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A Hebrew Elegy

S. Schechter

<plain_text><page sequence="1">A HEBREW ELEGY, -? By S. SCHECHTER, M.A. The purpose of this paper is to bring under your notice a Kinnah, or Lamentation, bearing on Anglo-Jewish history, which, though referred to by Zunz, and published some years ago by Dr. Berliner in the Sammelband of the Mekize Nirdamim III. (cp. also Id., vol. iv. p. 39), has not as yet received the attention it deserves. The Lamenta? tion seems to have been once in general use among the Franco-German Jews, for it occurs in many of the prayer-books and collections of elegies used in this rite. I had myself the opportunity of collating my copy with three codices, extant in the libraries of Rome, Turin, and Cambridge. But it is the MS. in the Vatican Library that con? tains some features which may prove of interest to this Society. This Codex, bearing the pressmark 312, and representing a small folio of 81 parchment leaves, opens with a title-page of paper, on which the following lines are written by a late hand :? tun rwn 'ena n^k nw d&gt;mb&gt;k anJM nan ny^n hv urno mW? im nun pirn hv nwp -p nnxi f&gt; *p nwa ^nnoi tram [n^]nrm mrmypi inin?iBm nnpni n^ipi nwiaoi .nsn* pK3 mW 'bon WW The annexed Latin translation runs: " Breviarii pars continens commemorationem desolationis templi et civitatis Hierosolymitas quae celebratur die nona mensis Julii et ... . deploratur strages illata Judacis in civitatibus Spira .... et in insu liis Anglia et Scotia anno mundi 4906 h. e. Anno Dni 1146 . . . In Assemani's description of this MS. : " Inde consequuntur variorum Rabbinorum Kinnoth Lamentationes, seu carmina lugubria, quae prasfatis lectionibus Biblicis, juxta Ritum Germanicum, eodem die nona mensis Juli adjungi solent, in memoriam turn eversionis primi, et secundi Templi Hierosolymitani, et variarum Synagogarum, quas idem infortunium diversis temporibus perpetraa sunt; videlicet,</page><page sequence="2">A HEBREW ELEGY. 9 Spirensis, Wormatiensis, Moguntinse, Coloniensis, Rottonburgensis, Rotemburgensis, et Norimbergensis; turn aliarum persequutiorum populi Judaici in Angiia, Scotia, Hibernia, Bohemia, et in G-allia, ubi Anno Mundi 4906, Christi 1146, sex Judaeorum millia interfecti perhi bentur." I need scarcely say that Assemani mistook the nun in the Hebrew date for vaw and read pT\T\m So much about the Codex in general; we come now to the Kinnah which concerns us here. In the Vatican MS. it bears the heading :? train wn hv n^nn rats* row ju'on Droo no* dkt nypi : jp"nn ru^a D*n nnn hy nsiDm d&gt;six&gt;n dji &amp;nra 66 This Lamentation was composed by our Master R. Menachem (to be sung with the tune of Ekha Yoshebah Chabazeleth?a well known elegy by Kallir) on the martyrs of Bopart in the month of Ellul (1179 ?), and also on the burned ones ; and at the end (of the Kinnah): On the martyrs of the Isles of the Sea in the year 4950" (=1190). On this follows the composition, which consists of thirty stanzas, each of them having four lines. The first eleven stanzas have an alphabetical acrostic, whilst that of the remaining nineteen gives twice the name of the author, thus : f ?k1 pin 3py* *m DTOD, and again, mini ptn DWD. I must premise a few biographical words about this Rabbi, whose full title seems to have been R. Menachem ben Jacob ben Salomon ben Menachem. The date of his birth is not known, but he must have flourished during the second half of the twelfth century. This we learn, apart from other sources, from his epitaph, which was discovered in Worms by Dr. Lewysohn, where it is said that he died on the 3rd of Iyar in the year 4963 of the creation, which corresponds, according to a calculation of Zunz, with the 16th of April in the year 1203, common era. He was thus a contemporary of the martyrs who met their death in the massacres in London, York, and other places. And it is not impossible that he got the facts on which his poem is based from eye? witnesses. It may even be suggested that the sad message was brought to the Rhine provinces by that very rabble who, as we learn from accounts given of the York massacre by R. Ephraim of Bonn, 66plun? dered (1113*1, not despised) there gold and silver, as well as books which were not to be equalled for beauty, and brought