The Works of Heinrich Heine/Vol. 1/The Rabbi of Bacharach
THE RABBI OF BACHARACH.
With kindly greeting, the Legend of the Rabbi of Bacharach
to his friend Henry Laube by the Author.
On the Lower Rhine, where its banks begin to lose their smiling aspect, where hills and cliffs with romantic ruined castles rise more defiantly, and a wild and sterner dignity prevails, there lies, like a strange and fearful tale of the olden time, the gloomy and ancient town of Bacharach. But these walls, with their toothless battlements and turrets, in whose nooks and niches the winds blew and the sparrows rest, were not always so decayed and fallen, and in these poverty-stricken, repulsive muddy lanes which one sees through the ruined tower, there did not always reign that dreary silence which is only now and then broken by crying children, scolding women, and lowing cows. These walls were once proud and strong, and these lanes were alive with a fresh, free life, power and pride, joy and sorrow, much love and much hate. For Bacharach of old belonged to those municipalities which were founded by the Romans during their rule on the Rhine; and its inhabitants, though the times which came after were sadly stormy, and though they had to submit first to the Hohenstaufen, and then to the Wittelsbach authority, managed, after the example of the other cities on the Rhine, to maintain a tolerably free commonwealth. This consisted of an alliance of different social elements, in which the patrician elder citizens and those of the guilds which were subdivided according to their different trades, mutually strove for power, so that while they were bound in union to keep ward and guard against the robber-nobles, they nevertheless were obstinate in domestic dissensions waged for warring interests, the results of which were constant feuds, little social intercourse, much mistrust, and not seldom actual outbursts of passion. The lord warden sat on the high tower of Sareck, and darted downwards like his falcon, whenever called for, swooping also many a time uncalled. The clergy ruled in darkness by darkening the souls of others. One of the most distracted and helpless of bodies, gradually ground down by local laws, was the little Jewish community. This was first formed in Bacharach in the days of the Romans, and during the later persecution of the people it had taken in many a flock of fugitive co-religionists. The great oppression of the Jews began with the crusades, and raged most furiously about the middle of the fourteenth century, at the end of the great pestilence, which was, like all other great public disasters, attributed to the Jews, because people declared they had drawn down the wrath of God, and with the help of the lepers had poisoned the wells. The enraged populace, especially the hordes of Flagellants, or half naked men and women, who, lashing themselves for penance and singing a mad hymn to the Virgin, swept over South Germany and the Rhenish provinces, murdered in those days many thousand Jews, torturing others, or baptizing them by force. There was another accusation which had come down from earlier times, and which through all the Middle Ages, even to the beginning of the last century, cost much blood and suffering. This was the ridiculous story, often repeated in chronicle and legend, that the Jews stole the consecrated wafer, and stabbed it through with knives till blood ran from it. And to this it was added that at the feast of the Passover the Jews slew Christian children to use their blood in the night sacrifice.
Therefore on this festival the Jews, hated for their wealth, their religion, and the debts due to them, were entirely in the hands of their enemies, who could easily bring about their destruction by spreading the report of such a child-murder, and then secretly putting a bloody infant's corpse in the house of a Jew thus accused. Then there would be an attack by night on the Jews at their prayers, where there was murder, plunder, and baptism; and great miracles wrought by the dead child aforesaid, whom the Church eventually canonised. Saint Werner is one of these holy beings, and in his honour the magnificent abbey of Oberwesel was founded. It is now one of the most beautiful ruins on the Rhine, and which, with the Gothic grandeur of its long ogival windows, proudly high-shooting pillars, and marvellous stone-carving, so strangely enchants us when we wander by it on some gay, green summer's day, and do not know what was its origin. In honour of this saint three other great churches were built on the Rhine, and innumerable Jews murdered or maltreated. All this happened in the year 1287; and in Bacharach, where one of these Saint Werner's churches stood, the Jews suffered much misery and persecution. However, they remained for two centuries after, protected from such attacks of popular rage, though they were continually subject to enmity and threatening.
Yet the more hate oppressed them from without, the more earnestly and tenderly did the Jews of Bacharach cherish their domestic life within, and the deeper was the growth among them of piety and the fear of God. The ideal exemplar of a life given to God was seen in their Rabbi Abraham, who, though as yet a young man, was famed far and wide for his learning. Born in Bacharach, his father, who had been the rabbi there before him, had charged him in his last will never to leave the place unless for fear of life. This command, and a cabinet full of rare books, was all which his parent, who lived in poverty and learning, left him. However, Rabbi Abraham was a very rich man, for he had married the only daughter of his paternal uncle, who had been a great dealer in jewellery, and whose possessions he had inherited. A few mischief-makers in the community hinted now and then that the rabbi had married for money. But the women one and all denied this, declaring it was a well-known story that the rabbi, long ere he went to Spain, was in love with "Beautiful Sara," and how she waited for him seven years till he returned; he having already wedded her against the will of her father, and even her own inclination, by the betrothal-ring. For every Jew can make a Jewish girl his lawful wife, if he can put a ring on her finger, and say at the same time: "I take thee for my wife, according to the law of Moses and Israel." And when Spain was mentioned, the same gossips were wont to smile in the same significant manner, and all because of an obscure rumour that, though Rabbi Abraham had studied the holy law industriously enough at the high school of Toledo, yet that he had followed Christian customs and become imbued with habits of free thinking, like many Spanish Jews who had at that time attained a very remarkable degree of culture.
And yet in their hearts the tale-bearers put no faith in these reports; for ever since his return from Spain the daily life of the Rabbi had been to the last degree pure, pious, and earnest. He carried out the least details of all religious customs and ceremonies with painful conscientiousness; he fasted every Monday and Thursday—only on Sabbaths and feast days did he indulge in meat or wine; his time was passed in prayer and study; by day he taught the Law to the students, whom his fame had drawn to Bacharach, and by night he gazed on the stars in heaven, or into the eyes of the beautiful Sara. His married life was childless, yet there was no lack of life or gaiety in the household. The great hall in his home, which stood near the synagogue, was open to the whole community, so that people went and came from it without ceremony, some offering short prayers, others exchanging news, or taking mutual counsel when in trouble. Here the children played of Sabbath mornings while the weekly "section" was read; here many met for wedding or funeral processions, and quarrelled or were reconciled; here, too, those who were cold found a warm stove, and the hungry a well-spread table. And, moreover, the Rabbi had a multitude of relations, brothers and sisters, with their wives and children, as well as an endless array of uncles and cousins, in common with his wife, all of whom looked up to the Rabbi as the head of the family, and so made themselves at home in his house, and never failed to dine with him on all great festivals. Special among these grand gatherings in the Rabbi's house was the annual celebration of the Passover, a very ancient and remarkable feast which Jews still hold every year in the month Nissen, in eternal remembrance of their deliverance from Egyptian captivity.
Which takes place as follows: As soon as it is dark the matron of the family lights the lamps, spreads the table-cloth, places in its midst three plates of unleavened bread, covers them with a napkin, and places on the pile six little dishes containing symbolical food, that is, an egg, lettuce, horse-radish, the bone of a lamb, and a brown mixture of raisins, cinnamon, and nuts. At this table the father of the family sits among relations and friends, and reads to them from a very curious book called the Agade, whose contents are a strange mixture of legends of their forefathers, wondrous tales of Egypt, questions of theology, prayers and festival songs. During this feast there is a grand supper, and even during the reading there is tasting of the symbolical food and nibbling of Passover bread, while four cups of red wine are drunk. Mournfully merry, seriously gay, and mysteriously secret as some dark old legend is the character of this nocturnal festival, and the usual traditional singing intonation with which the Agade is read by the father, and now and then re-echoed in chorus by the hearers, at one time thrills the inmost soul as with a shudder, anon calms it as if it were a mother's lullaby, and anon startles it so suddenly into waking that even those Jews who have long fallen away from the faith of their fathers and run after strange joys and honours, are moved to their very hearts when by chance the old well-known tones of the Passover songs ring in their ears.
And so Rabbi Abraham once sat in his great hall surrounded by relations, disciples, and many other guests, to celebrate the great feast of the Passover. All around was unusually brilliant; over the table hung the gaily embroidered silk canopy, whose gold fringes touched the floor; the plate with the symbolic food shone in a comfortable home-like way, as did the tall wine goblets, adorned with embossed images of holy legends. The men sat in their black cloaks and black broad-brimmed hats, with white collars; the women, in wonderful glittering garments of Lombard stuffs, wore on their heads and necks ornaments of gold and pearls, and the silver Sabbath lamps poured forth their pleasant light on the pleased faces of parents and children, happy in their piety. On the purple velvet cushions of a chair, higher than the others, and reclining as the Law enjoins, sat Rabbi Abraham, and read and sang the Agade, while the mixed assembly joined with him, or answered in the appointed places. The Rabbi also wore the appointed black festival garment, his nobly-formed but somewhat severe features wore a milder expression than usual, his lips smiled in the dark-brown beard as if they would fain tell something agreeable, while in his eyes there was an expression as of happy remembrances allied to some strange foreboding. The beautiful Sara, who sat on the same high velvet cushion as her husband, wore, as hostess, none of her ornaments—only white linen enveloped her slender form and good and gentle face. This face was touchingly beautiful, even as all Jewish beauty is of a peculiarly moving kind; for the consciousness of the deep wretchedness, the bitter scorn, and the evil chances amid which her kindred and friends dwelt, gave to her lovely features a depth of sorrow and an ever-watchful apprehension of love, such as most deeply touches our hearts. So on this evening the fair Sara sat looking into the eyes of her husband, yet glancing ever and anon at the beautiful parchment book of the Agade which lay before her, bound in gold and velvet. It was an old heirloom, with ancient wine stains on it, which had come down from the days of her grandfather, and in which were many boldly and brightly-coloured pictures, which she had often as a little girl looked at so eagerly on Passover evenings, and which represented all kinds of Bible stories—how Abraham broke asunder with a hammer the idols of his father, how the angels came to him, how Moses slew Mizri, how Pharaoh sat in state on his throne, how the frogs gave him no peace even at table, how he—the Lord be praised!—was drowned, how the children of Israel went cautiously through the Red Sea; how they stood open-mouthed, with their sheep, cows, and oxen, before Mount Sinai; how pious King David played the harp; and, finally, how Jerusalem, with its towers and battlements, shone in the splendour of the setting sun.
