Monday, June 04, 2012

A contemporary account of Rabbi Judah Chassid and his crew from 1700

I was excited to find this account of Rabbi Judah Chassid and his burgeoning group, as he traveled through Central Europe in 1700, eventually on the way to Jerusalem, in a historical gazette published in Frankfurt (link). The report comes slightly after the fact, when the group had reportedly already settled in Jerusalem. Note what an impression his striking manner and appearance made on the people.

My thanks to Phillip Minden who graciously translated the piece for me - I made some slight stylistic changes. Therefore any mistakes are mine. I also divided into paragraphs to make it more readable. 
The new hope the Jews have for the wider spread and reestablishment of Jewish authority may be seen from the following report by correspondence: In this year of 1700, 31 Polish Jewish households or families, consisting of more than 120 men, women, children and domestics, left Poland with the intent to travel to the Promised Land, vowing not to eat on any day until the stars appeared in the sky. After they arrive in Moravia at the so-called Nicholas Gate, they sent four Jews with a number of servants added to notify all large Jewish communities in the Empire and in Holland, so that in March, they also arrived at the local Jewish community here in Frankfort. Among other things, they repeatedly admonished the Jews in the shul to repent, assuring them their redemption was nigh, which was to be seen from all the events among the Christians, the Muscovites and the Turks, hence they were to live piously, not so much pray from the Book of Psalms - which they didn't reject, though - or other books but pray little and mainly the Prayer of Eighteen, called שמונה עשרה Shemóne ésre, which Queen Esther had substituted for the sacrifices, with devotion, and abstain from the Christians' pomp. 
The Jews mentioned were otherwise quiet and other-worldly, went to the cold bath daily, didn't lie in beds, slept only one or two hours every night and spent the remaining time reading the Talmud. All week, their food, after the stars appeared in the sky as mentioned, was nothing but olive oil [Baumöl", ie tree oil] and bread. As they didn't want to eat any meat or anything else that came from [formerly] living animals, the Jews called them Chasidim, that is pious ones. Their clothes were particular, their hats strange; when they travelled, they wore long black coats, but when they were among Jews or went to shul, the most distinguished of them by the name of Rabbi Juda Chasid - a man of 40 and the others in their thirties - wore a white sateen garment, and three others by the names of Rabbi Isaac, Rabbi Nataniel, who was said to have a soothsayer spirit and Rabbi Saul wore white serge garments that had been made in a quite curious way. The Jews could not praise enough what a formidable permeating voice Rabbi Juda Chasid had, who had taught in the shul on the 3rd of April, which was the Jews' Sabbath. His and the three other Jews' faces and bodies, they said, were as beautiful and strong as if they partook from the best food and drinks every day. 
After the local Jewry here generously gave journey money to those four Jews, they eventually departed again from here via Hanau and Fürth near Nuremberg for the Nicholas Gate in Moravia. In the meantime, the well-known Jew Samuel Oppenheimer of Vienna had arranged for passports for them, so that they could safely travel on the Danube River until the Black Sea, ordered two ships for them, and when they arrived in Vienna, he generously gave them clothes, food and money from his purse, upon which they indeed left for Constantinople around the 20th of June, as the aforementioned Oppenheim [sic - Oppenheim and Oppenheimer is quite exchangeable at the time] reports hither. 
Apart from this, two other letters have been communicated, one from Jerusalem to the most distinguished rabbi of Hamburg, and the other one from Constantinople, from a Jewish doctor there, to his brother in Amsterdam, called Gerson Worms. The first letter reported changes in status, to the higher invigoration of those hoping: that where earlier the Temple and the Holy of Holies had been, a source of water as sweet as honey originated, which was the same water that had been there during the time of the Temple but which had been dry ever since, for which one might look up the prophets Zechariah and Joel. Also, the Pasha there allowed the Jews to build a synagogue on the holy mountain on which the Temple had been earlier. In the other one, from Constantinople, it is written that the Kaimakan [governor] in Constantinople had released the Jews from a yearly toll of 500 Dutch dollars [Löwen-thaler = lion dollars - don't think there's an English term for that, Dutch coins with a lion], and a day later, two distinguished Turkish footmen arrived at a place in the Jews' street and distributed several thousand reichsthalers of alms among the passing Jewish paupers.

1 comment:

  1. It should be recalled that Yehudah died almost as soon as he reached Jerusalem (on Jan 1, 1700?) but this may have been fortunate as it is claimed that he intended to establish a Sabbatean community in the city.



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