A Treasury of Jewish Letters: Letters from the Famous and the Humble - Vol. 2

A Treasury of Jewish Letters: Letters from the Famous and the Humble - Vol. 2

A Treasury of Jewish Letters: Letters from the Famous and the Humble - Vol. 2

A Treasury of Jewish Letters: Letters from the Famous and the Humble - Vol. 2

Excerpt

The humanist movement, which arose in Germany in the middle of the fifteenth century, created in many Christian scholars a strong interest in the Hebrew language and literature. Through this partiality the fighters against superstition and corruption of the Church added fresh fuel to the hatred felt for the Jews by their old enemies, the Dominicans. As in Spain the members of this Order had been the instigators of the expulsion, so in Germany they sought to deliver a deadly blow at Jewish spiritual life and so indirectly at the Jews themselves.

In this campaign, sad to say, a Jewish apostate took the lead. He was Johann Pfefferkorn of Cologne, the seat of the inquisitor Hochstraten, dean of the Dominicans. Pfefferkorn submitted to the Emperor Maximilian a demand for a wholesale suppression of all Hebrew books except copies of the Bible. The Emperor granted the request and in August 1509 issued a mandate authorizing Pfefrerkorn to confiscate the Jewish books and to destroy them, if he should find their contents directed against the Christian faith. With this document in his hands, Pfefferkorn appeared in Frankforton-Main, the city with the largest community in Germany, and induced the Council to establish a committee for the confiscation of the Hebrew books. On 28 September, Pfefferkorn seized 168 books in the synagogue, and forbade the Jews to use their prayer books. His intention, however, to ransack the homes of the Jews was frustrated by Uriel von Gemmingen, Archbishop of Mayence, who, enraged at the interference of the Emperor in a purely ecclesiastical matter, forbade the further co-operation of the clergy. The Jews utilized this short breathing-space for the preparation of defensive measures. They despatched a special messenger to Italy to plead the Jewish cause before the Emperor, and sought to organize joint action with other communities to whom they addressed the following circular letter in Hebrew on the very day of the confiscation.

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