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|RABBI JOSELMAN OF ROSHEIM
by MARCUS LEHMANN - .
OTHER BOOKS BY MARCUS LEHMANN
The Family y Aguilar
Faith and Courage / Del Monte / The Penknife
(three novels in one volume) The Count of Coucy / Vanished
(two novels in one volume) The Royal Resident Just in Time Ithamar / The Agunah
(two novels in one volume) Portrait of Two Families Between Two Worlds
Translated from the German
First published in Great Britain 1974 by L. Honig and Sons Ltd
(The set of 2 volumes: ISBN 0-87306-265-5)
The stories written by my late grandfather, Rabbi Dr. Marcus Lehmann ZT"T, of Mainz, were for three generations the treasured possession of the German-reading Jewish family. The value of these historical narratives lies partly in the fact that they give the young an incomparable insight into various epochs of Jewish history, holding their interest by a colourful and lively style. But even more important is the inimitable way in which they are permeated with the atmosphere of true God-fearing Judaism, that inner climate of Jewish feeling, which is the secret of our people's survival through the ages. The power to tell a gripping story and at the same time to communicate to the young reader a keen appreciation of the essentially Jewish moral issues with which, in so many different forms, the heroes of those stories grapple this was the rare gift which endeared my grandfather as a writer to old and young alike and gave his work its unique quality. (How he endeared himself personally as a man to one and all who came in contact with him cannot be described here) For long, those who knew of the wonderful influence which these books exerted felt keenly how much English-speaking Jewish children were missing, especially seeing how scanty and inadequate was the specifically Jewish literature available in English. They ardently hoped for the time when Rabbi Lehmann's books would be translated for the benefit alike of school and home. This service to the community has now been accomplished in an excellent manner by L. Honig & Sons Ltd. I am confident that their undertaking will be rewarded with the lasting gratitude of a discerning and appreciative public.
RABBI JOSELMAN OF ROSHEIM
A Historical Tale1
1 The sources from which this story is derived are as follows: The Hebrew work Joseph Omez; La France Israelite, by Carmoly, an unpublished commentary on the Zohar by Rabbi Joselman's grandson, Rabbi Eliyahu, known as the Ba'al Shem; Rabbi Joselman's diary (in Hebrew), which is preserved in manuscript in Oxford and of which Dr Neubauer, the librarian, was kind enough to furnish us a copy; a large number of as yet unpublished documents from archives in Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, Hagenau, Oberehnheim, Schlettstadt, and other places; and, finally, a large number of historical works, memoirs and source material in Hebrew, Latin, German, French, and English.
THE dogs of war were once again unleashed in the German lands. George the Rich, Duke of Bavaria-Landshut, died on the 1st of December, 1503, and, having no male descendants, he had made his son-in-law Count Ruprecht, son of Prince Philip of the Palatinate, heir to his territories. This was in contravention of the existing laws of succession which excluded descendants in the female line; under those laws, Dukes Albrecht and Wolfgang of Bavaria-Munich were the only rightful successors.
Count Ruprecht and his wife Elizabeth took possession of the Bavarian-Landshut territories by force and the lawful heirs complained to the Emperor, Maximilian I, who decided in their favour. The Count ignored his decision, so the Emperor outlawed both him and his father, Prince Philip; this declaration led to a hard-fought and devastating war. Dukes Albrecht and Wolfgang were joined by the entire Swabian League, and with the Emperor's troops mounted a massive and united attack on the Landshut territories. Simultaneously, a Brandenburg army and a force from the free Imperial city of Nuremburg advanced into the Upper Palatinate. Duke Ulrich of Wurttemberg and Count William of Hesse attacked the Lower Palatinate at various points, while Maximilian's infantry seized the Palatinate's possessions in Alsace and Sundgau.
