From Thieves to Martyrs: The Story of Two Jews from Early Modern Moravia

Oren Cohen Roman, Daniel Soukup

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This paper focuses on the story of two Jewish men who were convicted of theft and executed in Prostějov, Moravia, in the spring of 1684. Although the two were offered a pardon in exchange for converting to Christianity, they resolutely refused. Their story was recorded in a contemporaneous Yiddish song that serves as the basis for the current case-study. The informative layer of the text portrays an event that can be contextualized within the campaign to proselytize Jews in the Bohemian lands at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Likewise, it indicates the great significance that Jews and Christians alike attributed to public conversions—or the lack thereof. From the formative perspective, the text crowns the two Jews as martyrs who died sanctifying God’s Name, disregarding their undenied legal culpability. Accordingly, this paper traces developments in the Ashkenazic ethos of martyrdom from the Middle Ages to the seventeenth century. It also highlights the shared cultural legacy that bound the larger early modern Ashkenazic communities, such as those in Amsterdam, Hamburg, Frankfurt, or Prague, to smaller Jewish settlements, like those of Moravia. Besides its hagiographical function, this historic song also imparts didactic and moralizing messages. It censures those who are too lenient vis-à-vis their children’s education as well as criticizing the habit of gambling, practices that may lead to criminal activities and push those involved to the margins of Jewish society.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1-46
Number of pages46
JournalJewish history
Volume37
Issue number1-2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2023

Keywords

  • Binding of Isaac
  • Bohemian lands
  • Conversion
  • Criminality
  • Early modern era
  • Martyrdom
  • Proselytization
  • Yiddish literature

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History

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