For those of you celebrating Valentine’s day I apologize for ruining the mood of the day. But I came across a Facebook post (via Hadassah) which told the story of a massacre which I had never heard of until today.
I speak of the Strasbourg Massacre of 1349: (my translation follows the Hebrew):
היום לפני 667 שנה (14.02.1349):
טבח יהודי שטרסבורג.
“בשבת, שהיה יום סט. ולנטין, הם שרפו את היהודים על במות עץ שפיזרו. היו בערך 2,000 מהן. אלה שרצו להתנצר הושארו בחיים. ילדים קטנים רבים הוצאו מן האש והוטבלו לנצרות, בניגוד לרצון אבותיהם ואימותיהם”.
ב-14 בפברואר 1349 פרצה מגפת דבר בעיר. בעקבות האשמות היהודים בפרוץ המגפה, פרעו ההמונים ביהודי שטרסבורג, רצחו כאלפיים מהם וגירשו את השאר. פוגרום זה היה אחד ממעשי הטבח החמורים ביותר באירופה בימי הביניים, לימים הוא נודע בשם טבח שטרסבורג. לאחר הפוגרום נאסר על יהודים לשוב ולהתגורר בשטרסבורג. יהודים שביקשו להיכנס לעיר היו חייבים במס כניסה יומי ובכל ערב צלצלו פעמוני הקתדרלה של שטרסבורג באות שסימל ליהודים לצאת מהעיר. בשנת 1775 זכה הסוחר היהודי סרף בר באזרחות צרפתית, כאות הוקרה על פעלו למען צרפת. תעודת האזרחות הקנתה לו את הזכות החוקית להתגורר בשטרסבורג, לאחר 426 שנים בהם אסור היה על יהודים להתגורר בתוך העיר, אף על פי כן המשיכה העירייה להיאבק בו ולא הרשתה לו להקים בית כנסת בעיר. בשנת 1784 בוטל מס הכניסה ליהודים לשטרסבורג אך הם נדרשו לשלם 48,000 פאונד על מנת לכסות על הגרעון של העיר, סרף בר שילם את הסכום כולו לבדו.
Today, 667 years ago, on 14th February 1349:
“On the Saturday, which was Saint Valentine’s, they burned the Jews on wooden platforms which they spread around. There were about 2,000 of them. Those who wanted to convert to Christianity were left alive. Many small children were removed from the fire and baptized against the will of their fathers and mothers.”
On February 14, 1349 there was an outbreak of plague in the city. After the Jews were blamed for the outbreak of the plague, the mobs rioted, killed two thousand of them and expelled the rest. This pogrom was one of the worst massacres in Europe in the Middle Ages. Later it became known as the Massacre of Strasbourg.
After the pogrom, Jews were forbidden to return to live in Strasbourg. Jews who wanted to enter the city were taxed daily on entry, and every evening the bells of the cathedral of Strasbourg tolled, signalling the Jews to leave the city.
In 1775 the Jewish merchant Herz Cerfberr of Mendelsheim gained French citizenship, in recognition of his work for France. This Certificate of Citizenship earned him the legal right to reside in Strasbourg, after 426 years in which the Jews were forbidden to live in the city. Nevertheless the city continued to fight him and did not let him build a synagogue in the city. In 1784 the entry tax for Jews was abolished but they were still required to pay 48,000 pounds to cover the deficit of the city, Cerfberr paid the whole sum on his own.
You can read more on the Strasbourg Massacre at the Jewish Virtual Library (which is where I also found the correct spelling and title of Herz Cerberr. I’m still not clear on whether Cerfberr is a title or a surname).
Since we have many friends who come from Strasbourg, and there is a strong, sizable Jewish community living there today, I was shocked – though I don’t know why, given the Jews’ bloody history in Europe – to learn about this dreadful massacre.
But an altogether happier event also occured on Valentine’s Day – 120 years ago exactly (talk about Ad 120!): another influential European Jew published a masterwork which was intended to put a halt to pogroms and massacres like the Strasbourg one, and so many more – unfortunately not influential enough to prevent the Holocaust. I’m talking about Theodor (Binyamin Ze’ev) Herzl’s opus “The Jewish State“, as the Unabashed Zionist reminds us:
I suppose you didn’t notice, but I began with a moment of silence. For as I write it is a very important anniversary. 120th anniversary, now that I think of it, which is actually a little ominous if you’re familiar with the expression “until 120 years.” Anyhoo, February 14, 1896 saw the publication of Theodor Herzl’s The Jewish State. Probably one of the most influential initial print runs of 500 or less ever, except maybe for the Hebrew Bible, which of course did its thing with an initial print run of 1.
Herzl’s book was the foundational document of modern-day Zionism, and it was the first time that a political, as opposed to religious, Jewish movement to return to the Land of Israel was formulated. The Jewish Virtual Library reminds us of the facts that too many of us have forgotten:
In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer in the French army, was unjustly accused of treason, mainly because of the prevailing anti-Semitic atmosphere. Herzl witnessed mobs shouting “Death to the Jews” in France, the home of the French Revolution, and resolved that there was only one solution: the mass immigration of Jews to a land that they could call their own. Thus, the Dreyfus Case became one of the determinants in the genesis of Political Zionism.
Herzl concluded that anti-Semitism was a stable and immutable factor in human society, which assimilation did not solve. He mulled over the idea of Jewish sovereignty, and, despite ridicule from Jewish leaders, published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State, 1896). Herzl argued that the essence of the Jewish problem was not individual but national. He declared that the Jews could gain acceptance in the world only if they ceased being a national anomaly. The Jews are one people, he said, and their plight could be transformed into a positive force by the establishment of a Jewish state with the consent of the great powers. He saw the Jewish question as an international political question to be dealt with in the arena of international politics.
Herzl proposed a practical program for collecting funds from Jews around the world by a company to be owned by stockholders, which would work toward the practical realization of this goal. (This organization, when it was eventually formed, was called the Zionist Organization.) He saw the future state as a model social state, basing his ideas on the European model of the time, of a modern enlightened society. It would be neutral and peace-seeking, and of a secular nature.
In his Zionist novel, Altneuland (Old New Land, 1902), Herzl pictured the future Jewish state as a socialist utopia. He envisioned a new society that was to rise in the Land of Israel on a cooperative basis utilizing science and technology in the development of the Land.
He included detailed ideas about how he saw the future state’s political structure, immigration, fundraising, diplomatic relations, social laws and relations between religion and the state. In Altneuland, the Jewish state was foreseen as a pluralist, advanced society, a “light unto the nations.” This book had a great impact on the Jews of the time and became a symbol of the Zionist vision in the Land of Israel.
It is startling to realize that despite the reluctance of many Jewish leaders, both religious and political, the modern State of Israel is a pretty close reflection of Herzl’s original dream.
Of course our country is still a work in progress, but as we look back to our starting point, we can be proud of what we have achieved, not only in comparison to our Middle Eastern neighbours, but even when compared to modern Western societies.
If Valentine’s Day is called the Festival of Love, we can certainly feel free to express our love for our own country, Israel as well as give thanks to G-d that with the existence of Israel, massacres like the one in Strasbourg and far worse ones will not be allowed to happen any more.