my collaboration) is the Weil dynasty. There are, however, two good reasons why the span between two generations could be much longer. While the first child of a marriage might well be born within 25 years of his father’s birth year, the last child of this union could, of course, be born when the father is in his fifties. Also, a longer generation span can be due to the multiple marriages that were common in that day. Thus, a son could be the issue of a second marriage, the widower often marrying a substantially younger woman. This situation can then lead to ages of nieces or nephews approximating the ages of their aunts or uncles. (return)

19. The four sources that acknowledge the identity of this Rabbi Jakob Weil are Weill [25], Sonder [20], Kahn [12], and Minchat Nathanel [6]. In the latter reference a likely answer emerges from whence comes the confusion. Rabbi Jona Weil had two sons, a Rabbi Samuel Uri Schraga and Rabbi Jakob. The latter had a son with the same name as his uncle, namely Samuel Uri Schraga, who was the father of R. Moses Meir Weil, the Mahara"m of Stühlingen. Both Rabbi Nathanel Weil and Dr. Leopold Löwenstein [13] may have been confused by the presence of two successive generations, an uncle and nephew, both named Samuel Uri Schraga. (return)

20. Moses Meir Weil was deemed to be a wealthy individual and was seen as a Torah scholar in the recitation of the hakdamah to Korban Nathanel. The title Mahara"m is ascribed as a mechuneh, somewhat of a nickname, rather than the honorific designating a rabbinical authority. Hence, we conclude that he was probably not an ordained rabbi. (return)

21. The relationship of the Rabbi Moshe Halevy branch to the mainstream Weil family tree is cited in only one source known to me. On page 60 in Mishpachot Atikot b’Yisrael [18], it is stated that Rabbi Moshe Halevi is a neched (grandson) to Rabbi Jakob Weil the Mahari"v. This can only be possible if he is the son of a daughter of Rabbi Jakob, who might have married a Levite, since the Weil family are not Levinim. It is highly unlikely that this relationship is possible because it would throw off the generations of the descendants. It is, therefore, likely that the term neched in this context is meant to convey descendant. (return)

22. This connection of Rabbi Efraim Naftali Hirsch to the Weil family tree is yet another controversial point. In Löwenstein [13], Drazin [5] and Weill [25] this Rabbi is shown as a son of Rabbi Jona Weil, an error which has caused substantial confusion. The genealogy presented herein reflects the data in Mishpachot Atikot b’Yisrael [18, p. 68] and serves to clear up the misrepresentation. Actually, the paternal grandfather of R. Efraim Naftali Hirsch, Rabbi Klonimus Kalman, married a daughter of Rabbi Jonas Weil. One explanation for this error is due to the name of the father of R. Efraim Naftali Hirsch being Yosef Yona, sometimes just called Yona. Hence, Yona and Jona may have been thought to be the identical person. See also entry 3112 in Otzar Harabbinim [7]. (return)

23. This was a play on the more famous maxim: From Moses to Moses, there was non like unto Moses. This was a saying directed towards Moses Maimonides, a compliment of the highest order, equating the Ramba"m to Moses the lawgiver. (return)

24. Here is another case of controversy. While most sources agree with this flow, at least one reference designates Rabbi Klonimus Kalman as the son-in-law of Rabbi Jacob Yokel Weil [27]. (return)

25. The attachment of the surname Weil to this Levite branch has caused confusion amongst some of the sources where it is assumed that there is a direct lineage with the mainstream Weils descending from Rabbi Jakob Weil. In [18, p. 68] specific reference is made to Rabbi Jacob Halevi Weil while in other sources the Weil label is not found [11 and 27]. (return)

26. There seems to be some truth to the legend of how Rabbi Saul Wahl stepped in to save a situation of royal succession in 1587. The princes of Poland could not decide on a successor to their recently deceased king. Hence, the Rabbi was chosen to temporarily reign over Poland allowing the deliberations to continue for one more day beyond the deadline for making a decision. (return)

27. The Heschel branch leads to direct connections with the rabbinical Berlin/Berliner and Horowitz families, data for which I am indebted to contemporary Judith Hill Wolkovitch of Palos Verdes, California. (return)

28. This book was published in 1913 and includes the original Hebrew together with a translation to German by Moshe Ginzburger. A rich set of footnotes accompanies the German version. (return)

29. Dr. Fritz Schafferdt, in the Israel Kultur Vereinigung, Stuttgart, September 1961, "Rabbiner Jakob Weil aus Weil der Stadt" and Rabbi Dr. Neufeld, in an unknown to me source, "Sie kamen aus einer Stadt im Schwarzwald, die Familie Weil." (return)


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