Among the Palatinate's possessions in Alsace was the town of Rosheim, a beautiful and prosperous place lying in the valley of the Mogel, near Schlettstadt. It had prospered both because of its mineral springs, which were visited by the sick and the invalid from far and near, and because of its cotton weaving, anchor foundry and numerous other industries. But the greatest treasure, the finest jewel in Rosheim at that time, was a Jew, Joselman ben Gerson, a member of the Loans family. The Loans family1 was famous in Israel. This family was descended from Rabbi Shelomo Yitzchaki (Rashi), the great commentator on the Bible and Talmud, as well as having produced a large number of other learned and pious men, many of whom sealed their fidelity to their Faith with their blood and sacrificed their lives for the sanctification of the Holy Name. The family originated in Louans in Southern France, and, after the expulsion of the Jews from France in 1395, settled in Endingen, in Switzerland. In the year 1471, one of those terrible rumours that have cost so much innocent Jewish blood was spread abroad. It Was alleged that the Jews had killed a Christian child in order to use its blood for the Festival of Pesach. A stupid and senseless allegation of this kind was sufficient to bring about terrible persecution. Rabbi Gerson, the father of Rabbi Joselman, and three of the latter's uncles were imprisoned, but Rabbi Gerson managed to escape. The others were forced by fiendish torture to make confessions which were totally unfounded; they were burned at the stake.
Rabbi Joselman's father fled to Alsace and settled in Oberehnheim (Obernay); but even there he was not left in peace for long. In the Middle Ages there were no standing armies. When princes went to war they engaged mercenaries, whom they discharged when the fighting was over. These soldiers, discharged without pay, income or food, roamed the countryside, robbing and pillaging as they went. The poor, unprotected Jews suffered most.
1 Are any descendants of this once famous family still alive? The Mainz Memorial Book records a great-grandson of the hero of our story: he was also called Joselman and was renowned for his piety and learning; he died in 1671. The Worms Memorial Books also record a great-granddaughter.
In 1477, after the end of the war against Charles the Bold, who fell at theBattle of Nancy, King Louis XI of France discharged his Swiss mercenaries. On their journey homewards through Alsace these ruffians decided to collect as much booty as they could with as little effort as possible. They fell upon the Jews in Schlettstadt, Bergheim, Kaisersberg, Bischheim, Amersweiler, Durkheim, Colmar and Ensisheim, robbed them, and put them to death if they refused to accept conversion to Christianity. Seventy-four people, including Rabbis, women, youths, maidens, and even small children, sanctified the Name of God on this occasion, choosing death rather than abandon their Faith. Only six men were forcibly converted, of whom five later reverted to Judaism. One alone, who had already earned a bad reputation by his frivolous and impious behavior, remained permanently divorced from Judaism and died in Colmar as a Christian. Many Israelites, including Rabbi Gerson, the father of Rabbi Joselman, and all the members of his family, fled to the castle of Lutzelstein, and, although they suffered much from hunger, thirst and cold it was January and the coldest winter within living memory their lives and the few possessions they had managed to take with them were saved. Those who fled into the mountains to hide from their pursuers suffered even more severely. The cold drove them down from the mountains to the village of Durkheim, in Alsace, where they begged the Christian inhabitants to conceal them. At first, the local people had pity on them and took them into their homes, but when the pursuers approached, they feared for their own lives and property and handed the poor Jews over to the brutal mercenaries. The wretched creatures were first robbed; then attempts were made to force them to become Christians, but without exception they all, including the little children, declared that they would rather die, throwing themselves to the ground and begging that their lives be spared and that innocent blood be not shed. The mercenaries, whose greed always exceeded their lust for blood, offered the unfortunate creatures a brief respite.
"If," said their leader, "you can ransom yourselves by tomorrow morning at this hour with 800 gold gulden, that is, ten gold gulden per person, your lives will be spared."
Their hope of deliverance was small, for all the Jews for miles around had been killed, robbed or had fled.
