HaRav Naftoli zt"l was born in 5410 (1650) in Prague,
where his father, Rabbi Yitzchok Hacohen, was Darshan.
His mother's name was Eidel.
As a child, Naftoli was captured by the rebelling Tartars,
from whose hands he miraculously escaped and returned to his
parents' home and to his diligent studies. By the time he
was married, he had already learned Shas Bavli and
Yerushalmi by heart. With his marriage to the Rabbonis
Esther Shaindel, daughter of HaRav Yosef Shmuel Shmelke,
zt"l, rov of Ostroa, he began to build a glorious home
with his seven sons and four daughters.
After his father-in-law's petiroh on 10 Nissan 5440
(1680), Rav Naftoli was appointed rov in his place. There he
also led the large yeshiva, continuing to serve as rov and
ram until 5448, when the grandson of the Shloh, rov of
Posen, passed away and Rav Naftoli was appointed in his
It was during his rabbonus in Posen that he became one
of the leading rabbonim of the Vaad Arba Ha'arotzos.
In the year 5464 (1704), when Rabbi Shmuel zt'l, rov
of Frankfurt, was niftar, he was asked to lead this
prestigious community and he accepted. He lived a tranquil
life, spreading Torah to thousands of talmidim.
However, the peace was broken when, on 24 Teves 5471 (1711),
a fire broke out in the rabbi's house. All efforts to
control it failed and the flames spread, destroying half of
Libelous rumors began to spread that the rov, with powers of
Kabboloh, had caused the city's destruction, and Rav
Naftoli was arrested and imprisoned. He managed to escape
and fled to his birthplace, Prague.
Rav Naftoli was renowned in his battle against the cult of
Shabtai Tzvi and particularly against Nechemiah Chayun. The
latter at first deceived the gedolei hador, but his
ruse was later discovered. Many letters written by Rav
Naftoli against Chayun were printed at the time and together
with the Chacham Tzvi they managed to oust him from Klal
In his later years, Rav Naftoli returned to Posen as a
congregant, not rov, and from there he decided to go up to
Eretz Yisroel. However, his dream was not to be
During his travels, while in Constantinople, Rav Naftoli
passed away on 24 Teves 5479 (1719).
He was buried in Constantinople, where recently a new
matzeivoh was erected on his kever.
His holy last will was publicized and printed many times
over and many are the gedolim over the generations who
copied part of it in their own tzavo'os.
He wrote many works, notably the one after which he is named
and known: Semichas Chachomim on Maseches
In recent years HaRav Shlomo Honig of London, together with
Machon Ahavat Sholom of Yerushalayim, finally did credit to
the great works of Rav Naftoli Katz, working on his written
manuscripts and finally printing five volumes of Rav Naftoli
Katz's Torah, together with his holy piyutim.
Rabbeinu's power in the wisdom of Kabboloh was well
known and many are the miraculous tales concerning the great
things he saw and did with his ruach hakodesh.
Rabbi Shimshon Wertheimer of Vienna was once told by Rav
Naftoli Katz, zt"l that if he ever sees a vision of
the latter's face at a time when he is summoned to do a
mitzvah, he should carry out that mitzvah immediately,
despite any difficulties that may arise.
Rav Shimshon was puzzled by the strange command of his rov,
but knowing that Rav Naftoli was a holy person, he took upon
himself to agree.
In the upper echelons of Austrian society, everybody knew
Rav Shimshon. He was in fact a close confidant of the king,
who loved and trusted him implicitly. This invoked the
burning jealousy of one of the bishops and from time to time
the latter would try his luck at slandering Rav Shimshon to
the king. His wicked lies, however, fell on deaf ears,
failing to turn the king against his trusted Jewish
One day he turned to the king and slyly remarked, "Behold
His Majesty tells all his secrets and confides everything to
this Jew. Let me advise you: he is a liar and a cheat!" The
king raised his eyebrows in concern.
"That's a serious accusation to make against a minister of
the crown. Please explain yourself," he demanded.
