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Chapter 19

While our procession was marching, two urchins were playing in another street. These lads had keys made like guns, which they filled with powder and shot and in their innocence fired, once or twice. The reports were loud and clear, and were heard all over the small town.

Our leaders, alarmed at the shots and indignant at the desecration of the Yom Tov, sent some people round to discover the perpetrators. The boys were found, arrested, and fined 3 Kronen by order of the town constable.

The priest heard of the affair and became suspicious. He said to himself: “The Jews have been celebrating their festival by carrying banners, playing music and firing guns; these are Christian rites, which the Jews, by their laws, are forbidden to imitate. It must therefore be meant as a mockery. The Jews mimic our rites and scoff at our religion, so they deserve the severest punishment.” And the priest concocted a memorandum full of spiteful complaints against us, and dispatched it to the holy Consistory in Olomouc. The Consistory forwarded it to the Tribunal in Brno, who returned it to the District Commissioner in Olomouc, instructing him to call before himself and a commission the priest of Úsov – the accuser – and the heads of the Jewish community – the accused – and inquire into the truth of the charges.

Within a short time both parties arrived in Olomouc, and the priest preferred six heavy charges against us.

As I, Abraham Ha-levi, was at that time head of our community (Parnos), it fell to my lot to be the chief spokesman against the priest. The District Commissioner, sitting at the head of the Commission of Inquiry, read out the charges against us, one by one. And I had to answer each charge as he read it out, without any time to think what and how to answer; for we were quite ignorant of the nature and import of the accusations. But being gifted by God with a fluent tongue and quick comprehension, I was able to refute the charges of the priest on the spot in a way that pleased and satisfied the Commission. The Secretary carefully wrote down each charge and its refutation, and the District Commissioner forwarded the documents to the Tribunal in Brno.

I immediately sent from Olomouc an account of the proceedings to the Chief Rabbi of the Kingdom, Rabbi Berish, in Vienna. He praised my replies, and sent on the report to the community leaders in Prague, exhorting them to be on the watch in the matter.

I also went to Brno. I had with me a book written in German explaining all our customs in an attractive and clear manner: the laws concerning circumcision, marriage, phylacteries, divorce and chalitza, as well as the custom of presenting the Scrolls to the Synagogue. Each law or custom was beautifully illustrated on a separate page. I showed the book to the members of the Tribunal in Brno, who received an account of our case from the District Commissioner, and did my utmost to intercede with them. And they saw that my refutations were correct and the charges nothing but base slanders.

The Jewish community of Prague also sent out a testimonial, in the language of the country, which testified that we had only conformed with universal Jewish custom in bringing the Scrolls to the Synagogue. With the help of God we were then delivered from punishment.

Yet the priest did not relax his activities against us, and for twenty-two years, all the time he served in Úsov, he was our bitterest enemy; till at last we had to entreat the gracious and merciful owner of the town, Duke Joseph Wenzel Lichtenstein, to come to our rescue and protect us against the priest. This he graciously did, and instructed his subordinates, the local officers, to see that we were fairly treated in our disputes with the priest. Although this did not save us from the priest’s petty tyrannies, we were freed from further slanders for a considerable time.


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