The second wine-cup had been served, the faces and voices of the guests grew merrier, and the Rabbi, as he took a cake of unleavened bread and raised it, greeting gaily, read these words from the Agade: "See! This is the food which our fathers ate in Egypt! Let every one who is hungry come and enjoy it! Let every one who is sorrowful come and share the joys of our Passover! In this year we celebrate it here, but in years to come in the land of Israel. This year we celebrate it in servitude, but in the years to come as sons of freedom!"
Then the hall-door opened,and there entered two tall, pale men, wrapped in very broad cloaks, who said: "Peace be with you. We are men of your faith on a journey, and wish to share the Passover-feast with you!" And the Rabbi replied promptly and kindly: "Peace be with you, sit ye down near me!" The two strangers sat down at the table, and the Rabbi read on. While the company conversed, he often cast a pleasant, petting word to his wife; and playing on the old saying that on this evening a Hebrew father of a family regards himself as a king, said to her, "Rejoice, oh my Queen!" But she replied, smiling sadly, "The Prince is wanting," meaning by that a son, who, as a passage in the Agade requires, shall ask his father, with a certain formula of words, what is the meaning of the festival? The Rabbi said nothing, but only pointed with his finger to a picture on the opened leaves of the Agade. It was quaintly and touchingly drawn, showing how the three angels came to Abraham, announcing that he would have a son by his wife Sara, who, meanwhile, urged by feminine curiosity, is listening slyly to it all behind the tent-door. This little sign caused a threefold blush to rise to the cheeks of beautiful Sara, who looked down, and then glanced pleasantly at her husband, who went on chanting the wonderful story how Rabbi Jesua, Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Asaria, Rabbi Akiba, and Rabbi Tarphen sat reclining in Bona-Brak, and conversed all night long of the Exodus from Egypt till their disciples came to tell them it was daylight, and that the great morning prayer was being read in the synagogue.
As Beautiful Sara listened with devotion while looking at her husband, she saw that in an instant his face assumed an expression as of agony or despair, his cheeks and lips were deadly pale, and his eyes glanced like balls of ice; but almost immediately he became calm and cheerful as before, his cheeks and lips grew ruddy, he looked about him gaily—nay, it seemed as if a mad and merry mood, such as was foreign to his nature, had seized him. Beautiful Sara was frightened as she had never been in all her life, and a cold shudder came over her—less from the momentary manifestation of dumb despair which she had seen in her husband's face, than from the joyousness which followed it, and which passed into rollicking jollity. The Rabbi cocked his cap comically, first on one ear, then on the other, pulled and twisted his beard funnily, sang the Agade texts like tavern-songs; and in the enumeration of the Egyptian plagues, where it is usual to dip the forefinger in the full wine-cup and cast the drops adhering to the earth, he sprinkled the young girls near him with the red wine, and there was great wailing over spoiled collars, and ringing laughter. At every instant Beautiful Sara became more awed at this convulsive merriment of her husband, and oppressed with nameless fears she gazed on the buzzing swarm of gaily glittering guests who comfortably spread or rocked themselves here and there, nibbling the thin Passover cakes, drinking wine, gossiping, or singing aloud full of joy.
Then came the time for supper. All rose to wash, and beautiful Sara brought the great silver basin, richly adorned with embossed gold figures, which was presented to every guest, that he might wash his hands. As she held it to the Rabbi, he gave her a significant look, and quietly slipped out of the door. In obedience to the sign Beautiful Sara followed him, when he grasped her hand, and in the greatest haste hurried her through the dark lanes of Bacharach, out of the city gate to the highway which leads to Bingen along the Rhine.
It was one of the nights in spring which are indeed softly warm and starry withal, yet which inspire the soul with strange uncanny feelings. There was something of the churchyard in the flowers, the birds sang peevishly and as if vexing themselves, the moon cast spiteful yellow stripes of light over the dark stream as it went murmuring away, the lofty masses of the Rhine cliffs looked dimly like quivering giants' heads, the watchman on the tower of Castle Strahleck blew a melancholy tune, and with it rang in jarring rivalry the funeral bell of Saint Werner's. Beautiful Sara carried the silver ewer in her right hand, while the Rabbi grasped her left, and she felt that his fingers were ice-cold, and that his arm trembled; but still she went on with him in silence, perhaps because she was accustomed to obey blindly and unquestioning—perhaps, too, because her lips were mute with fear and anxiety.
Below Castle Sonneck, opposite Lorch, about the place where the hamlet of Nieder Rheinbach now stands, there rises a cliff which arches out over the Rhine bank. The Rabbi ascended it with his wife, looked around on every side, and gazed on the stars. Trembling and shivering, as with the pain of death, Beautiful Sara looked at his pale face, which seemed spectre-like in the moon-rays, and seemed to express by turns pain, terror, piety, and rage. But when the Rabbi suddenly snatched from her hands the silver ewer and threw it far away into the Rhine, she could no longer endure her agony of uncertainty, and crying out, "Schadai, full of mercy!" threw herself at his feet, and conjured him to solve the dark enigma.
Unable at first to speak from excitement, the Rabbi moved his lips without uttering a sound, till at last he cried, "Dost thou see the Angel of Death? There below he sweeps over Bacharach. But we have escaped his sword. Praised be God!" And in a voice still trembling with excitement he told her that while he was happily and comfortably singing the Agade he glanced by chance under the table, and saw at his feet the bloody corpse of a little child. "Then I knew," continued the Rabbi, "that our two guests were not of the community of Israel, but of the assembly of the godless, who had plotted to bring that corpse craftily into the house so as to accuse us of child-murder, and stir up the people to plunder and murder us. Had I given a sign that I saw through that work of darkness I should simply have brought destruction on the instant to me and mine, and only by craft did I preserve our lives. Praised be God! Grieve not, Beautiful Sara. Our relations and friends will also be saved. It was only my blood which the wretches wanted. I have escaped them, and they will be satisfied with my silver and gold. Come with me, Beautiful Sara, to another land. We will leave bad luck behind us, and that it may not follow us I have thrown to it the silver ewer, the last of my possessions, as an offering. The God of our fathers will not forsake us. Come down, thou art weary. There is Dumb William standing by his boat; he will this morning row us up the Rhine."
Speechless, and as if every limb was broken, Beautiful Sara lay in the arms of the Rabbi, who slowly bore her to the bank. There stood William, a deaf and dumb youth, but yet beautiful as a picture, who, to maintain his old foster-mother, who was a neighbour of the Rabbi, was a fisherman, and kept his boat in this place. It seemed as if he had divined the intention of Abraham, and was waiting for him, for on his silent lips there was an expression as of sweet sympathy and pity, and his great blue eyes rested as with deep meaning on Beautiful Sara, while he lifted her carefully into the canoe.
The glance of the silent youth roused Beautiful Sara from her lethargy, and she realised at once that all which her husband had told her was no mere dream, and a stream of bitter tears poured over her cheeks, which were as white as her garment. So she rested in the canoe, a weeping image of white marble, while by her sat her husband and Silent William, who was rowing earnestly.
