Monday, June 5th 2023   |

Avraham ben Avraham


The early eighteenth century Ger Tzedek of Vilna, Avraham ben Avraham, is one of history’s most celebrated converts to Judaism. He was born to the powerful Potocki family – Polish nobility famous for its leadership in the military, government, and Roman Catholic Church. While the Ger Tzedek is commonly referred to as Valentine Potocki, there is no record of his given name until an 1873 biography.  It seems his birth name is lost to history, likely due to the tradition of bestowing a new, Hebrew name on Jews-by-Choice.

Avraham ben Avraham was drawn to Judaism while a college student… and gave up wealth, aristocratic status, and all but unbounded worldly prospects in order to adopt our faith.  He traveled to Amsterdam to undergo conversion, as such an act was a capital offense throughout much of Europe!  The Vilna Ger Tzedek led a quiet life of Jewish piety until he was betrayed to Polish authorities by an unscrupulous fellow Jew in the wake of a minor personal conflict.

Refusing to renounce Judaism, he was burned at the stake for his “apostasy” on the second day of Shavuot in 1749.

His Yahrzeit, this Shabbat, beckons us to ponder the profound beauty he found in our Tradition… all too often overlooked by those for whom it is a birthright.

Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the editor of “Masorti: The New Journal of Conservative Judaism.

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