them to Cologne,"</page><page sequence="3">10 A HEBREW ELEGY. where they sold them to the Jews. Our author is further described in this epitaph as tJ'in fcOD, "scholar, preacher, and poet." But, considering the fact that the Halachic pieces left us by R. Mena chem are rather few, we must conclude that his main activity consisted in composing synagogal hymns. Indeed, what could a German Jew or Jewess, who had the misfortune to visit our globe during the twelfth century, when Europe went religion-mad and could only be tamed by Saracenic devils or unwashed saints?what could they do better than pray or cry ? In their prayers they sought for strength and power of endurance, to enable them to resist the temptations of persuasion and persecution. " We are thine, God, to death, and shall never forsake thee for no-gods," is the perpetual refrain meeting us again and again in the Piyutim composed during the horrors of the Crusades. I may remark, in passing, that when studying the documents referring to Israel's times of agony, I was struck by the fact that the women proved themselves even more heroic than the men, and at many a critical mo? ment it was the despairing courage and the tender conscience of woman which decided in favour of martyrdom. In the lamentations which found their echo chiefly in the Kinnoth and the Selichoth, the Jewish poets of the crusading period gave vent to the feelings which they dared betray only to their God. Their heart cried unto God for mercy, help, and redemption from exile and?also for revenge. Such a poet was also our R. Menachem, and there is a long list of his prayers and lamentations, probably to be augmented by some which escaped Zunz's notice. Here we are only concerned with the last ten stanzas of the elegy which I have already described, and of which I give here both the original and the English translation :? (Gen. i. 24) ?on!?n t^ud fa mn uennn no worn 'fan duid (Judges vii. 20) UDIpPn K1? IV 'r6 Din ?in (Is. xxiii. 2) DJINp rrUMI &lt;m upv 1Dl5 (1 Sam. iy. 21 and Is. xi. 15) fpm rhy TIM *K (Job xxx. 24) djk mni nW &gt;m it (Ezekiel xxvi. 16) D*n fa nniKDDD HT</page><page sequence="4">A HEBREW ELEGY. IBfPB DH^ Dm&amp;K pn iotp *pm rn? dwd nnw (Ps. cxli. 6) y^D *T DHW (Ezekiel xxvi. 16) ibipb* DJl?pl HJ3 DK1 Dn^SD (Lament, iv. 5) mm Ms *BV ^3 TO* *D nw) n^DD y^in ^y d^usan (is. xxviii. 6) nv n?nte &gt;3W prfyp nm^ (Jer. xlviii. 17) mKBH fy)D W HDD "DtW fl3*K ??pi nan *6 omsw m?n D"nn im3 k&gt;bj *in^&gt; idt D"jy3i Dwafco bn ?ra (Is. xlii. 12) D"K3 W^nni DM i^y Dno ny *hy dk nb*? l^ian -]TV3 rovaw nsna Dim (Ps. xxi. 12) Mmm nyn T^y DrntMi (Ps. xxi. 12) tav ;&gt;3 Mm raws intaj ^yia anan rninn m^i ibb^d md? vapn irtaa r6p n^-V (Ps. lxviii. 22) V31N *&gt; riD&gt; D*rfc? P|K Dp*n ^ DwnaA 3^n p nn (Jer. xii. 3) Dp*nn ^ nrat^&gt; D*niDB&gt; !?1tM Dp^ni dhiWd -pin Dtnri (Ps. lviii. 11) Dpi hm *3 pnv H?^ y&amp;? fc^Bn "py y^B nosn nwn rnnto yw ^an ip^n na? (Ps. lviii. 11) ytrn d*o yrrv wye</page><page sequence="5">12 A HEBREW ELEGY. l. Sword, wherefore turnest thou in all directions, consuming all around thee ? Thou diminishest and makest an end of the best among us, And even to the Isles of the Sea thou wendest thy way. O Sword of the Lord, how long ere thou wilt find rest ? 2. Silenced are the inhabitants of the Isle ; cut off is their delight ; Glory has vanished and is no more ! He waved his mighty sword ; His hand dealt calamity, and lo ! where are they ? All the princes of the sea have come down from their thrones. 3. Towards their mothers' bosoms children stretched forth their neck, While the fathers blessed the sacrifice they were about to offer ; Hurled down from the rock were the nobles among them ; They were stripped of their robes and embroidered garments. 4. O who will bewail the perfect in beauty, those crowned with the Torah, Who were reared on scarlet for dominion and sovereignty ; Who were clothed in silk and overthrew their adversaries ; How is the strong staff broken, the beautiful rod ! 5. Precious treasures the pure did not desire. Wherefore their souls are bound up in the bundle of life; They spurned the vanity of life, as though poor and of low degree, Thus they gave glory to God and declared his praise in the Isles. 