"I'm sorry to disappoint His Majesty, but I know for a fact
that the Jew is a liar. Why, he will not even reveal to the
king the extent of his wealth. Let His majesty ask Shimshon
how much he owns, you'll see he'll lie to you," reported the
Unswayed, the king knew that it was jealousy, not loyalty,
that was burning in the heart of this bishop. However, he
agreed to have the loyalty of his Jewish friend tested by
asking him the worth of his assets.
"Just one thing," added the bishop. "If the fiendish Jew is
found guilty, I want his punishment to be death in the
furnace. His Majesty will send him with a code message to
those at the furnace: `Has the King's will be done?' and
upon hearing the code, they will throw the one delivering it
into the furnace."
Chuckling, the bishop himself went to the officer of the
fire cauldron and made sure he understood the precise
instructions and code. "Don't listen to whatever excuses the
victim has. If the code words are said, just get rid of
Eager to prove his friend's innocence, the king summoned him
and asked him for the sum of his wealth.
Furrowing his forehead, Reb Shimshon concentrated for a few
moments making calculations, and then quoted a sum.
The king sent his agents to check Rav Shimshon's accounts
and verify his claim and was shocked to discover that the
number quoted by the Jewish minister was only a tenth of his
true wealth! Truly furious, he wanted to issue a decree that
Rav Shimshon indeed be burned to death. However, remembering
the instructions of the bishop, the king retained his
composure and smilingly asked Rav Shimshon to give over a
message to the officer of the furnace. "Please go and ask
him if my orders have been carried out," he instructed the
Mission in mind, Rav Shimshon began to make his way to where
the furnace was situated.
On the way, he was met by a Yid who informed him that
his son had reached the eighth day and he would like to
honor Rav Shimshon with being the mohel.
Hesitating, Rav Shimshon wanted to tell the man that he had
a royal mission to carry out first and would then come to do
the bris. At that moment, a vision of Rav Naftoli Katz
appeared before his eyes. Shaken, Rav Shimshon recalled the
promise he had given his rov. He decided to push off his
royal duties until later and went to perform the bris,
even tarrying at the seudah that followed until the
day had almost ended.
Following developments carefully, the bishop rejoiced that
his plot was coming to fruition. He watched in glee as Rav
Shimshon left the palace grounds on his way to the furnace,
and turned home to eat, drink and celebrate.
After a number of hours, he decided to check up on the fate
of Rav Shimshon. Nearing the furnace, he saw the king's
henchmen sitting outside apparently long finished with their
grisly job. "Ah, that Jew is well and truly gone," he
muttered to himself.
"So!" He said in mock repetition of the code he had set.
"The King's orders have been carried out have they?"
Before he could even laugh his wicked laugh, the henchmen
sprang upon him, heaving him towards the furnace. As the
heat grew unbearable, he tried to kick, shout and explain
the mistake, to no avail. He met his fiery end in place of
his arch-enemy Rav Shimshon.
A few minutes later, the well-respected figure of Rav
Shimshon appeared. The henchmen stood at attention, waiting
"Has the king's will been done?" Rav Shimshon asked
dutifully. They were quick to reassure the minister that the
king's orders had indeed been carried out.
The next morning, the king was astonished to see Rav
Shimshon appearing as usual in his chambers. Puzzled, he
inquired of him, "Tell me, when did you give over my message
to the furnace men?" Seeing his hesitation in telling him
that he had been held up on the way, the King reassured him,
"Do not fear, just tell me the absolute truth."
Rav Shimshon poured out his whole story, from the command of
Rav Naftoli Katz until the death of the bishop.
Visibly moved, the king's astonishment was boundless, but
there was still one question he had. "I see that if Heaven
was intent on saving your life you are indeed an upright
man. But why did you lie to me, reporting to me only a tenth
of your wealth?"
"Money is round," replied Rav Shimshon wisely. "It rolls
around the world from one person to the next, enriching one
and impoverishing another without prior warning.
"Of the money in my possession I have no idea how much will
remain mine. I only know that the tithe I give away to
charity will eventually be repaid to me by G-d. Only this
tenth is truly my own."