The town of Mulhausen had closed its gates to the mercenaries; consequently, the Jews living there had been spared. One of the local Jewish residents was a pious, noble and wealthy man, called Judah Bamis. When he heard of the murder of his co-religionists, he mourned grievously, rent his clothes and sat upon the ground with all his family, in the manner of a person mourning over the death of a near relative. On receiving the news of the threat hanging over the heads of those at Durkheim, Judah Bamis collected together all his ready cash and sold gold and jewels until he had amassed 800 gulden, which he gave to a servant by the name of Mordechai, telling him to go to Durkheim to ransom the captives.
In the meantime, the hour appointed by the mercenaries' Captain had arrived and, trusting in the Lord, 80 people were silently awaiting death. Two men, one a scholar, a noble and much respected man, Reb Zadok by name, the other called Benet (Benedict), were to die first. They knelt down and recited the Viddui, the confession of their sins, then bared their necks to the executioner's sword.
Suddenly there was a cry: "Stop, stop! I have the ransom!" It was the faithful Mordechai, who had travelled all night and half the day without rest. Now he cast himself at the feet of the Captain, holding the heavy sack of gold on high. The robbers kept their word. They took the money and released the prisoners. The faithful Mordechai then led the men he had rescued to the house of Judah Bamis in Mulhausen. where they were able to recuperate from the effects of the dangers to which they had been exposed. Poor Benet, who had already seen the sword descending upon his neck, became dumb as a result of the shock he had suffered and did not recover his speech for some six months.
Judah Bamis was overjoyed at having been permitted to save the lives of so many people. He furnished them with everything they needed and would not let them leave until all danger was past and the last Swiss mercenary had departed. God rewarded this noble person with great riches and honors, both him and his descendants. For he who risks life and wealth to save the innocent from death deserves the fruits of his good deeds in this world; his main reward is, however, reserved for the world to come.
After leaving the castle of Lutzelstein, Rabbi Gerson Loans did not return to Oberehnheim but settled in Rosheim, where a son was born to him whom he called Joseph, with the additional name of Joselman. This Joseph, like the first of his name in Egypt long ago, was to become a liberator, savior and protector of his people.
NO records of the early childhood of Rabbi Joselman have been preserved; we do not know the year of his birth. On his own admission, however, he had not yet been born when his parents fled to the castle of Lutzelstein in 1477. When our story begins, at the time of the Bavarian War, 1503-1505, he was a respected man at the head of his own household; so it can be assumed that he was born soon after his parents settled in Rosheim, that is to say, probably in the year 1478. We also do not know who taught him Talmud and Kabbalah; he must have had excellent instruction in both of these extremely difficult subjects from an early age, for in later years he was generally recognized as a leading Talmudic scholar, a reputation not to be underrated at a time when there flourished such men as Rabbi Moses Berab, Rabbi Karo, Rabbi Yitzchak Arama, Don Isaac Abarbanel. Rabbi Solomon Luria and many others of equal stature. From a remark of one of Rabbi Joselman's grandsons, the famous Rabbi Eliyahu Loans, known as the Ba'al Shem, in the introduction to his as yet unpublished commentary on the Zohar, Adereth Eliyahu, we may assume that Rabbi Joselman was taught both the Written and the Oral Law, as well as Kabbalah, by his own father. Rabbi Gerson.
Refugees arriving in Rosheim one day brought the fearful tidings that the Palatinate forces had been beaten and the victorious Imperial Landsknechte were advancing in the direction of the town, plundering and pillaging as they came. In a few hours they would arrive. Rabbi Joselman immediately called the terrified Jews together. "My friends," he said to them, "moaning and groaning cannot help us; we must seek, with Divine assistance, to avert the evil threat. Many of you still remember the distress and suffering the Swiss mercenaries of the French King caused our fathers. The same or even worse threatens us today. I suggest, therefore, that we go out to meet the Landsknechte and come to some agreement with them. Perhaps we can pacify them by offering them part of what we own."
"I witnessed that suffering myself," said the grey-bearded Reb Zadok. "The naked sword was already touching my neck. Let us do what our young Rabbi Joselman advises. Let us give whatever is necessary and so save our own lives and those of our wives and children. The mercy of Almighty God can easily replace our money and possessions!"