Whether it was owing to the measured beat of the oars, or the rocking of the boat, or the fresh perfume from the Rhine banks whereon joy grows, it ever happens that even the most sorrowful being is marvellously calmed when on a night in spring he is lightly borne in a light canoe on the dear, clear Rhine stream. For in truth old, kind-hearted Father Rhine cannot bear that his children shall weep, so, calming their crying, he rocks them on his trusty arm, and tells them his most beautiful stories, and promises them his most golden treasures, perhaps the old, old, long-sunk Nibelungen hoard. Little by little the tears of Beautiful Sara ceased to flow; her worst sorrow seemed to be washed away by the eddying, whispering waves, while the hills about her home bade her the tenderest farewell. Most trustingly of all did the Kedrich, her favourite, give her a farewell greeting; and it seemed as if far up in the strange moonlight, resting on its summit, she saw a lady with outstretched arms, while the daring dwarfs swarmed out of their caverns in the rocks, and a rider came rushing down the rocks in full gallop. And Beautiful Sara felt as if she were a child again, sitting once more in the lap of her aunt from Lorch, who was telling her brave tales of the bold knight who freed the stolen damsel from the dwarfs, and many other true stories of the wonderful Wisperthal "over there," where the birds talk as sensibly as any mortals, and of Gingerbread Land, where good, obedient children go, and of enchanted princesses, singing trees, crystal castles, golden bridges, laughing water-fairies. . . . But all at once among these pleasant tales which began to send forth sounds of music and to gleam with lovely light, Beautiful Sara heard the voice of her father, who scolded the poor aunt for putting such nonsense into the child's head. Then it seemed to her as if they set her on the little stool before her father's velvet-covered chair, who with a soft hand smoothed her long hair, and smiled as if well pleased, and cradled himself comfortably in his full, Sabbath dressing-gown of blue silk. Yes, it must be the Sabbath, for the flowered cover was spread on the table, all the utensils in the room shone polished like looking-glasses, the white-bearded public messenger sat beside her father, and ate raisins and talked in Hebrew; even little Abraham came in with a very great book, and modestly begged leave of his uncle to expound a portion of the Holy Scripture, that he might prove that he had learned much during the past week, and therefore deserved much praise—and a corresponding quantity of cakes. . . . Then the lad laid the book on the broad arm of the chair, and set forth the history of Jacob and Rachel, and how Jacob lifted up his voice and wept when he first saw his cousin Rachel, how he talked so confidingly with her by the well, how he had to serve seven years for her, and how speedily they passed away, and how he at last married and loved her for ever and ever. . . . Then all at once Beautiful Sara remembered how her father cried with merry voice, "Wilt thou not, like that also, marry thy cousin Sara?" To which little Abraham seriously replied, "That I will, and she shall wait seven years too." These memories stole like twilight shadows through the soul of the young wife, and she saw how she and her little cousin—now so great a man and her husband—played like children together in the leafy tabernacle; how they were delighted with the gay carpets, flowers, mirrors, and gilded apples; how little Abraham petted her more tenderly, till he grew to be little by little larger and less amiable, and at last of full growth and altogether grim. . . . And now she sits in her room alone of a Saturday evening; the moon shines brightly in, and the door flies open, and cousin Abraham, in travelling garb and pale as death, comes in, and grasps her hand and puts a gold ring on her finger, and says solemnly, "I hereby take thee to be my wife, according to the laws of God and of Israel." "But now," he added, with a trembling voice, "now I must go to Spain. Farewell—for seven years thou must wait for me." So he hurried away, and Sara, weeping, told the tale to her father, who roared and raged. "Cut off thy hair, for now thou art a married woman," and he rode after Abraham to compel him to give her a letter of divorcement; but he was over the hills and far away, and the father returned silently to his house. And when Beautiful Sara helped to draw off his boots, and to soothe him said that Abraham would return in seven years, he cursed and cried, "Seven years shalt thou be a beggar," and so he soon died.
And so old memories swept through her soul like a hurried play of shadows, the images intermixing and blending strangely, while between them went and came unknown bearded faces, and great flowers with marvellous broad spreading foliage. Then the Rhine seemed to murmur the melodies of the Agade, and from its waters the pictures, large as life and in strange exaggerated guise, came forth one by one. There was the forefather Abraham painfully and hurriedly breaking the idols, who were hastily running out of his way; Mizri defending himself fiercely against the maddened Moses; Mount Sinai flashing and flaming; King Pharaoh swimming in the Red Sea, holding his zigzagged gold crown tight in his teeth, frogs with men's faces swimming in between, and the waves foaming and roaring, while a dark giant-hand rose threatening from the deep.
That was the Mouse Tower of Bishop Hatto, and the canoe shot through the Binger Eddy. By this Beautiful Sara was somewhat aroused from her dreams, and gazed at the hills on the shore, from whose summits the lights gleamed, and at whose feet the mist shimmering in moon-rays began to rise. Suddenly she seemed to see in it her friends and relations, as they, with corpse-like faces and flowing shrouds, passed in awful procession along the Rhine. . . . All grew dark before her eyes, an icy current ran through her soul, and, as if in sleep, she only heard the Rabbi repeating the night-prayer slowly and painfully, as if at a deathbed, and dreamily she stammered the words, "Ten thousand to the right, ten thousand to the left, to protect the king from the terrors of the night."
Then all at once the oppressive gloom and grief passed away, the dark curtain was torn from heaven, and there appeared far above the holy city Jerusalem, with its towers and gates; the Temple gleamed in golden splendour, and in its fore-court Sara saw her father in his yellow Sabbath dressing-gown, smiling as if well pleased. All her friends and relations looked out from the round windows of the Temple, merrily greeting her; in the Holy of Holies knelt pious King David, in his purple mantle and golden crown; sweetly rang his song and harp-tones, and smiling happily Beautiful Sara awoke.
As Beautiful Sara opened her eyes they were almost dazzled by the rays of the sun. The high towers of a great city rose before her, and Silent William stood with his boat-hook upright in the canoe, and pushed and guided it through the lively crowding of many vessels, gay with pennons and streamers, whose crews either looked leisurely at passers-by or were in groups busied in loading with chests, bales, and casks the lighters which should bear them to the shore, and with it all was a deafening noise, the constant halloh cry of steersmen, the calling of traders from the shore, and the scolding of the custom-house officials who, in their red coats with white maces and white faces, jumped from boat to boat.
"Yes, Beautiful Sara," said the Rabbi, cheerfully smiling to his wife, "this is the famous, free, imperial, and commercial city of Frankfort-on-the-Main, and we are now passing along that river. Do you see those pleasant-looking houses up there, surrounded by green hillocks? That is Sachsenhausen, from which our lame Gumpert brings us the fine myrrhen for the Feast of the Tabernacles. Here thou see'st the strong Main Bridge, with thirteen arches, over which many men, waggons, and horses safely pass, and in the middle stands a little house of which Aunty Täubchen says that a baptized Jew lives there, who pays every man who brings him a dead rat six farthings, on account of the Jewish community, who are obliged to deliver annually to the State council five thousand rats' tails for tribute."
At the thought of this war, which the Frankfort Jews were obliged to keep up with the rats, Beautiful Sara burst out laughing. The bright sunlight, and the new gay world now before her, had driven all the terrors and horrors of the past night from her soul, and as she was lifted to land from the canoe by Silent William and her husband, she felt inspired as with a sense of joyful safety. But Silent William looked long with his beautiful deep blue eyes into hers, half sadly, half cheerfully, and then with a significant glance at the Rabbi, sprang back into his boat and disappeared.
"Silent William much resembles my brother who died," said Beautiful Sara. "All the angels are alike," answered the Rabbi; and taking his wife by the hand he led her through the dense crowd on the shore, where, as it was the time of the Easter Fair, stood a great number of newly-erected wooden booths. Then passing through the gloomy Main Gate, they found themselves in quite as noisy a multitude. Here in a narrow street one shop stood close by another, every house, as was usual in Frankfort, being specially adapted to trade. There were no windows on the ground floor, but broad open arches, so that the passer-by, looking in, could see at a glance all there was for sale. And how Beautiful Sara was astonished at the mass of magnificent wares, and the splendour, such as she had never seen before! Here stood Venetians, who offered cheaply all the elegancies and luxuries of the East and Italy, and Beautiful Sara seemed as if enchanted by the ornaments and jewels, the gay and varied caps and bodices, the gold bangles and necklaces, and the whole display of knick-knackery which women look at so lovingly and wear even more endearingly. The richly embroidered stuffs of velvet and silk seemed to speak to Beautiful Sara, and flash and sparkle back strange wonders into her memory, and it really seemed to her as if she were again a little girl, and that Aunty Täubchen had kept her promise and taken her to the Frankfort Fair, and that she now at last stood before the beautiful garments of which she had heard so much. With a secret joy she reflected what she should take back with her to Bacharach, and which of her two little cousins, Flowery and Birdy, would prefer that blue silk girdle, and whether the green stockings would suit little Gottschalk—when all at once it flashed on her, "Ah, Lord! they are all grown up now, and yesterday they were slain!" She shuddered and shrank into herself, and the shadows of the night seemed to settle again in her soul; but the gold-embroidered cloths glittered once more with a thousand roguish eyes, and drove dark thoughts from her mind, and as she looked into her husband's face it was free from clouds, and bore its habitual serious gentleness. "Shut your eyes, Sara!" said the Rabbi, and led his wife away, still onward through the crowd.
