Page 17 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 3

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the time of the Expulsion from Spain at the end of the fifteenth
century — the greatest tragedy in Jewish history until our own
day. The following is from the introduction of an eye-witness,
Rabbi Abraham Sebag to his unpublished exegetical work, “Zeror
haKesef” :
Now while I was in Portugal, after having come thither with those expelled from
Castille, it came into my mind to compose a commentary on the Five Scrolls, which
I did. At that time, the anger of the Lord was kindled against my people in the
Second Expulsion, from Portugal. I therefore abandoned all my books, and deter-
mined to take with me to Lisbon (the port of embarkation) only the commentary
I had composed on the Pentateuch and the commentary on the Five Scrolls, and
a commentary on the Ethics of the Fathers, and the work “Hibbur haKasef”
that I had composed in my youth. When I arrived in Lisbon, certain Jews came
and told me that a proclamation had been issued, that any person in whose posses-
sion a Hebrew book was found should be put to death. Forthwith I went and con-
cealed them beneath a certain olive tree, verdant and fruitful, but in my eyes bitter
as wormwood: and I called it the Tree of Weeping, for there I had buried all that
I held most dear. For my commentaries on the Pentateuch and the Precepts were
precious to me more than gold and treasure. Therewith, indeed, I had comforted
myself for my two sons, the very walls of my heart, who had been seized by force
and baptised: and I saw them no more, for immediately they were thrown into
prison. Therefore I said of my books, “Surely these are better for me than sons
and daughters.” So I remained there for nearly six months, until through the
merits of my forefathers God enabled me to reach Fez, where I determined to
restore the Chaplet and to attempt to recall a little at least of what was written
in my books.
The reading of this text is doubtful, and it seems that there is
some scribal confusion. The translation should perhaps run: “and
I saw my books no more, for immediately afterwards they threw
me into prison.”
A New Year Holocaust
My second instance is slightly later than this. In the autumn
of 1553, in consequence of the slanders of a couple of spiteful
apostates, a search was made in the houses of all the Jews of
Rome, and all copies of the Talmud and subsidiary works were
seized. Shortly after, the New Year’s day, Rosh Hashanah, the
great solemnity of the Jewish religious year, was chosen by the
arch-persecutors to commit these treasures of the Jewish spirit
to the flames; and they were burned by the common executioner
on the Campo dei Fiori at Rome. The example was followed all
over Italy with a ridiculous lack of discrimination, copies of the
Bible itself suffering because they happened to be printed in the
sacred tongue. Hear, now, the words of an eye-witness taken
from the introduction to R. Judah Lerma’s “Lehem Jehudah”
(Sabionetta, 1554):
This work, of mine I published for the first time in Venice. Now on the New
Year’s Day of the year “For God hath dealt bitterly with me” (that is 1553) the
Curia of Rome issued an edict in all the countries that owed it obedience and
they burned the Talmud and all works allied thereto. In the month of Marheshvan,
the Bitter Month, the edict was published in Venice, and they burned the Talmud
and all like works on a Sabbath day, and among them were all the copies of my book
which I had just printed, 1,500 volumes in all. Thus I lost everything that I had
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