"But who," asked Raphael of Bergheim, "will dare to approach those savage beasts and enter their very jaws, probably to become the first victim of their passions?"
"I shall go," said Rabbi Joselman.
"God bless you, my son!" said Reb Zadok. "But I shall not let you go alone. I shall accompany you."
"Permit me," added Raphael of Bergheim, "to have a part in this mitzvah; it is better that three should go than two."
"I thank you, Raphael," said Reb Zadok, "for your brave offer and gladly accept your company. Let us hurry, then, for time is pressing."
At this moment, those assembled cried out in unison, "The Lord shall guard thy going out and thy coming in, from this time forth and for evermore!"
"Amen!" the three responded. They immediately set off for Schlettstadt, that being the direction from which the Landsknechte were advancing. Before leaving, they fastened a white cloth to a stick. Raphael of Bergheim carried this flag of truce.
The three set off in a state of great excitement. As soon as they had left the town Rabbi Joselman said:
"We ought to consider what we are going to say to the soldiers and how much we should offer them, but there is little point in our doing so since, for all we know, they may cut us down immediately, and in any case we shall have to accept whatever terms they offer. It would, therefore, be better to entrust everything to our Father in Heaven. If He protects us, we shall happily escape the lion's claws. It seems better then for us to discuss the Divine teachings, which our Sages, of blessed memory, say are Israel's best guardian angel throughout all her wanderings."
"I admire" you, Rabbi Joselman," replied old Reb Zadok, "not only for your elevated thoughts, acute perception and amazing memory, but especially for your noble, pious and devout character. One day you will surely be one of the great men in Israel. Speak and let us hear the teachings of thy lips, for milk and honey are under thy tongue!"
"You judge me too kindly, Reb Zadok; your affection for me clouds your judgment. When our brethren encouraged us with the verse from the Psalms: 'The Lord shall guard thy going out and thy coming in,' I was reminded of a puzzling observation by our Sages in the Midrash. For Holy Scripture says: 'Blessed be thou in thy coming in, blessed be thou in thy going out'; on which the Midrash Rabbah remarks: 'Blessed be thou in thy coming in in thy affairs; blessed be thou in thy going out in thy affairs.' And David explains it thus: 'The Lord shall guard thy going out and thy coming in'."
"A difficult Midrash, indeed," said Reb Zadok. "What does David add to the Torah?"
"In my opinion, the Midrash could be explained in the following way: At the beginning of Pesachim, the Sages say: 'Man constantly seeks to return home by day and to go forth by day,' My paternal ancestors, the Ba'alei Tosafoth, ask: Should not the sentence be reversed? Man constantly seeks to go forth by day and then to return by day, for a man first of all goes forth and then returns home. The reply of the Tosafoth to this question is unsatisfactory. In my opinion, the passage in the Talmud can be explained as follows: When the Talmud speaks first of going forth and then of returning home, one might imagine that this applied only to the beginning and the end of the journey, a good omen as it were, as appears to be implied by the expression used in the Talmud to describe the day, ki tov that it may be good. Since the- Gemara, however, begins with the return home, it must apply to the position of the traveler who is already on his journey, and the words of the Sages concern every departure and every return during the whole of the journey."
"Very true," said Reb Zadok in agreement. "Now let us turn to our Midrash. The Midrash attempts to explain the sentence in the Torah: 'Blessed be thou in thy coming in, blessed be thou in thy going out'; another Midrash applies this to entry into the world and departure from the world, that is to say, to birth and death. Our Midrash desires, however, to apply it to every journey, to every business trip; but then we must ask 'Why does the Torah speak of returning home before departure?' And there the Midrash teaches us that this expression applies not to one event but to a series of events. But David, who first speaks of departure and then of return, is obliged for that very reason to add: me'atah ve'ad olam, 'from this time forth and for evermore'; thus says the Midrash: 'and David explains it by the fact that the expression in the Torah contains within itself a continuous blessing of God on every return home and on every departure'."