What a varied, variegated, struggling multitude! First in it were the tradesmen, who loudly outbid one another in offering bargains, or talked together, summing on their fingers, or, followed by porters bearing high-packed loads, who at a dogtrot led the way to their lodgings. By the faces of others one could see that they came from curiosity. The stout councilman was shown by his scarlet cloak and golden chain, while the black, prosperous swelling waistcoat betrayed the honourable and proud Altburger. The iron-peaked helmet, the yellow leather jerkin, and the rattling spurs, weighing one pound, indicated the heavy cavalryman, or squire. Under many a little black velvet cap, which bowed in a point over the brow, there was a rosy girl-face, and the young fellows who jumped after it, like hunting-dogs on the scent, showed they were finished dandies by their saucily feathered caps, their rattling peaked shoes, and their silk garments of separate colours, where one side was green and the other red, or the right striped like a rainbow, and the left in harlequin squares of many colours, so that the mad youths looked as if they were split in two. Freeing themselves from the crowd, the Rabbi with his wife directed the way to the Römer. This is the great market-place of the city, surrounded by houses with high gables, and takes its name from one immense building, "the Roman," which was bought by the magistracy and dedicated as the court-house or town-hall. In it the German Emperor was elected, and before it tournaments were often held. King Maximilian, who was passionately fond of such sports, was then in Frankfort, and in his honour the day before there had been great tilting in the Römer ground. Many idle men still stood on or about the scaffolding, which was being removed by carpenters, and told how the Duke of Brunswick and the Margrave of Brandenburg had charged one another amid the sound of drums and of trumpets, and how Lord Walter the Blackguard had knocked the Knight of the Bear so soundly out of his saddle that the splinters of the lances flew high in the air, and the tall blonde King Max, standing upon the balcony among his courtiers, rubbed his hands for joy. The cloths of gold were still to be seen on the balconies and in the Gothic windows of the town-hall. The other houses of the market-place were also still bedecked and adorned with shields, especially the Limburg house, on whose banner was painted a maiden who bore a sparrow-hawk on her hand, while a monkey held out to her a mirror. Many knights and ladies stood on the balcony engaged in gay conversation, while looking at the crowd below, which, in odd groups and as odd attire, shifted here and there. What a multitude of idlers and loiterers crowded together here to gratify curiosity! There was laughing, grumbling, stealing, naughty pinching, hurrahing, while ever and anon was heard in yelling, braying notes the trumpet of the mountebank quack, who, in a red cloak with his Jack Pudding and monkey, stood on a high stand blowing bravely the horn of his own skill, and sounding the praises of his tinctures and marvellous salves, ere he solemnly regarded the glass of water brought by some old woman, or applied himself to pull a poor peasant's tooth. Two fencing-masters, fluttering about in gay ribbons, brandishing their rapiers, met as if by chance, and had a mock duel, with great apparent anger; but after a long assault-at-arms each declared that the other was invincible, and took up a collection. Then the newly-organised guild of archers marched by with drummers and pipers, and these were followed by the policeman, who carried a red flag, and led a disorderly mob of travelling adventuresses, who came from the woman's house, known as "the Ass," in Würzburg, and were going to Rosendale, where the highly honourable municipal authority had assigned them their quarters for the fair. "Shut your eyes, Sara," said the Rabbi. For indeed the fantastic crowd of very lightly clad girls, among whom were some who were really beautiful, behaved in a most unbecoming manner, baring their bold white breasts, chaffing those who went by with shameless words, and swinging their long travelling staves. And as they came to the gate of Saint Katherine they rode on them as children play at riding horses, and sang in shrill tones the witch-song—
"Where is the goat? the hellish beast;
Where is the goat? Oh bring him quick!
And if there is no goat, at least
We'll ride upon the stick,"
This wild sing-song, which rang afar, was lost in the long-drawn solemn tones of a church procession. It was a mournful train of bare-headed and bare-footed monks, who carried burning wax tapers, banners with pictures of the saints, and great silver crucifixes. Before it ran boys clad in red and white gowns, bearing smoking censers of frankincense. In the midst, under a splendid canopy, were priests in white robes, bedecked with costly lace or in many-coloured stoles, and one of them held in his hand a sun-like golden vessel, which on arriving at a shrine by the market-corner he raised on high, while he half-sang, half-spoke in Latin—when all at once a little bell rang, and all around becoming silent fell on their knees and made the sign of the Cross. "Shut your eyes, Sara!" cried the Rabbi again, and hastily drew her away through a labyrinth of narrow and crooked streets, and at last over the desolate empty place which separated the new Jewish quarter from the rest of the city.
Before that time the Jews dwelt between the Dom or Cathedral and the bank of the Main, that is, from the bridge to the Lumpenbrunnen or Rag-fountain, and from the Mehlwage as far as Saint Bartholomew's. But the Catholic priests obtained a Papal bull forbidding the Jews to live so near the high church, for which reason the magistrates assigned them a place on the Wollgraben, where they built their present quarter. This was surrounded with high walls, and had iron chains before the gate to shut them in from the mob. Here they lived, crowded and oppressed, and with far more vivid memories of previous suffering than at present. In 1240 the raging populace had caused an awful "bath of blood" among them, which was remembered as the first Jewish massacre; and in 1349, when the Flagellants, while passing through the town, set fire to it, and accused the Jews of the deed: the latter were nearly all murdered or burned alive in their own houses. This was called the second Jewish massacre. After this the Jews were oftener threatened with similar slaughter, and during the internal dissensions of Frankfort, especially during a dispute of the council with the guilds, the mob often meant to attack the Jewish quarter. This place had two doors, which on Catholic festivals were closed from without and on Jewish celebrations from within, and before each gate was a watch-house with city soldiers.
As the Rabbi came with his wife to the entrance to the Jewish quarter, the soldiers lay, as one could see through the open windows, on the wooden bench of their guard-room, while out before the door sat the drummer playing small caprices on his great drum. He was a powerfully built, heavy fellow, wearing a jerkin and hose of fiery yellow, greatly puffed out on the arms and thighs, and profusely scattered with small red flowing tufts sewed on, which looked as if innumerable fiery tongues were licking him from head to foot. His breast and back were covered with cushions of black cloth, against which hung his drum; he bore on his head a flat, round black cap, which was matched by his face in roundness and flatness, and which was in keeping with his dress, being also orange-yellow, picked out with black pimples, and contracted into a gaping smile. So the fellow sat and drummed the air of a song which the Flagellants had sung at the Jewish massacre, while he sang, in a rough, beery voice—
"Our dear Lady true
Walked in the morning dew,
"Hans, that is a terrible tune," cried a voice from behind the closed gate of the Jewish quarter. "Yes, Hans, and a bad song too—don't suit the drum; don't suit at all—by my soul—not the fair on Easter morning—bad song—dangerous, Jack, Jacky, little drum-Jacky boy—I'm a lonely man—and if thou lovest me, the Star, the tall Star, the tall nose-Star—so stop it!"
These words were forced out in fragments by the unseen speaker, now as in hasty anxiety, anon in a sighing drawl, with a tone which alternated from softness to harsh hoarseness, such as one hears in consumptive people. The drummer was not moved, and continued his song—
"There came a little youth,
His beard had run away, in truth,
"Jack," again cried the voice of the invisible speaker, "Jack, I'm a lone man, and it is a dangerous song, and I don't like it; and I have my reasons for it, and if you love me sing something else, and to-morrow we will drink together."
At the word "drink" Jack ceased his drumming and singing, and said in gentler tone, "The devil take the Jews! but thou, dear Nose-Star, art my friend, I protect thee; and if we should only drink together often enough I will convert thee. Yea, I will be thy godfather, and when baptized thou wilt be eternally happy; and if thou hast genius and wilt study industriously under me thou mayest even become a drummer. Yes, Nose-Star, thou mayest yet become something great. I will drum the whole catechism into thee when we drink to-morrow together; but now open the gate, for here are two strangers who wish to enter."
"Open the gate!" cried Nose-Star, and his voice almost deserted him. "That can't be done in such a hurry, my dear Jack; one can't tell—don't know, you know—and I'm a lone man. Veitel Oxhead has the key, and he is sitting now in the corner mumbling his eighteen-prayer, and he must not be interrupted. And Jäkel the Fool is here too, but he is busy; I'm a lone man."
"The devil take the Jews!" cried the drummer, and laughing loudly at this, his own and only joke, he trundled himself to the guard-room and laid down on the bench.
While the Rabbi waited with his wife before the great locked gate, there rose from behind it a strangely ringing, nasal, and somewhat mocking slow voice. "Starry—don't drone and groan so long. Take the keys from Oxheady's coat pockets, or else go stick your nose in the keyhole, and so unlock the gate. The people have been standing and waiting a long time."
"People!" cried the voice of Nose Star, as if frightened. "I thought there was only one; and I beg you, Fool—dear Jäkel Fool—look out and see who are there."
A small, well-grated window in the gate opened, and there appeared in it a yellow cap with two horns, and the drolly, wrinkled, and twisted jest-maker's face of Jäkel the Fool. At once the window was shut, and he cried angrily, "Open the gate—there is only a man and a woman."
"A man and a wo-man!" groaned Nose Star. "Yes, and when the gate's opened the woman will take her gown off, and become a man; and there'll be two men, and we are only three!"
"Don't be a hare," replied Jäkel the Fool. "Pick up your heart and show courage!"
"Courage!" cried Nose Star, with mournful bitterness. "Hare! Hare is a bad comparison. The hare is an unclean beast. Courage! I am not put here to be courageous, but cautious. When too many come I am to call. But I alone cannot keep them back. My arm is weak, I have an issue-sore, and I'm a lone man. Should one shoot me I should be slain. Then that rich man, Mendel Reiss, will sit on the Sabbath at his table, and wipe the raisin-sauce from his mouth, and rub his belly, and perhaps say, "Tall Nose Star was a brave fellow after all; if it had not been for him perhaps they would have burst the gate. He let himself be shot dead for us. He was a brave fellow; pity that he's dead!"
