Page 22 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

Basic HTML Version

1 0
In the Middle Ages, however, a Jew could save himself, pro-
vided he was willing to renounce his religion. Some did so and
lived securely ever after. But the preponderant majority pre-
ferred death to baptism. They died as martyrs, to be sure, yet
not as
sufferers. Death was not inflicted upon them but
chosen by them. Fully conscious of what awaited them, they
rejected the easier alternative and walked “ the last mile” as heroes
Jewish literature — from the Bible to the latest
Black Book
the horrors of Nazi atrocities against Jews — is largely the record
of Jewish heroism which is synonymous with Jewish martyrdom.
Viewed thus, the Pentateuchal narrative of Israel’s sufferings in
Egypt is not a story of woe passively endured, but primarily an
inspiring account of unflinching steadfastness and courage, which
were ultimately rewarded by the liberation from the House of
Bondage. Analogously, the biblical chapters describing the end
of the Kingdom of Judah, the destruction of the Temple and
the humiliation of the Babylonian Captivity are not so much a
recital of national calamity as inspiring accounts of Jewish pride
and perseverance. Just as their late descendants in the centuries
to come refused to humble their spirits before the temporal rulers,
so the captives by the rivers of Babylon declined to sing the songs
of Zion on strange soil:
“For there they that led us captive asked of us words of
And our tormentors asked of us mirth:
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion’,
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
Let my right hand forget her cunning.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,
If I remember thee not;
I f I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy.”
Psalm 137:3-6
Even in
and its harrowing recital of atrocities per-
petrated by the Babylonians in vanquished Judea (“They have
ravished the women in Zion, the maidens in the city of Judah.
Princes are hanged up by their hands . . . the young men have
borne the mill, and the children have stumbled under the wood . . . ”
5, 11 ff.), notes of courage, confidence and defiance of the enemy
are not missing.
The first individual conscious and determined martyr-heroes