"I think," said Reb Zadok, deliberately, "that you have grasped the meaning of the Midrash and interpreted it correctly. You show true reverence for the Torah when you examine it so closely and consider the holy and sublime teaching that is contained in each word and expression."
"Excuse me, Rabbi Joselman!" interrupted Raphael, who was a man without learning. "I did not completely grasp the point of your remarks."
"If Reb Zadok will permit, I shall repeat what I said and try to make myself clearer."
"We have no time for that now," replied Reb Zadok, "for a troop of Landsknechte is visible on the heights yonder. Be gracious unto us, All-merciful God!"
"Raise your white flag, Raphael!"
All three halted and Raphael did as he had been requested.
Rabbi Joselman raised his hands to Heaven and cried in a loud voice:
"Most gracious God, for the sake of my pious ancestors, who walked continuously in Thy ways, crown our efforts with success!"
And Reb Zadok said:
"O Lord my God, recall how I offered my neck to the executioner's sword for the sanctification of Thy Holy Name and let us find favor in the sight of our oppressors!"
Raphael did not speak, but waved his white flag energetically.
THE Landsknechte descended from the heights. At the head of the troop marched their Captain, Hans Fruhauff, from Saxony; at his side strode the ensign, Jorge Liebenaur, from Silesia, bearing their furled standard; Lieutenant Fritz Stolpe, from Pomerania, had fallen in the previous day's fighting and had not yet been replaced. The delightful valley of the River Mogel lay spread out before them, the sun glistening on its clear waters, and the townlet of Rosheim nestling on its banks. The view was delightful, but the beauty of the landscape made no impression on the hard hearts of the coarse soldiery.
"Jochen," cried the Captain to one of the soldiers, "don't you come from these parts?"
"I do, Captain," replied the latter, an old soldier of fortune. "I was born in Bergzabern."
"What's the name of the townlet lying there in the sunshine? Is it likely to contain much booty?"
"I know the place well; it is called Rosheim and has lots of Jews; there are plenty of golden fish to be hooked there."
The Captain put his hand to his eyes to shield them from the glare of the sun and gazed piercingly into the distance.
"Ho!" he cried. "There are three men standing over there and one of them is waving a white flag. Drummer, sound the alarm! Let the troop advance in battle order!"
The drummer beat his drum, the officers leapt to their feet and drew up their men in a closed square; Jorge, the ensign, attended by the strongest of the soldiers, unfurled the flag. Soldiers armed with muskets advanced in front of the pikemen. Then the great drum rolled for a second time and the whole troop fell to their knees, each man muttering a silent prayer with his weapon upraised and sprinkling himself with a handful of earth in anticipation of early death. Then the Captain stood up and gave a signal to the ensign, who waved the standard in the breeze and gave utterance to the ancient battle-cry: "All for Thee, O Lord!" and the whole band repeated "For Thee. O Lord!" Then they advanced, steadily and ponderously, the ground shuddering beneath their tread.
The three men gazed at the soldiers with their muskets leveled at them. Two of them trembled.
"Let us flee!" stammered Raphael.
"Yes, let us flee!" said Reb Zadok. "They are not inclined towards peace."
"For God's sake, stay where you are and don't move." Rabbi Joselman admonished them. "What use would there be in fleeing now? They could easily catch up with us".
The other two, realizing the truth of his words, followed his advice. So the three men, outwardly calm, awaited the arrival of the brutal soldiers.
"Halt!" cried the Captain. "You are brave not to have run away. A pity that you are Jews, as I suppose you are!"
"We know," replied Rabbi Joselman, "that God-fearing German Landsknechte respect the white flag."
"Well said, Jew! What do you want?"
"We wish to strike a bargain with you. We are prepared to hand over to you whatever ready money we can raise, if it will save our homes from pillage."
"We should be fools to be satisfied with just a part, when we can have the lot."
"You are wrong, Captain. Our treasures are well concealed and you would seek them in vain."
"There are means of making you talk."