Here the voice became tender and tearful, but all at once it rose to a hasty and almost angry tone. "Courage! and because the rich Mendel Reiss wipes away the raisin-sauce from his mouth, and pats his belly, and calls me a brave fellow, I'm to let myself be shot dead! Courage! Be brave! Little Strauss was brave, and yesterday went to the Römer to see the tilting, and thought they would not know him because he wore a frock of violet velvet—three florins a yard—with fox-tails all embroidered with gold—quite magnificent; and they dusted his violet frock for him till it lost its colour, and his own back became violet and did not look human. Courage, indeed! The crooked, crippled Leser was courageous, and called our blackguardly chief magistrate a blackguard, and they hung him up by the feet between two dogs while Jack drummed. Courage! Don't be a hare! Among many dogs the hare is killed. I'm a lone man, and I am really afraid."
"That I'll swear to," cried Jäkel.
"Yes; I have fear," replied Nose Star, sighing. "I know that it runs in my blood, and I had it from my mother"———
"Ay, ay," interrupted Jäkel, "and your mother had it from her father, and he from his, and so all thy ancestors one from the other, back to the forefather who marched with King Saul against the Philistines, and was the first to run away. But look! Oxheady is all ready—he has bowed his head for the fourth time; now he is jumping like a flea at the Holy, Holy, Holy, and seeking cautiously in his pocket."
In fact the keys rattled, the gate grated and creaked as it opened, and the Rabbi and his wife entered the empty Judengasse or Jews' Lane. The man who opened was a little fellow with a good-natured grim face, who nodded absently, like one who did not like to be disturbed in his thoughts, and when he had carefully closed the portal, slipped without saying a word into a corner, murmuring his prayers. Less taciturn was Jäkel the Fool, a short fellow with curved legs, a full blooming, red, and laughing face, and an enormous leg-of-mutton hand, which he stretched out of the wide sleeve of his chequered jacket in welcome. Behind him a tall, lean figure showed or rather hid itself—the slender neck white feathered with a fine cambric ruff, and the thin pale face strangely adorned with an incredibly long nose, which anxiously peered about in every direction.
"God's welcome to a pleasant feast-day!" cried Jäkel the Fool. "Do not be astonished that the lane is so empty and silent just now. All our people are in the synagogue, and you are come just in the right time to hear the history of the sacrifice of Isaac. I know it—'tis an interesting tale, and if I had not heard it before, thirty-three times, I would willingly hear it again this year. And—mind you!—'tis an important history, for if Abraham had really killed Isaac and not the goat, then there would have been more goats in the world now—and fewer Jews." And then, with mad and merry grimaces, Jäkel began to sing the following song from the Agade:—
"A kid, a kid, which my father bought for two pieces of money. A kid! a kid!
"There came a cat which ate the kid, which my father bought for two pieces of money. A kid!
"There came a dog, who bit the cat, who ate the kid, which my father bought for two pieces of money. A kid!
"There came a stick, which beat the dog, who bit the cat, who ate the kid, which my father bought for two pieces of money. A kid! A kid!
"There came a fire, which burnt the stick, which beat the dog, who bit the cat, who ate the kid, which my father bought for two pieces of money. A kid! A kid!
"There came the water, which quenched the fire, which burnt the stick, which beat the dog, who bit the cat, who ate the kid, which my father bought for two pieces of money. A kid! A kid!
"There came an ox, who drank the water, which quenched the fire, which burnt the stick, which beat the dog, who bit the cat, who ate the kid, which my father bought for two pieces of money. A kid! A kid!
"There came the butcher, who slew the ox, who drank the water, which quenched the fire, which burnt the stick, which beat the dog, who bit the cat, that ate the kid, which my father bought for two pieces of money. A kid! A kid!
"Then came the Angel of Death, who slew the butcher, who killed the ox, who drank the water, which quenched the fire, which burnt the stick, which beat the dog, who bit the cat, who ate the kid, which my father bought for two pieces of money. A kid! kid!"
"Yes, beautiful lady," added the singer, "and the day will come when the Angel of Death will slay the slayer, and all our blood come over Edom, for God is a God of vengeance."
But all at once, casting aside with violent effort the seriousness into which he had unconsciously fallen, Jäkel jumped again into his mad fancies, and kept on in his harsh jester tones, "Don't be afraid, beautiful lady, Nose Star will not harm you. He is only dangerous to the old Schnapper-Elle. She has fallen in love with his nose—and, faith! it deserves it. Yea, for it is beautiful as the tower which looketh forth towards Damascus, and riseth like a cedar of Lebanon. Outwardly it gleameth like gold leaf and syrup, and inwardly it is all music and loveliness. It bloometh in summer and in winter it is frozen up—but in summer and winter it is petted and pulled by the white hands of Schnapper-Elle. Yes, she is madly in love with him. She cuddles him, she fuddles and fodders him; for her age he is young enough. When he is fat enough she means to marry him; and whoever comes to Frankfort, three hundred years hence, will not be able to see the heavens for Nose Stars."
"Ah, you are Jäkel the Fool," exclaimed the Rabbi, laughing. "I mark it by your words. I have often heard of you."
"Yes—yes," replied Jäkel, with a comical air of modesty. "Yes, that comes of being famous. A man is often celebrated far and wide for being a bigger fool than he has any idea of. However, I take great pains and do my very best to be a fool, and jump and shake myself to make the bells ring; other people manage it more easily. But tell me, Rabbi, why do ye journey on a feast-day?"
"My justification," replied the Rabbi, "is in the Talmud, and it says, 'Danger drives away the Sabbath.'"
"Danger!" screamed the tall Nose Star, with an air of deadly terror. "Danger! danger! Drummer Jack!—drum, drum. Danger! danger! Drummer Jack!"
From without resounded the deep beery voice of Drummer Jack, "Tausend donner sacrament! The devil take the Jews. That's the third time to-day that you've woke me out of a sound sleep, Nose Star! Don't make me mad! For when I am mad I'm the howling old devil himself; and then as sure as I'm a Christian I'll up with my gun and shoot slap through the grated window of your tower—and then it'll be, old fellow, everybody look out for his nose!"
"Don't shoot! don't shoot! I'm a lonely man," wailed Nose Star piteously, and pressed his face against the wall, and remained trembling and murmuring prayers in this position.
"But say, what has happened?" cried Jäkel the Fool, with all the impatient curiosity which was even then characteristic of the Frankfort Jews.
But the Rabbi impatiently broke loose from them, and went his way along the Jews' Street. "See, Sara!" he exclaimed, "how badly guarded is our Israel. False friends guard its gates without, and within its watchers are folly and fear."
They wandered slowly through the long and empty streets, where only here and there the head of some bright young girl looked out of a window, while the sun mirrored itself in the brilliant panes. In those days the houses in the Jewish quarter were still neat and new, and much lower than they now are, since it was only at a later time that the Jews, as their number greatly increased, although they could not enlarge their quarter, built one storey over another, squeezed themselves together like sardines, and so cramped themselves both in body and soul. That part of the Jewish quarter which remained after the great fire, and which is called the Old Lane—that series of high, grimly dark houses, where a strangely grimacing, damp race of people bargains and chaffers, is a horrible relic of the Middle Ages. The older synagogue exists no more; it was less capacious than the present one, built later, after the Nuremberger exiles came into the community. It lay more to the north. The Rabbi had no need to ask his way. He found it from afar by the buzz of many voices often raised aloud. In the court of the House of God he parted from his wife, and after washing his hands at the fountain there, entered the lower part of the synagogue where the men pray, while Sara went up a flight of stairs and came into the place reserved for women.
This upper portion was a kind of gallery with three rows of seats painted of a reddish brown, whose backs were fitted in a manner very convenient for placing the prayer-books, with a hanging board. Here the women sat gossiping together or standing up in deep prayer. However, they often went and peered with curiosity through the large grating which was on the eastern side, through the thin green lattice of which one could look down into the lower portion of the synagogue. There, behind high praying-desks, stood the men in their black cloaks, their pointed beards shooting out over white ruffs, and their skull-capped heads more or less concealed by a four-cornered scarf of white wool or silk, furnished with the prescribed tassels, in some instances also adorned with gold lace. The walls of the synagogue were simply white-washed, and no other ornament was to be seen except the gilded iron grating on the square stage, where the extracts from the Law were recited, and the holy coffer, a costly embossed chest, apparently upheld by marble columns with rich capitols, whose flower and leaf-work flourished charmingly, covered with a curtain of violet velvet, on which a pious inscription was worked in gold spangles, pearls, and many-coloured gems. Here hung the silver memorial-lamp, and there also rose a barred dais, on whose crossed iron bars were all kinds of sacred utensils, among the rest the seven-branched candlestick; while before it, his countenance towards the chest, stood the choir-leader or chief singer, whose song was accompanied as if instrumentally by the voices of his two assistants, the bass and soprano. The Jews have forbidden all instrumental music to be used in their Church, thinking that hymns to God are more true in spirit or edifying when they rise from the glowing breast of man, than from the cold pipes of an organ. Beautiful Sara was charmed like any child when the chief singer, an admirable tenor, raised his voice, and the ancient, deep, and solemn melodies which she knew so well bloomed forth in a fresher loveliness than she had ever dreamed of, while the bass murmured in harmony the deep dark notes, while in the pauses the soprano trilled sweetly and daintily. Such singing Beautiful Sara had never heard in the synagogue of Bacharach, where the public superintendent, David Levi, was the leader; and when this elderly trembling man, with his broken baa-ing voice, would try to trill like a girl, and in his desperate effort to do so shook his weak and drooping arm feverishly, it rather inspired laughter than devotion.
