Chronicle of Rabbi Eliezer bar Nathan

[Click on image to enlarge] En route to the Middle East, a band of crusaders commanded by Count Emicho of Leinigen massacred Jewish communities that had established themselves in the Rhineland cities of Speyer, Mainz, Worms, and Cologne. Efforts by local bishops and some neighbors to protect the Jews were largely ineffectual; other local inhabitants joined in the massacres. Three Jewish chronicles commemorate these events. Rabbi Eliezer bar Nathan (c. 1090–1170), the only one of the chroniclers about whom much is known, was a distinguished Talmudic scholar and author of religious poetry, who traveled widely in Europe. His account of the massacres is powerfully influenced by the elegiac poetry of the Old Testament and by the tradition of Jewish martyrdom.

[The Persecutions of 1096] >> note 1

In the year [1096] * * * the year in which we anticipated salvation and solace, in accordance with the prophecy of Jeremiah: >> note 2 "Sing with gladness for Jacob" [Jeremiah 31.7] — this year turned instead to sorrow and groaning, weeping and outcry. Much hardship and adversity befell us, the like of which had not occurred in this kingdom from the time it was established till the present. All the misfortunes related in all the admonitions >> note 3 written, those enumerated in Scripture as well as those unwritten, befell us and our souls. Our sons and our daughters, our elders and our youth, our servants and our maidservants, our young and old alike were all stricken by this great vicissitude.

There arose arrogant people of strange speech, a nation bitter and impetuous, Frenchmen and Germans, from all directions. They decided to set out for the Holy City, there to seek their house of idolatry, banish the Ishmaelites, >> note 4 and conquer the land for themselves. They decorated themselves prominently with their signs, by marking themselves upon their garments with their sign — a horizontal line over a vertical one — every man and woman whose heart yearned to go there, until their ranks swelled so that the number of men and women, and children exceeded a locust horde; of them it was said: "The locusts have no king yet go they forth all of them by bands" [Proverbs 31.27].

Now it came to pass that as they passed through the towns where Jews dwelled, they said to themselves: "Look now, we are going to seek out our profanity and to take vengeance on the Ishmaelites for our messiah, when here are the Jews who murdered and crucified him. Let us first avenge ourselves on them and exterminate them from among the nations so that the name of Israel will no longer be remembered, or let them adopt our faith and acknowledge the offspring of promiscuity."

When the Jewish communities learned of this, they were overcome by fear, trembling, and pains, as of a woman's travail. They resorted to the custom of their ancestors: prayer, charity, and repentance. They decreed fast days, scattered days as well as consecutive ones, fasting for three consecutive days, night and day. They cried to the Lord in their trouble, but He obstructed their prayer, concealing Himself in a cloud through which their prayers could not pass.

* * *

On the eighth day of Iyar, on the Sabbath, the foe attacked the community of Speyer and murdered ten holy souls who sanctified their Creator on the holy Sabbath and refused to defile themselves by adopting the faith of their foe. There was a pious woman there who slaughtered herself in sanctification of God's Name. She was the first among all the communities of those who were slaughtered. The remainder were saved by the local bishop without defilement.

* * *

On the twenty-third day of Iyar the steppe-wolves attacked the community of Worms. Some of the community were at home, and some in the court of the local bishop. The enemies and oppressors set upon the Jews who were in their homes, pillaging, and murdering men, women, and children, young and old. They destroyed the houses and pulled down the stairways, looking and plundering; and they took the holy Torah, trampled it in the mud of the streets and tore it and desecrated it amidst ridicule and laughter. They devoured Israel with open maw, saying: "Certainly this is the day that we hoped for; we have found, we have seen it" [Lamentations 2.16].

They left only a few alive and had their way with them, forcibly immersing them in their filthy waters; and the later acts of those thus coerced are testimony to this beginning, for in the end they regarded the object of the enemy's veneration as no more than slime and dung. Those who were slain sanctified the Name for all the world to see, and exposed their throats for their heads to be severed for the glory of the Creator, also slaughtering one another — man his friend, his kin, his wife, his children, even his sons-in-law and daughters-in-law; and compassionate women slaying their only children — all wholeheartedly accepting the judgment of Heaven upon themselves, and as they yielded up their souls to the Creator, they all cried out: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One" [Deuteronomy 6.4].

Seven days later * * * those Jews who were in the court of the bishop were subjected to great anguish and the enemy dealt them what they had dealt the others, tormenting them and putting them to the sword.

* * *

There arose then a young man named Simha ha-Cohen. When he saw that they were bringing him to the house of their idolatry, he remained silent until he arrived there. When he arrived there, he drew a knife from his sleeve and slew a knight who was a nephew of the bishop. They immediately cut his body to pieces. And it is of him and his like that it is said: "They that love Him shall be as the sun when it goes forth in its might" [Judges 5.31].

