M'gilath S'darim

An Unwritten Chapter in the History of the Jews of Moravia

by Abraham Ha-levi

Translated from the Hebrew manuscript by A. Doniach, London 1909.

The manuscript was written c.1770 by Rabbi Abraham Ha-levi. It tells of events between 1722 and 1762 in what is now Úsov in the Czech Republic and which was then Aussee in Moravia.

On the eve of Yom Kippur in 1722 the local assistant priest interrupted the service, abused the Chazan (cantor) and cursed the congregation. This led to a court decree that the synagogue had to be razed at the expense of the Jewish community. Jews were not allowed to form a minyan (quorum) for prayer or to assemble for meetings, in effect proscribing their religion. The destruction of the mikvah (Jewish ritual bath) must also have had a devastating effect on marital relations.

Over the next 30 years repeated attempts were made to relieve or reverse the decision. These were successful and in 1752 Empress Maria Theresa promulgated a decree permitting the erection of a new House of Worship. Distinctions were drawn between a Synagogue and a House of Worship (see Chapter 27) in order to avoid formally overturning the original decree. Perhaps the key individual in achieving this satisfactory outcome was the Marrano Baron d’Aguilar. He was in charge of building Schönbrunn palace for the Empress and was a great favourite of hers.

Further relief came after Rabbi Abraham's death with the reforms of Emperor Joseph II between 1781 and 1788. Most discriminatory laws against Jews were removed and a new synagogue was built in Úsov in 1784. The building survived destruction during Kristallnacht and was restored between 1994 and 2008. It is now open as a cultural centre and museum of the Jewish community in Úsov.

The manuscript descended through successive generations of the family to Ernest Lowy (1858 - 1947). He had it translated into English in 1909 by A. Doniach, whom he also employed to research the family's origins in Moravia and the Banat. After his death, his children gave the manuscript to the Mocatta Library at University College, London.

Note: Place names have been modernised to their current local forms except for those which have standard English renderings, e.g. Vienna, Prague. Apart from Úsov (Mährisch Aussee), other locations are:

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