A something of devotedness, not unmingled with feminine curiosity, drew Beautiful Sara to the grating, where she could look down into the lower division, or the so-called men's school. She had never before seen so many of her faith together, and it cheered her heart to be in such a multitude of those so nearly allied by race, thought, and sufferings. And her soul was still more deeply moved when three old men reverentially approached the sacred repository, unlocked the chest, drew aside the glittering curtain, and very carefully brought forth the Book which God once wrote with His own hand, and to maintain which the Jews have suffered so much—so much misery and hate, disgrace and death—a thousand years' martyrdom. This Book—a great roll of parchment—was wrapped like a princely child in a gaily embroidered scarlet velvet cloak; above, on both the wooden rollers, were two little silver shrines, in which many pomegranates and small bells moved and rang prettily, while before, on a silver chain, hung gold shields with many coloured gems. The chief singer took the Book, and, as if it had been really a child—a child for whom one has greatly suffered, and whom we love all the more on that account—he rocked it in his arms, skipped with it here and there, pressed it to his breast, and, like one inspired by a holy touch, broke forth into such a devout hymn of praise and thanksgiving that it seemed to Beautiful Sara as if the pillars of the holy shrine began to bloom, and the strange and lovely blossoms and leaves of the capitols shot ever higher, and the notes of the treble were changed to nightingales, while the arch of the synagogue was shattered by the tremendous tones of the bass singer, and the joy and splendour of God gleamed down and through from the blue heavens. Yes, it was a beautiful psalm. The congregation sang over as in chorus the concluding verse, and the chief singer walked slowly to the raised platform in the middle of the synagogue bearing the holy Book, while men and boys crowded hastily about him to kiss its velvet covering or even to touch it. When on the platform, the velvet cover as well as the wrappings covered with illuminated letters were removed, and the chief singer, in the peculiar intonation which in the Passover service is still more peculiarly sounded, read the edifying narrative of the temptation of Abraham.
Beautiful Sara had modestly withdrawn from the grating, and a stout, much ornamented woman of middle age, with a self-asserting, forward, good-natured aspect, had with a nod allowed her to read in company in her prayer-book. This lady was evidently no great scholar, for as she read with a murmuring voice the prayers as the women do, not being allowed to take part in the singing, Sara observed that she made the best she could of many words, and omitted not a few good passages altogether. But after a while the watery blue eyes of the good woman were languidly raised, an insipid smile gleamed over her red and white china-ware face, and in a voice which she strove to make as genteel as possible, she said to Beautiful Sara, "He sings very well. But I have heard far better singing in Holland. You are a stranger, and perhaps do not know that the chief singer is from Worms, and that they will keep him here if he will be content with four hundred florins a year. He is a charming man, and his hands are as white as alabaster. I think a great deal of a handsome hand; it makes one altogether handsome"—saying which, the good lady laid her own hand, which was really a fine one, on the shelf before her, and with a polite bow which intimated that she did not care to be interrupted while speaking, she added, "The little singer is a mere child, and looks very much worn out. The basso is too ugly for anything, and our Star once said—it was very witty of him—'The bass singer is a bigger fool than even a basso is expected to be!' All three eat in my restaurant—perhaps you don't know that I'm Elle Schnapper?"
Beautiful Sara expressed her thanks for the information, when Schnapper Elle proceeded to narrate in detail how she had once been in Amsterdam, how she had been subjected to base designs on account of her remarkable beauty, how she had come to Frankfort three days before Pentecost and married Schnapper, how he had passed away, and what touching things he had said on his deathbed, and how hard it was to carry on the business of a cook-shop and keep one's hands nice. Several times she glanced aside with contemptuous looks, apparently directed at some giggling girls, who were apparently quizzing her clothes. Truly this dress was remarkable enough—a very much puffed gown of white satin, on which all the animals of Noah's Ark were embroidered in gaudy colours; a jacket of cloth of gold like a cuirass, the sleeves of red velvet, yellow slashed; an immensely high cap on her head, with a mighty ruff of stiff white linen round her neck, which also bore a silver chain, to which hung all kinds of coins, cameos, and curiosities, chief among which was a great image of the city of Amsterdam, which rested on her bosom.
But the dresses of the other women were not less remarkable. They consisted of a medley of fashions of different ages, and many a little woman there was so covered with gold and diamonds as to look like a wandering jeweller's shop. It is true that there was a fashion of dress prescribed by law to the Frankfort Jews, and to distinguish them from Christians the men must wear yellow rings on their cloaks, while the women bore very high standing, blue striped veils on their caps. However, in the Jewish quarter these laws were little looked after, and there, especially on Sundays, and in the synagogue, the women put on as much magnificent apparel as they could—partly to be envied of others, and partly to advertise the wealth and standing of their husbands.
Meanwhile, as passages from the laws of Moses were being read from the Book of Moses, the devotion somewhat lulled. Many made themselves comfortable and sat down, whispering perhaps business affairs with a friend, or went out into the court to get a little fresh air. Small boys took the liberty of visiting their mothers in the women's apartment; and here worship was still more loosely observed, as there was gossiping, cluttering together or laughing, while, as will always happen, the young quizzed the elder, while the latter blamed the light-headedness of the girls and the general degeneracy of the age. And just as there was a chief singer in the place below, so was there a head-cackler and gossip in the one above. This was Puppy Reiss, a shallow, buxom woman, who had an inkling of every trouble, and always had a scandal on her tongue. The usual butt of her pointed sayings was the poor Schnapper Elle, and she could mock right well the affected genteel airs and languishing manner with which the latter accepted the mocking compliments of young men.
"Do you know," cried Puppy Reiss, "that Schnapper Elle said yesterday, 'If I were not beautiful and clever, and beloved, I had rather not live.'"
Then there was a loud tittering, and Schnapper Elle, who was not far distant, noting that this was all at her expense, lifted her nose in scorn, and sailed away like a proud galley to some further place. Then Birdie Ochs, a plump and somewhat awkward lady, remarked compassionately that Schnapper Elle might be a little vain and small of mind, but that she was an honest, generous soul, and did much good to many folk in need.
"Particularly to Nose Star," snapped Puppy Reiss. And all who knew of this tender tie laughed all the louder.
"Don't you know," added Puppy spitefully, "that Nose Star now sleeps in Schnapper Elle's house! But just look at Susy Flörsheim down there, wearing the necklace which Daniel Fläsch pawned to her husband! Fläsch's wife is vexed at it—that is plain. And now she is talking to Mrs. Flörsheim. How amiably they shake hands!—and hate one another like Midian and Moab! How sweetly they smile on one another! Oh, you dear souls, don't eat one another up out of pure tenderness! I'll just steal up and listen to them!"
And so, like a sneaking wild cat, Puppy Reiss stole along and heard the two women mutually bewailing to one another how they had worked all the past week to clean up the house and scour the kitchen things, and all they had to do before Passover, so that not a crumb of leavened bread stuck to anything. And such troubles as they had baking the unleavened bread! Mrs. Fläsch had bitter griefs over this—for she had no end of trouble over it in the public bakery, for according to the ticket which she drew she could not bake there till the afternoon of the very last day, just before Passover Eve; and then old Hannah had kneaded the dough badly, and the maids had rolled it too thin, and half of it was scorched in baking, and worst of all, rain came pouring through the bake-house roof, and so wet and weary they had to work till late in the night.
"And, my dear Mrs. Flörsheim," said Mrs. Fläsch, with gracious friendliness most insincere, "you were a little to blame for that, because you did not send your people to help me in baking."
"Ah! pardon," replied the other. "My servants were so busy—the goods for the fair had to be packed—my husband"———
"Yes, I know," said Mrs. Fläsch, with cutting irony in her speech. "I know that you have much to do—many pledges and a good business, and necklaces"———
And a bitter word was just about to glide from the lips of the speaker, and Dame Flörsheim had turned as red as a lobster, when Puppy Reiss cried out loudly, "For God's sake!—the strange lady lies dying—water! water!"
Beautiful Sara lay insensible, pale as death, while a swarm, of women, busy and bewailing, crowded round her. One held her head, another her arm, some old women sprinkled her with the glasses of water which hung behind their prayer desks for washing the hands in case they should by accident touch their own bodies. Others held under her nose an old lemon stuck full of spices, which remained from the last feast-day, when it had served for smelling and strengthening the nerves. Exhausted and sighing deeply, Beautiful Sara at last opened her eyes, and with mute glances thanked them for their kind care. But now the eighteenth prayer, which no one dare neglect, was heard in thrilling sound below, and the busy women hurried back to their places and offered the prayer as the rite ordains, standing up with their faces turned towards the east, which is that part of the heavens where Jerusalem lies. Birdie Ochs, Schnapper Elle, and Puppy Reiss stayed to the last by Beautiful Sara—the first two to aid her as much as possible, the latter to find out why it was that she fainted so suddenly.