6. Behold, O Lord ! they would scale the heavens if they could, Even as they tore down the curtain in thy house, while revelling in blasphemy ;</page><page sequence="6">A HEBREW ELEGY. 13 Raving like madmen, they intended evil against thee ; They imagined devices which they were powerless to fulfil. 7. Perfect One ! Thou hast recompensed him according to his way ; He wrought his own doom ; his pride became his guilt. A.n insignificant creature gnawed him away. For surely God woundeth the head of his enemies. 8. Exalted One ! Thus render retribution to his successors ; Pay them sevenfold ; aye, He pulled them out for the slaughter ; Fulfil the petition and desire of those who hope in thee. Let the righteous rejoice to have seen the vengeance. 9. Bring signal salvation unto thy people, For the love of their martyrs, forgive their transgression ; Cause rejoicing and delight to the portion of thy lot. Let (Israel) bathe his feet in the blood of wickedness. 10. Then shall I rejoice in thee, O my Creator. To thee will I sing praises, my Rock and my Redeemer, With musical instruments will I crown my praise of thee, O God, who granteth me revenge. We notice first that these lines have their own acrostic, ptn DfTjD miro, which may suggest to us that they were only an afterthought of the poet, and thus form a Piyut by themselves. The words D*^3 *|^rtt:, in the second stanza are taken from Isaiah xi. 16. The words caused many difficulties to the commentators. Some wanted to read ?-fJJ3. Perhaps our author understood the words in the way in which R. Moses Kimchi took them, namely, as much as ^=Djn ^Q. The words n^; &gt;jn IT, in the third line of the same stanza, are also obscure. I even venture to think that it was originally with Aleph, meaning that God stretched out his hand against the Isle. Of course, it was only a pun on the Biblical U? with Ayirty with which it was confused by the copyists. The third stanza relates to the York massacre. Perhaps we ought</page><page sequence="7">A HEBREW ELEGY. to correct ?n'?5W into DH^?i^, the word referring probably to R. Jom Tob and other heads of the Jews who suffered both there and in London. From Stanzas 4 and 5 we learn that the Anglo-Jews of that period were distinguished among their brethren not only by their riches and munificence, but also excelled in learning and piety. For the ^rf??, to which Rabbi Menachem refers, means nothing else than their powers for controversy in the Torah, whilst the compliment given to them in the first Stanza 132 X&gt;N " the best amongst us," would in that time only have been applied to men marked by their saintliness and righteousness. Stanzas 6 and 7 refer to the violent death of Richard I., with an allusion to the well-known Talmudic legend (Tractate Gittin, p. 56b), according to which the wretched Titus went into the Holy of Holies, there declared war against the God of Israel, and thrust his dagger through the curtain (the Parocheth), but while on the sea God sent a fly up his nostrils, which, gnawing his brain, caused his death. The last three Stanzas are devoted to a prayer for the redemption of Israel, and implore the revenge of God upon the enemies of His people. With regard to this last feature in the poem, I should like to remark that all of us, I am sure, appreciate the noble sentiment expressed in the words : " Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do." But on the other hand, I venture to think, that such a declaration from the lips of a man who is not on the point of suffering himself, but is the witness or historian of the sufferings of others when the mob has attacked his home, murdered his wife and children, tortured his friends, plundered his sanctuaries, and cast his holy books into the fire?the man, I venture to think, who under such circumstances should suppress his natural sentiments of resentment, would prove himself neither divine nor super-human, but simply inhuman. Rabbi Menahem was no less a good Jew when he wrote this elegy, than Milton was a good Christian when he composed the famous sonnet, "On the late Massacre in Piedmont"; but to both Jew and Protestant these outpourings of great souls in ages long past, have but a literary interest. If they suggest anything in the present, it is to thank God for the tolerance of our own days.</page></plain_text>