A Treasury of Jewish Letters: Letters from the Famous and the Humble - Vol. 1

By Franz Kobler | Go to book overview

43
Isaac Zarfati warns the Jews of Germany to leave their Country and to settle in Turkey

FOR the Jews of Germany as for those of Spain the fifteenth century was a period of cruel persecution. Utter destruction following the most barbaric treatment came upon the Jews of Austria under the Duke Albert V in the years 1420 and 1421. In other German countries also, trials by the Inquisition, executions, expulsions and excesses committed against the Jews followed in an almost uninterrupted succession. In contrast to this nightmare, a haven of peace and prosperity was opened to the Jews in the Ottoman Empire after the capture of Constantinople by the Turks on 29 May 1453. Two pioneers, Kalmann and David, who almost at once discovered the possibilities of the East, were not slow to bring them to the notice of their oppressed brethren in Germany and to invite them to follow their example. At their request another early settler in Turkey, Isaac Zarfati, of French origin but born and educated in Germany, addressed to the Jews of Germany and Hungary a letter in which he called on them to arrange an exodus to the Ottoman realm. A copy of the letter has been preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Viewed in the perspective of the ultimate doom of German Jewry, Zarfati's epistle, written in traditional biblical style but full of satire and witty allusions, falls not far short of a prophecy.

The following abridgment of the original document was made by Graetz, who dated the letter at about 1454 on the strength of the reference to the prohibition of assisting Jews to travel to the Holy Land which was issued in the fifteenth century.1 Some authorities, however, hold that the letter was written in the first half of the sixteenth century.


ISAAC ZARFATI TO THE JEWS OF SUAVIA, THE RHINELAND, STYRIA, MORAVIA AND HUNGARY

'O Israel, wherefore sleepest thou? Arise, and leave this accursed land for ever!'

[Somewhere in Turkey, probably 1454 ]

I have heard of the afflictions, more bitter than death, that have befallen our brethren in Germany -- of the tyrannical laws, the

-283-

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