Beautiful Sara had swooned from a singular cause. It is a custom in the synagogue that any one who has escaped a great danger shall, after the reading of the extracts from the Law, appear in public and return thanks for his Divine deliverance. As Rabbi Abraham rose in the multitude to make his prayer, and Beautiful Sara recognised her husband's voice, she also observed how its accents gradually subsided into the mournful murmur of the prayer for the dead. She heard the names of her dear ones and relations, accompanied by the words which convey the blessing on the departed; and the last hope vanished from her soul, for it was torn by the certainty that those dear ones had really been slain, that her little niece was dead, that her little cousins with flowers and birds were dead, that little Gottschalk was dead too. All murdered and dead. And she too would have died from the agony of this conviction, had not a kind swoon poured forgetfulness over her soul.
When Beautiful Sara, after divine service was ended, went down into the courtyard of the synagogue, the Rabbi stood there waiting for her. He nodded to her with a cheerful expression, and accompanied her out into the street, where there was no longer silence but a noisy multitude. It was like a stream of ants, what with bearded men in black coats, women gleaming along like gold-chafers, boys in new clothes carrying prayer-books after their parents, young girls who, because they could not enter the synagogue, now came bounding to their parents, bowing their curly heads to receive their blessings—all gay and merry, and walking about with the happy anticipations of people expecting a good dinner, the exquisite scent of which—causing the mouth to water—rose from many black pots and covers carried by smiling girls from the great public bakery.
In this multitude there was specially to be remarked the form of a Spanish cavalier, whose youthful features bore that fascinating pallor which ladies generally associate with an unfortunate—and men, on the contrary, with a very fortunate—love affair. His gait, naturally careless, had however in it a somewhat affected mincing daintiness; the feathers of his cap were more agitated by the aristocratic waving of his head than by the wind; and his golden spurs, and the jewelled guard of his sword, which he bore on his arm, rattled rather more than was needed. A white cavalier's cloak enveloped his slender limbs in an apparently careless manner, which, however, betrayed the most careful arrangement of the folds. Passing and repassing, partly with curiosity, partly with an air of a connoisseur, he approached the women walking by, looked calmly at them, paused when he thought a face was worth the trouble, gave to many a pretty girl a passing compliment, and went his way heedless as to its effect. He had met Beautiful Sara more than once, but seemed to be repelled every time by her commanding look, or the enigmatical smiling air of her husband, but at last, proudly subduing all diffidence, he boldly faced both, and with foppish confidence made in a tenderly gallant tone the following speech:—
"I swear, Senora!—list to me!—I swear—by the roses of both the kingdoms of Castile, by the Aragonese hyacinths and the pomegranate blossoms of Andalusia! by the sun which illumines all Spain, with all its flowers, onions, pea-soups, forests, mountains, mules, he-goats, and Old Christians! by the canopy of heaven, of which this sun is the golden tassel! and by the God who sits on the roof of heaven and meditates day and night over the creation of new forms of lovely women!—I swear that you, Senora, are the fairest dame whom I have seen in all the German realm, and if you please to accept my service, then I pray of you the favour, grace, and leave to call myself your knight and bear your colours henceforth in jest or earnest!"
A flush as of pain rose in the face of Beautiful Sara, and with one of those glances which are the most cutting from the gentlest eyes, and with a tone such as is bitterest from a beautiful voice, the lady answered as one deeply hurt:—
"My noble lord, if you will be my knight you must fight whole races, and in the battle there will be little thanks to win and less honour; and if you will wear my colours, then you must sew yellow rings on your cloak, or bind you with a blue-striped scarf, for such are my colours—the colours of my house, the House of Israel, which is wretched indeed, one mocked in the streets by the sons of good fortune."
A sudden purple red shot into the cheeks of the Spaniard; an inexpressible confusion seemed to seize him as he stammered—
"Senora, you misunderstood me. An innocent jest—but, by God, no mockery, no jest at Israel. I myself am sprung from that house; my grandfather was a Jew, perhaps even my father."
"And it is very certain, Senor, that your uncle is one," suddenly exclaimed the Rabbi, who had calmly witnessed this scene; and with a merry quizzical glance he added, "And I myself will be bound that Don Isaac Abarbanel, nephew of the great Rabbi, is sprung from the best blood of Israel, if not from the royal race of David!"
The chain of the sword rattled under the Spaniard's cloak, his cheeks became deadly white, his upper lip twitched as with scorn in which there was pain, and angry death grinned in his eyes as in an utterly changed, ice-cold, keen voice he said:—
"Senor Rabbi, you know me. Well, then, you know also who I am. And if the fox knows that I belong to the blood of the lion, let him beware and not bring his fox-beard into danger of death, nor provoke my anger. Only he who feels like the lion can understand his weakness."
"Oh, I understand it well," answered the Rabbi, and a mournful seriousness came over his brow. "I understand it well, how the proud lion, out of pride, casts aside his princely hide and goes mumming in the scaly armour of a crocodile, because it is the fashion to be a grinning, cunning, greedy crocodile! What can you expect the lesser beasts to be when the lion denies his nature? But beware, Don Isaac, thou wert not made for the element of the crocodile. For water—thou knowest well what I mean—is thy evil fortune, and thou wilt perish. Water is not thy element; the weakest trout can live in it better than the king of the forest. Hast thou forgotten how the eddy of the Tagus would swallow thee?"
Bursting into loud laughter, Don Isaac suddenly threw his arms round the Rabbi's neck, covered his mouth with kisses, leapt with jingling spurs high into the air, so that the Jews who were passing by shrank back in alarm, and in his own natural hearty and joyous voice cried—
"Truly thou art Abraham of Bacharach! And it was a good joke, and more than that, a friendly act, when thou—in Toledo—didst leap from the Alcantara bridge into the water, and grasp by the hair thy friend, who could drink better than he could swim, and drew him to dry land. I was very near making really deep research whether there is actually gold in the sands of the Tagus, and whether the Romans were right in calling it the golden river. I assure you that I shiver even now from only thinking of that water-party."
Saying this the Spaniard made a gesture as if he were shaking water from his garments. The countenance of the Rabbi expressed great joy as he again and again pressed his friend's hand, saying every time—
"I am indeed glad."
"And so indeed am I," answered the other. "It is seven years now since we met, and when we parted I was as yet only a little greenhorn, and thou—thou wert already so staid and serious. But whatever became of the beautiful Donna who in those days cost thee so many sighs, which thou didst accompany with the lute?"
"Hush, hush! the Donna hears us—she is my wife, and thou hast thyself given her to-day a proof of thy taste and poetic skill."
It was not without some trace of his former embarrassment that the Spaniard greeted the beautiful lady, who amiably regretted that she, by expressing herself so plainly, had pained a friend of her husband.
"Ah, Senora," replied Don Isaac, "he who grasps too snappishly at a rose must not complain that the thorns scratch. When the star of evening mirrors itself, gold-gleaming, in the azure flood"———
"For God's sake!" interrupted the Rabbi, "cease! If we wait till the star of evening mirrors itself, gold-gleaming in the azure flood, my wife will starve, for she has eaten nothing since yesterday, and suffered much meantime."
"Well, then, I will take you to the best cook-shop of Israel," said Don Isaac, "to the house of my friend Schnapper Elle, which is not far away. I already smell the sweet perfume of the kitchen! Oh, didst thou but know, Abraham, how this perfume woos and wins me. This it is which, since I have dwelt in this city, has so often lured me to the tents of Jacob. Intimacy with God's peculiar people is not a weakness of mine, and truly it is not to pray but to eat that I visit the Jews' Street."
"Thou hast never loved us, Don Isaac."
"Well," continued the Spaniard, "I like your cookery much better than your creed—which wants the right sauce. I really never could rightly digest you. Even in your best days, under the rule of my ancestor David, who was king over Judah and Israel, I never could have held out, and certainly I should some fine morning have run away from Mount Zion and emigrated to Phoenicia or Babylon, where the joys of life foamed in the temple of the gods."
"Thou blasphemest, Isaac, blasphemest the one God," murmured the Rabbi grimly. "Thou art much worse than a Christian—thou art a heathen, a servant of idols."
"Yes, I am a heathen, and the melancholy self-tormenting Nazarenes are quite as little to my taste as the dry and joyless Hebrews. May our dear Lady of Sidon, holy Astarte, forgive me, that I kneel before the many sorrowed Mother of the Crucified and pray. Only my knee and my tongue worship death—my heart remains true to life."
"But do not look so sourly," continued the Spaniard, as he saw how little gratification his speech seemed to give the Rabbi. "Do not look at me with disdain. My nose is not a renegade. When I once by chance came at dinner time into this street, and the well-known savoury odours of the Jewish kitchen rose to my nose, I was seized by the same yearning which our fathers felt for the fleshpots of Egypt—pleasant tasting memories of youth came unto me. I saw again in spirit the carp with brown raisin sauce which my aunt prepared so sustainingly for Friday eve—I saw once more the steamed mutton with garlic and horse-radish which might raise the dead, and the soup with dreamily swimming force-meat balls—the Klösschen—and my soul melted like the notes of an enamoured nightingale—and since then I eat in the cook-shop of my friend Donna Schnapper Elle."
