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Chapter 23

I, being at that time the Parnos of our community, was chosen to go to Olomouc to plead our cause. I had with me two colleagues – Rabbi Jerusalem, the son of Rabbi David, and Rabbi Joel, the son of Rabbi Moses – as well as the veteran, the wise Rabbi Israel, the son of Rabbi Zelig Segal. And when we stood arraigned before the District Commissioner and his commission, we were entirely uninformed of the nature of the charges against us.

Then the priest, who was allowed to speak while sitting on a chair, read out the first charge. The District Commissioner then requested Rabbi Israel Segal to answer it. But Rabbi Israel protested and said:
”How can I speak in face of the unequal treatment you mete out to the opponents, allowing one to sit when speaking, whilst we are bound to defend ourselves standing? This puts us under a disadvantage. And our law declares; There shall not be any distinction between the two pleaders before a judge, even if one is rich and the other poor.”

The priest then became angry at the ‘impudence’ of the Jew in speaking ill of him before the Commission, and objected to being answered by Rabbi Israel. “But”, he said, “this Abraham, who is a very learned Rabbi, he shall answer my accusations.”

So it fell to my lot once again to plead the cause of my community. I stood up, and with the help of God I answered and refuted the charges one by one, in an intelligible and appealing manner.

Charges one and two were disposed of in the same way as related above. Charge three I was able to refute by saying that from the permission granted by Charles VI for us to assemble up to ten persons for prayers, it followed that we were allowed that equipment that such an assembly requires. For if ten may assemble for prayer, they may also read from the Scrolls, and there must, therefore be an ark to hold the Scrolls, the curtain before the ark being simply an ornamental partition. There must also be a table on which to rest the Scrolls when in use, for they are not like a book that you hold in your hand, but are heavy and bulky.

Again, the chandeliers certainly do not turn the house into a Synagogue: for are there not many private houses that contain chandeliers? There are also poor synagogues that do not contain candelabra, yet they are called Synagogues.

As to the table in the middle of the room, its chief use is for eating or other profane purposes, and it is but seldom used for supporting the Scrolls. On the contrary, the table really proves the house to be nothing but a house, for in a synagogue there is a raised stage, three steps from the floor, with two access places: you go up for reading the Scroll on one side, and go down again on the other side.

“As regards charge four, I have already proved before my lords the members of the Tribunal in Brno, by means of an illustrated book in German that all who run may read, that it has been the universal custom among Jews from time immemorial to bring the Scrolls in with a procession, under a Chuppah and accompanied by music. It in no way whatever mimics the religious parades of the Christians.”

And the noble members saw and understood that the charge was nothing but a vile slander.

“Further, as regards the seats, those in a synagogue have nothing in common with the seats in these private houses of prayer. For in a synagogue, seats are sold to members of the congregation, and become the property of the buyers to all intents and purposes; while in the houses of worship in Úsov the seats are only for the temporary accommodation of the members during prayers. For it is clearly impossible to stand on one’s feet for half a day on the Sabbath or Yom Tovim for prayers, still less for twenty-four hours on the Day of Atonement. The members, again, have no right to dispose of their seats in any way, by sale or by leaving them to their children; nor is there any difference in the values of the seats in a house of prayer, as there is in a synagogue. The same applies to praying-stands: they are there to keep the prayer-book and Bible on, and do not raise the status of the house to that of a synagogue.”

As regards the principle item in the indictment: it stated that, having been cited in the Royal Decree as an example of a town without a synagogue, we were therefore in particular subject to the prohibitions of the Decree. To this I replied:

“It is quite true, as the Decree is now read. But surely there must be a mistake in the drafting of the Decree. For the late King Charles VI, in his second Decree to Úsov, permitted us to assemble ten for prayers, for the reason that it was not his wish to obstruct us in our religion. And thus, you will see that he entirely annuls his first Decree, only retaining that part which prohibits the re-building of the Synagogue.” I went on to plead that had Her Majesty’s advisers been aware of the second Decree, they would not have counselled H.M. the Queen to subject us to more restrictions; and the Queen would not have countermanded her father’s order.

These were my answers before the District Commissioner and his Commission, and they were faithfully written down by the secretary, each charge and each reply in their proper sequence. And I put down the proceedings on paper and forwarded them to the Chief Rabbi Berish, who was very pleased with my refutations.

I was then elected to go to Brno to appear before the Tribunal; and after a month’s ceaseless representation and entreaty before the members of the Tribunal, I succeeded in exempting our community from any fine or punishment whatever.

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