"Our men are resolute and our women and children do not know the hiding-places."
"What do you offer?"
"Three hundred gold gulden."
"Very well! We shall consider your offer."
He gave a signal by raising his hand and the Jews withdrew. Then the drummer beat a roll on the big drum and the soldiers formed a ring. In the centre stood the Captain, the place to his right where the lieutenant usually stood remaining vacant. The ensign, holding the furled colors, took up his position to the Captain's left. The leaders of the individual sections grouped themselves around the Captain, the outer ring being formed by other ranks.
The Captain reported the offer made by the Jews.
The soldiers were divided in their views.
"Hell's whiskers," cried Veit Gonzenheimer, "these Jews are clever! Nevertheless, let's plunder them! They must have great wealth since they are so willing to buy us off."
"According to the old proverb," said Kunz Muenzenberger thoughtfully, "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. The Jews have buried their gold and I very much doubt whether we can force them to disclose its whereabouts. Let us, therefore, take what they offer and go on our way."
"No. no!" came from all sides. "Let us plunder the Jews!"
At that moment the ensign unfurled the standard; there was complete silence.
"Brothers," cried Jorge, the ensign, "you have entrusted me with this standard so that I may bear it honorably and let it fly over pious, God-fearing Landsknechte. Are you not aware that it is customary, when anyone comes to ransom himself, to accept the ransom and abandon the use of force?"
"Ha, ha!" laughed Veit Gonzenheimer. "They are only Jews; our laws do not apply to them."
"He's right!" cried several together. "Let's pillage them!"
At this, the ensign lowered the standard, rolled it up and stuck it upside down in the earth. There was a gasp of amazement and the Captain, badly shaken, asked:
"What are you doing, ensign, burying the standard as if from evildoers?"
"My dear brethren," replied the ensign, "you have appointed me to maintain the honour of our brotherhood. I heard words that contravene our rules, so I have furled the standard and buried the flag, for, as you are aware, it may not fly over our shame."
There was renewed angry shouting and several of the men brandished their weapons threateningly. But the Captain declared" loudly and decisively: "He is exercising his rights and we dare not stop him."
"Listen to the advice of an old man," said Kunz Muenzenberger. "Let us authorize the Captain to negotiate with the Jews and persuade them to give us six hundred, or even a thousand, gold gulden instead of three hundred."
This advice was accepted. The Captain had the Jews recalled.
"We cannot accept your proposition," said Hans Fruhauf. "What use is three hundred gulden to us? How much would that be for each man? Go and tell your brethren that they must willingly hand over everything they have or they will be hanged, drawn, quartered, or broken on the wheel."
"I understand precisely what you mean, brave Captain," said Rabbi Joselman with a smile. "You are demanding a larger sum of money. Very few of my brethren live in Rosheim and only a handful of them are men of substance. To raise even three hundred gold gulden would be difficult for us, but to make you happy we shall make it four hundred."
"Say a thousand, Jew!"
"Impossible, brave Captain!"
"Six hundred or we shall take what we can find. That is my last word."
"The community cannot raise more than four hundred but I shall add the other two hundred from my own resources, although it will leave me penniless. But on one condition, Captain! Your band must undertake to protect us until the last soldiers have left the country."
"So be it!" said the Captain.
"Swear it to me!"
"I swear it!"
"Not in that fashion! Let your soldiers form a ring and let the ensign unfurl the colors; then let one soldier with a musket, another with a halberd, and a third with a pike enter the ring. Let them then place the weapons together and we shall both lay our hands upon them. Then, with your hand on the weapons, under the waving banner, swear the oath!"
"You are well acquainted with the customs of the Landsknechte. A pity that you are a Jew! You are a fine fellow. Agree to be baptized! We need a lieutenant for our band and I guarantee you the post. You are still young, you will go a long way, perhaps even become a general."
"Even though you were to offer me all the wealth in the world, I should never abandon my God and my Faith."
"I like you, Jew."
