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The Commander of Imperial Jewry – Josel von Rosheim (c. 1480-1554)

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In the year 5302 (1541/42), judgement was wrought upon all the Jews of Bohemia, including the holy community of Prague, by means of the snakes, the fiery serpents [Num 21:6]. The Jews suffered four severe punishments: captivity, killing, burning, and crucifixion, and worse than all these, a bitter and hasty expulsion. In response to many pleas, I came, like a brother in adversity, to join other men of deeds from the holy Prague community in an earnest appeal to the King, may he be exalted. And God, blessed be He, beheld the great fast and affliction of souls, the repentance, prayer and charity, and He left a small remnant. And in the end, praise God, I was privileged to see the children return to their own territory, multiply in number and rebuild what had been destroyed. However, I was informed by them, both verbally and by letter, when I was with them in the holy community of Prague on the first of Tammuz this year [19 June 1547], that some factions had reverted to their corrupt ways and had resumed the disputes. So I spoke to their hearts with words of explicit rebuke until they consented to follow the path of truth and peace. And so be His will.

In the year 5304 (1543/44), judgement was wrought, for our many sins, upon five people—a man, three women, and a virgin—through a false accusation concerning a child whose corpse was found, trodden underfoot. They tortured the man, the women, and the virgin until they were at death's door, but praise God they refused to make a false confession. And during that time, I was active for a month in the holy community of Würzburg, and also in Speyer in connection with the Emperor's letters [to the bishop of Würzburg]. We, that is myself and the other people, including none other than our teacher Rabbi Selkelin of blessed memory, and Rabbi S., may God protect and preserve him, expended on this matter an enormous sum in numerous expenses. This was the ransom money to liberate the prisoners. And they were set free. The virgin sanctified God's Name, enduring much torture for more than 32 weeks. Blessed be God who saved them.

In the year 5305 (1544/45), the Emperor, may he be exalted, set out with a great army to fight the King of France, and he advanced as far as a town near Paris (31). And, at that time, the counsellors issued a mandate, requiring all the Jews in German territory to contribute to the war effort. Eventually we reached a compromise and agreed to give him, the Emperor, 3,000 guilders at 15 batzen per guilder and 400 crowns for beverages, apart from additional gifts to the value of 1000 guilders. We levied three-quarters of a guild for every hundred (32). And on the same day when I was with the holy community of Worms, all the princes and dukes planned to expel the Jews and to appeal to the Emperor in this connection. Whereupon, there arose a good man (33), who is remembered for good, and explained and demonstrated to them that this could not be done: the Jews could not be removed from under their government, for Christian religious laws and precepts required that they be retained within the domains of the Roman emperor and king, as a sign and testimony to the truth of Christianity. The evil scheme for a total expulsion was cancelled, but individual Jews have been expelled from the domain of Mainz (34), and from Esslingen, and Landau, and, since then, from other places. All this is by reason of the fact that, for our many sins, this generation is not worthy and does not conduct itself honestly and righteously as did our fathers, as they have told us. But those who fear the word of God redeemed themselves, and follow the path of truth and peace.

(31) Soissons, which lay on the road to Paris from the northeast.
(32) A property tax of 0.75%.
(33) Probably Alessandro Cardinal Farnese (1520-89), papal legate.
(34) That is, the episcopal territory [Hochstift] of the Elector-archbishop of Mainz.

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