Page 25 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

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WE I SS -ROSMAR IN ----HEROIC ELEMENT
13
When Ezekiel informed them that God would not help them,
they exclaimed: “Whether He deliver us or not, we shall not wor-
ship the idol!” (Midrash Shir Hashirim, VII, 8).
MEDIEVAL LITERATURE
Medieval Hebrew literature is largely the record of Jewish
heroic
martyrdom. Local chronicles, the so-called
Memor-Books
(the
name is derived either from the Latin
memoria
, or more likely,
from the
Almemor
on which the scrolls or books were placed for
public recitation), carefully kept in hundreds of communities have
preserved the memory of the countless thousands who died for
Kiddush Hashem
, the Sanctification of the Name, in the scores
upon scores of international, national and local waves of perse-
cution which engulfed the Jews since the early Middle Ages and
which grew to dreadful dimensions in the eras of the Crusades
and of the Christian reconquest of Spain and Portugal.
Next to the
Memor-Books
, many of which have been rescued
from certain doom and oblivion by the careful critical editions of
competent scholars, (Salfeld, Stern, Adolph Neubauer, Aronius,
M. Weinberg, and many more), medieval Hebrew liturgy is the
richest single source of information on Jewish heroic martyrdom.
In hundreds upon hundreds of
S'lichoth
(penitential prayers),
Kinot
(elegies) and
Yozroth
(liturgical martyrologies which were recited
after the prayer
yotzer or
. . . ), well-known and anonymous medi-
eval liturgical poets commemorate the brave, heroic martyrdom
of individuals — men, women and children — and of entire com-
munities who died for the sake of
Kiddush Hashem.
Zunz, in his
classic
Die Synagogale Poesie des Mittelalters
and in his
Literatur-
geschichte der Synagogalen Poesie
(two volumes which since long
have been overdue for an English translation!) was first to call
attention to the vast historical significance of the liturgical poems
scattered in the
Machzor
(festival prayer book) and in special
collections of penitential and elegical poems. While the heroic
martyrologies couched in poetic style are invaluable to the student
of Jewish literature who would also understand its deeper under-
currents and motivations, the factual historian will be more at-
tracted to the matter-of-fact chronicles, especially the three most
comprehensive ones, the record of the persecutions of the
Second
Crusade
by R. Ephraim ben Jacob of Bonn (born ca. 1132 died
ca. 1200), Joseph ben Joshua Ha-Cohen’s (born 1496 died ca. 1576)
“Vale of Tears” (
Emek Habakhah
), a complete history of Jewish
persecutions up to his time, and the celebrated
Shebet Yehudah
(the Rod of Judah) by three successive members of the Ibn Verga
family (Solomon, Judah and Joseph, 15th and 16th centuries)