Once again the drummer beat his great drum. The soldiers formed a circle and the Captain took the oath in the manner prescribed by Rabbi Joselman. The danger was happily over. The band made its way peacefully to Rosheim, received the money and was supplied with food and drink.
Reb Zadok and Raphael could not sufficiently praise Rabbi .Toselman's cleverness and courage.
THE Senate of the German Imperial city of Frank-fort-on-Main had summoned all its Jews to appear in the great synagogue, called the Altschul. They arrived in fear and trepidation, for they knew that such a formal summons was unlikely to be the harbinger of good tidings. When all were present, the Mayor ascended the steps before the Holy Ark and read out an Imperial edict announcing that a former Jew, Johann Pfefferkorn, who had adopted Christianity, could no longer suffer in silence while evil reports were spread, through the Rabbinical writings, and especially by the Talmud, about the founder of the Christian religion and against the truths of the Christian faith. The proselyte had begged for Imperial permission to confiscate all books containing such matter and to burn them. His Majesty the Emperor had therefore decreed, that all Hebrew books in the possession of the Jews in Germany should be handed over to Pfefferkorn for examination and eventual destruction.
When the Mayor had finished reading the Imperial edict, the sound of weeping and deep distress filled the synagogue. The Jews had lost everything, their home and native country; they were oppressed, tormented and persecuted everywhere, but one treasure remained to them the inspiration of their lives, the one consolation in all their misery the holy and Divine teachings and now even these were to be stolen from them! The leaders of the community, Reb Moses Kanne, Reb Jacob Kulpe and Reb Moses Cohen,1 begged
1 The surnames of the Frankfort Jews were mainly derived from their houses; zur Kanne (at the sign of the jug), zur Rindskopf (the bullock's head), zum Ochsen (the ox), etc.
and entreated the Mayor to protect them. The latter shrugged his shoulders and said: "It is an Imperial edict. I can do nothing about it. Make your entreaties to His Imperial Majesty! But I do not think that it will help you much, as the proselyte Johann is acting on behalf of the holy preaching friars of Cologne, the brethren of the Order of St Dominic, and the latter have won over Kunigunde, Duchess of Bavaria, the Emperor's own sister, who pressed His Imperial Majesty persistently until eventually he had the orders executed for Pfefferkorn."
After giving this cheerless information, the Mayor and his retinue tried to leave, but Reb Moses Kanne held him back.
"Gracious sire!" he said. "By the time we make our plea before the throne of our all-merciful Emperor, even if His Majesty is graciously inclined towards us, the proselyte will already have destroyed and burned our holy books. Please leave the matter in abeyance until a reply is received from the Imperial Court."
"I cannot. The Imperial edict is absolutely clear. You must hand over the books to Pfefferkorn."
The very same day, Pfefferkorn began his witch-hunt against the Rabbinical writings. He first went to the Rabbi on whose table lay a manuscript of the Psalms with the commentary of Rabbi David Kimchi. At that time there were few printed books. Printing had been invented only some seventy years earlier in Mainz and was not yet widespread. Books were extremely valuable and represented not inconsiderable sums of money.
Pfefferkorn took up the manuscript and looked for the title, but the title-page and a few of the first pages were missing. He looked through the book; it was written in Rabbinical script without vowels.
"Take that book," he said to his servants. "It is the Book of Isaiah with the blasphemous commentary of that damnable Abarbanel. It is full of libels on pure Christian teaching."
"You are an abandoned sinner and an ignoramus," cried the Rabbi. "Can you not even distinguish a psalter from the Book of Isaiah? And you set yourself up to be the judge of our holy writings! Alas for the mother who bore you, alas for the father who nurtured you!"
"Close your filthy mouth, Rabbi, or I shall have you arrested for insulting His Majesty. I am acting in the name of the Emperor!"