For these righteous people do I wail and lament bitterly:

I keen, mourn, and lament over the extolled community;
In my heart there is wailing, for my wound is severe:
Clothed in horror is the sorrowful remnant,
For the great diadem of gold has fallen from their head.
Friends and beloved ones, the wicked have consumed —
My malevolent neighbors, who have struck at the heritage.
* * *
May the strength of their virtue, and their righteousness as well,
Stand their survivors in good stead forever and ever, Selah.

On the third of the week, the third of the month Sivan, a day of sanctification and abstinence for Israel in preparation for receiving the Torah — the community of Mainz, saints of the Most High, withdrew from each other in sanctity and purity, and sanctified themselves to ascend to God all together, young and old. Those who had been "pleasant in their lifetime . . . were not parted in death" >> note 5 [2 Samuel 1.23], for all of them were gathered in the courtyard of the bishop.

The enemy arose against them, killing little children and women, youth and old men, viciously — all on one day — a nation of fierce countenance that does not respect the old nor show favor to the young. The enemy showed no mercy for babes and sucklings, no pity for women about to give birth. They left no survivor or remnant but a dried date, and two or three pits, for all of them had been eager to sanctify the Name of Heaven. And when the enemy was upon them, they all cried out in a great voice, with one heart and one tongue: "Hear, O Israel," etc.

Some of the pious old men wrapped themselves in their fringed prayer shawls and sat in the bishop's courtyard. They hastened to fulfill the will of their Creator, not wishing to flee just to be saved for temporal life, for lovingly they accepted Heaven's judgment. The foe hurled stones and arrows at them, but they did not scurry to flee. Women, too, girded their loins with strength and slew their own sons and daughters, and then themselves. Tenderhearted men also mustered their strength and slaughtered their wives, sons, daughters, and infants. The most gentle and tender of women slaughtered the child of her delight.

Let the ears hearing this and its like be seared, for who has heard or seen the likes of it? Did it ever occur that there were one thousand 'Akedot >> note 6 on a single day? * * * But the heavens did not darken and the stars did not withhold their radiance! Why did not the sun and the moon turn dark, when one thousand three hundred holy souls were slain on a single day — among them babes and sucklings who had not sinned or transgressed — the souls of innocent poor people? Wilt thou restrain Thyself for these things, O Lord?

Sixty people were rescued on that day in the courtyard of the bishop. He took them to the villages of the Rheingau in order to save them. There, too, the enemy assembled against them and slew them all.

* * *

For the pious ones of Mainz I shall let out wailing like a jackal:

Woe is me for my calamity, severe is my wound, I declare:
"My tent has been pillaged and all my ropes have been broken:
my children have left me" [Jeremiah 10.20].

* * *

Avenge me, avenge the blood of Your Saints, O Lord my Master,
For naught can take their place. You have assured and told me —
I will avenge their blood which I have not avenged; and my dwelling is in Zion.

* * *

The news reached Cologne on the fifth of the month, the eve of Pentecost, and instilled mortal fear into the community. Everyone fled to the houses of Gentile acquaintances and remained there. On the following morning the enemies rose up and broke into the houses, looting and plundering. The foe destroyed the synagogue and removed the Torah Scrolls, desecrating them and casting them into the streets to be trodden underfoot. On the very day the Torah was given, when the earth trembled and its pillars quivered, they now tore, burned, and trod upon it — those wicked evildoers regarding whom it is said: "Robbers have entered and profaned it" [Ezekiel 7.22].

* * *

O God, will You not punish them for these acts? How long will You look on at the wicked and remain silent? "See, O Lord, and behold, how abject I am become" [Lamentations 1.11].

That very day they shed the blood of a pious man named Isaac. The enemy led him to their house of idolatry, but he spat at them, reviled and ridiculed them. Isaac did not desire to flee from his home, for he was happy and eager to accept the judgment of Heaven. They also slew a pious woman.

The rest were saved in the homes of acquaintances to which they had fled, until the bishop took them to his villages on the tenth of the month, to save them, and dispersed them in the several villages. There they remained until the month of Tammuz, anticipating death each day. They fasted daily, even on the two consecutive festive days of the New Moon of Tammuz, which that year occurred on Monday and Tuesday. They also fasted the following day.

On that day, the enemies marked with insignia [i.e., the cross], as well as those unmarked [i.e. members of the local population], came, for it was St. John's day. They all gathered in the village of Neuss. Samuel, the son of Asher, sanctified God's Name for all to behold, as did his two sons who were with him. After he and his sons were slain they defiled their bodies by dragging them through the muddy streets and trampling them. Then they hanged his sons at the entrance to his home in order to mock him. "How long, O Lord, will You be angry," etc. [Psalms 79.5].

* * *

For the sacred community of Cologne let me raise my voice in bitter lament:

For those who have martyred themselves in sanctification of the
Name let me wail and wander about to all the cities,
And clothe myself in sack and ashes, and drink bitter water;
And go to sing songs of lament on the mountains.
And let all the survivors mourn and grieve, all pure hearts,
For the holy community let them mourn forever.
May their death be a source of forgiveness and pardon for us.
Prepare hastily, mourning and wailing for the pious of Cologne.

* * *


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