Meanwhile they had arrived at the place so highly praised, where Schnapper Elle stood at the door greeting in a friendly manner the strangers come to the fair, who, led by hunger, streamed in. Behind, and putting forth his head over her shoulder, was the tall Nose Star, anxiously and inquisitively observing them. Don Isaac approached the landlady with exaggerated grand style, who returned his satirically deep reverences with endless curtseys, after which he drew the glove from his right hand, wound it about with the fold of his cloak, and grasping that of Schnapper Elle, drew it over his moustaches and said:—
"Senora! your eyes rival the glow of the sun! But as eggs the longer they are boiled the harder they become, so on the contrary my heart grows softer the longer it is cooked in the flaming flashes of your eyes. From the yolk of my heart flies up the winged god Amor and seeks a confiding nest in your bosom. And oh, Senora, wherewith shall I compare that bosom? For in all the world there is no flower, no fruit, which is like to it! This growth is only of its kind alone! Though the storm wind tears away the leaves from the tenderest rose, your bosom is still a winter rose which defies all storms. Though the sour lemon the older it grows becomes yellower and more wrinkled, your bosom rivals in colour and softness the sweetest pine-apple. Oh, Senora, if the city of Amsterdam be as beautiful as you told me yesterday, and the day before, and every day, yet is the ground on which it rests far lovelier still."
The cavalier spoke these last words with affected earnestness, and squinted as if yearning at the great picture-plate which hung from Schnapper Elle's neck. Nose Star looked down with inquisitive eyes, and the much-bepraised bosom heaved so that the whole city of Amsterdam rocked from side to side.
"Ah!" sighed Schnapper Elle, "virtue is worth more than beauty. What use is my beauty to me? My youth is passing away, and since Schnapper is gone—anyhow, he had handsome hands—what avails beauty."
With that she sighed again, and like an echo all but inaudible Nose Star sighed behind her.
"Of what avail is your beauty?" cried Don Isaac. "Oh, Donna Schnapper Elle, do not sin against the goodness of creative Nature! Do not scorn your most charming gifts. She will terribly revenge herself. Those blessed blessing eyes will be like dim glasses, those winsome lips grow flat and commonplace, that chaste and charming form be changed into a barrel of tallow hardly pleasing to any one, and the city of Amsterdam at last rest on a spongy bog."
So he sketched piece by piece the appearance of Schnapper Elle, so that the poor woman was bewildered, and sought to escape the uncanny compliments of the cavalier. She was delighted at this instant to see Beautiful Sara appear, as it gave her an opportunity to inquire whether she had quite recovered from her swoon. Thereupon she rushed into lively chatter, in which she fully developed her sham gentility, mingled with real kindness of heart, and related with much more sensibility than common sense the awful story how she herself had almost fainted with horror when she, as innocent and inexperienced as could be, came in a canal boat to Amsterdam, and the rascally porter who carried her trunk led her—not to a respectable tavern, but oh, horrors!—to an infamous place! She saw what it was the moment she entered, by the brandy-drinking; and, oh!—the immorality that was going on!—and she would, as she said, "really have swooned, if it had not been that during the six weeks she stayed there she only once ventured to close her eyes."
"I dared not," she added, "on account of my virtue. And all that took place because of my beauty! But virtue will stay when good looks pass away."
Don Isaac was beginning to go somewhat critically into the details of this story when, fortunately, Squinting Aaron Hirschkuh from Hamburg on the Lahn came, a white apron on his arm, and bitterly bewailed that the soup was already served, and that the boarders were seated at table, but that the landlady was missing.
(The conclusion and the chapters which follow are lost, not from any fault of the author.)
- Bacharach is so called from Ara Bacchi, the altar of Bacchus, on account of the wine made there.
"A jolly place it was in days of yore;
But something ails it now—the spot is cursed."
- Vogt. Governor, warden, prefect, or provost.
- Heine speaks here of the Middle Ages. What would he have said could he have foreseen that in the year 1889 a book would be published devoted to proving that Jews do sacrifice Christian children, and that this book would receive the approbation and sanction of the Pope? Since translating the foregoing passage, I have met with the following remarkable illustration of it in the Levant Herald:—
"A few days back two Greeks presented themselves at the palace of the grand rabbi of Smyrna, and asked to see him on very important business. The venerable Abraham Palacci being unwell, they were asked to come another day. Next day they called again; the rabbi not having yet recovered, his son, a man of forty-five, learning that the business was urgent, asked if they could not explain it to him. After some desultory conversation they consented, at the same time requesting to be conducted to some remote compartment where there was no danger of being overheard. This being done, one of them said to him:—'Every one has his particular religion; we are aware that part of yours is to offer at Easter a Christian child in sacrifice; now we are ready, for the sum of £1400, to furnish you with a fine, plump, and healthy Christian child, a little Greek girl of four years old, for your sacrifice, and the child shall be obtained in such a manner as to insure the most profound secrecy.' The rabbi's son, as may be supposed, was thunderstruck at the proposal, but he dissembled his feelings and stated that before he could enter into any definite arrangements with them it was necessary he should consult his father. They having consented to this, he withdrew to his father's room and briefly related to him the story of the grim proposal. Speaking in the Hebrew tongue, for fear the men outside should understand, the father told him to despatch a messenger immediately to the headquarters of the police, requesting the chief of police to send immediately an officer with a body of gendarmes, and then to go back and keep the Greeks, under the pretence of discussing the price of their crime. Emin Effendi speedily answered the summons, and on the arrival of the zaptiehs the rabbi posted them behind a door concealed by a heavy curtain, and sent word to his son that the men had come, this message, like the previous one, being delivered in Hebrew. One of these individuals asking what the man had said, Nissim Palacci answered that his father, although ill, wished to see them. Ushered into the presence of the rabbi, he began asking them in Turkish, so that the officials might understand the affair, how and where they got the child, how the sale was to be effected, and many other particulars. The examination of the case satisfactorily concluded, he whistled, the police came in, and, having manacled the men, led them off to prison. As they were led through the streets some inkling of the affair seems to have got abroad, and the police had to be strengthened to repress the people, who looked as if about to take vengeance on the miscreants."
- Fuchsbärte. Red-beards, Judases.
- Kahn, The Rhine boats were almost invariably canoe-like in form, as many are at present.
- Worauf die Freude wächst. In allusion to the vineyards of the Rhine.
- Gemeindediener. Lit., servant of the community.
- Grosse Blumen mit fabelhaft breitem Blattwerk. The whole spirit of Gothic decoration, of grotesque figures and faces, twined about with vines and crochets, or expanded leaves exaggerated into strange yet beautiful forms, is given in this passage.
- According to magicians and occultists the most awful and terrible apparition which threatens the neophyte in his first introduction to the supernatural world is the giant foot or hand. This one was probably suggested by the romance of King Arthur.
- Such houses still abound in Regensberg, Nuremberg, and the Italian cities.
- The Venetians (as may be seen in the Facetiae of Piovano Arlotto) at this time pushed their wares into Paris, London, and Germany with all the enterprise of our modern commercial travellers.
- Stöcker. Constable in charge of the stocks, &c.
- Hans-Hänschen, klein Trommelhänschen.
- Nasenstern. Stern is a common Jewish name.
- This prototype of "The House that Jack Built" is presumed to be a hynm in Seder Hagadah, fol. 23. The historical interpretation, says Mrs. Valentine, who has reproduced it in her Nursery Rhymes, was first given by P. N. Leberecht at Leipsic in 1731, and is printed in the Christian Reformer, vol. xvii. p. 28. The original is in Chaldee. It is throughout an allegory. The kid, one of the pure animals, denotes Israel. The Father by whom it was purchased is Jehovah; the two pieces of money signify Moses and Aaron. The cat means the Assyrians, the dog the Babylonians, the staff the Persians, the fire the Grecian Empire under Alexander the Great. The water betokens the Roman or the fourth of the great monarchies to whose dominion the Jews were subjected. The ox is a symbol of the Saracens, who subdued Palestine; the butcher that killed the ox denotes the crusaders by whom the Holy Land was taken from the Saracens; the Angel of Death the Turkish power to which Palestine is still subject. The tenth stanza is designed to show that God will take signal vengeance on the Turks, and restore the Jews to their own land.
- Suslein. In Heine's version, every noun in this song assumes the diminutive lein, as Vaterlein, "little father," Bocklein, Hundlein, &c.
- Schochet, butcher, meaning the Crusaders. Jews in repeating this in English or German retain this Hebrew word.
- Malach Hammowes, the Angel of Death. This is also generally given in Hebrew. There is a great awe attached to the name which gives a peculiar dignity to this verse.—Translator.
- There is a concluding verse which Heine has omitted. "Then came the Holy One of Israel—blessed be he—and slew the Angel of Death, who," &c. Heine goes usque ad aras, but no further.—Translator.
- It is remarkable that in America a narrow-minded, mean man is called a sardine. "A man who has never travelled, and has all his life been packed tightly among those who were his equals in ignorance and inexperience, is therefore called a sardine" (The Breitmann Ballads).
- These eccentric ornaments, representing cities, sea-fights, men on horseback, &c., may be seen occasionally in curiosity shops and museums. They are sometimes very large indeed, and few would imagine that they were intended for personal decoration.
- Hündchen Reiss.
- Aber Schönheit vergeht und Tugend besteht.