The Rabbi- was obliged to watch in silence while his whole library, which he valued more than his life, was carried away. When Pfefferkorn had departed, the Rabbi rent his garments, sat on the ground and wept, as if in mourning for someone who had died. When his pupils arrived, some of them sat down on the ground beside him and wept with him. But one of them, Simon of Bingen, said:
"Do not despair, Rabbi! Tachath hapilpul ya'aleh lekach tov; instead of Pfefferkorn, whom God will destroy, we shall recover our good books of learning. But God has been gracious to you, Rabbi, for you have no need of books. You know the whole Torah by heart. Teach us without books!"
Thereupon the Rabbi rose, and delivered a penetrating Talmudical discourse from memory. His pupils listened and added their comments. As long as they were concerned only with Gemara, Rashi, and the Tosafoth, all went well, but one of the students mentioned an opinion of Rabbi Solomon ben Adret and a lively discussion ensued about the latter's actual meaning.
"Nisa sefer venecheseh1," said the Rabbi, forgetting the day's events in the zeal of study. Then he remembered, rent his clothes again, sat down on the ground and wept, and all his pupils did likewise.
Pfefferkorn confiscated 1,500 Hebrew scrolls, manuscripts 1
Let us fetch the book and look it up.
The communal leaders were considering what could be done, when the beadle entered the council room and announced that a stranger urgently requested permission to appear before them. Permission was granted and the stranger entered.
"Forgive me, gentlemen," he said, "for disturbing your meeting. I may be able to assist you in the matter which you are at present considering. My name is Joselman and I come from Rosheim, in Alsace; my father, of blessed memory, was Rabbi Gerson, of the Loans family."
"May your coming be for a blessing," said Reb Moses Kanne, offering the visitor a chair. "Sit down and tell us what you have to say. Have you come about the new gezerah1?" (1 decree.)
"I have indeed!" replied Rabbi Joselman. "What have you decided to do?"
"We have taken no decision, none at all. If we send a deputation to the Emperor, the meshumad will have burned our sacred books before we receive a reply. It is a makkah asher lo ketuvah, a blow the like of which has never been experienced before."
"In any event, we must try to delay matters."
"The Senate of this city refuses to become involved in the matter in any way."
"Then we must try to interest some important person who lives in this neighborhood and persuade him to prevent the meshumad from carrying out his evil plans."
"But who would be strong enough or sufficiently bold to dare to countermand the Emperor's direct orders?"
"I know of only one man who might perhaps be willing to do so. It is the Elector of Mainz, the Imperial Chancellor and the highest dignitary of the German Church, the strongest and most powerful prince in Germany after the Emperor. You are aware, gentlemen, that Uriel von Gemmingen was appointed Elector last year . It cost him 25,000 silver gulden, which he had to pay to the Cathedral Chapter and apostolic chamber. He comes from Kraichgau and I administer the financial affairs of his whole family. His cousin commissioned me to raise the money and, with Divine assistance, I succeeded. The Fuggers of Augsburg advanced the money and I have just delivered it to the Electoral treasury."
"Ah!" cried Reb Jacob Kulpe. "So you are a favorite of the Elector of Mainz? You come to us like an angel from God." -
"I do not know the Elector and have never set eyes on him. He is, however, a learned and proud nobleman. He is a doctor of civil and canon law and was appointed Assistant Judge in the Imperial Court at Spever by the Emperor while still Dean of the Cathedral. I did all my business with the Electoral treasury. But the Elector, may God bless him, is no enemy of the Jews. As you know, his predecessor, Elector Jacob of the Liebenstein family, expelled all our brethren from the whole of the Mainz territories. Elector Uriel not only permitted the Yehudim to return to their homes and reoccupy their houses throughout the whole territory, except for the capital, Mainz, but appointed our brother, Rabbi Lippman Doctor, one of the Beifuss family, his personal physician."
"Bless you for this welcome information!" cried Reb Moses Cohen. "Perhaps God will grant us help and deliverance by this means."
"The Elector is at present at his summer residence in Aschaffenburg, and his personal physician is with him. If one of you would accompany me ..."
"I shall go with you," said Reb Moses Cohen.
"Then let us hurry and ride along the Main at daybreak tomorrow."
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