Page 18 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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was needed to eradicate from their hearts the passion for their an­
cestral lore. The persecution served indeed only to strengthen
their devotion. In the words of the ancient martyr-Rabbi who was
burned wrapped in a Scroll of the Law: “The parchment is con­
sumed in fire, but the characters inscribed on it form themselves
together anew in the heavens.”
In that dark age (not so far past, alas, as one had once hoped),
when the redemption of fellow-Jews enslaved by land and sea was
considered to be among the prime good actions that a man could
perform, there was associated with that mitzvah, the Redemption
of Captives, the allied one of the Redemption of Books—the re­
purchases of volumes of Hebrew literature carried off when cor­
sairs raided some synagogue, or captured a ship in which studious
Jews were sailing peacefully from port to port. Document after
document, of the Middle Ages and after, deals with this question.
Let us quote one instance only, of special Anglo-Jewish interest. At
the time of the terrible massacre in York Castle in 1190, we are told
by the contemporary chronicler: “The enemy spoiled gold and sil­
ver and beautiful books, which the Jews of York had written
many—more precious than gold or fine gold, and not to be
equalled in all the world for beauty. These they brought to Co­
logne and to other places in Germany, and sold to the Jews.”
In what light did this persectution of literature appear to con­
temporaries? I should like to cite a couple of passages which illus­
trate it as vividly as is possible. The first instance comes from 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 eyewitness, Rabbi Abraham Sebag to
his unpublished exegetical work,
Zeror ha-Kesef:
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