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KRAUSS' WIENER GESERAH
This volume will be welcomed as another notable contribution to
Jewish history from the pen of Samuel Krauss. Though narrower in
scope than his recent Byzantian-Jewish historical studies, this book,
like the former, is noted for the manner in which the rabbinic erudition
of the author is applied to historical investigation, and particularly for
its complete utilization of the rabbinic responsa.
The motive of the book is noteworthy. For the volume was con-
ceived and written by the author as a semi-millennial memorial to the
Jewish martyrs of Vienna, who five hundred years ago, in 1420-21,
suffered expulsion and were burned at the stake by the decree, or Gese-
rah, of Duke Albert of Austria. This tragic theme is rendered doubly
sad as the author is visibly weighed down by the contemporary suffer-
ings of his people in the same territory during the present world distress
which is felt so acutely in the one-time gay capital of Austria. Even
the exterior of the work, its wretched paper, the want of illustrations in
a subject that should properly be replete with illustrations, and its gene-
rally unattractive outer form betray the want and poverty of the condi-
tions under which the author labored, as he frankly states in his melan-
These external wants are felt the less, however, as the book, despite
its memorial character, was not intended to suit the popular taste. The
serious historical student is more than compensated by the wide range
of the book, and by the abundance of detailed facts which render it a
mine of information relating to the men of letters and the social and
intellectual life of Austrian Jewish communities in the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries. And though the matter is at times diffuse, and some
of the facts are not always relevant to the main theme, they will also be
gratefully received by the investigator if only as gratuitous gifts.
For the contents of the book are not narrowly limited to the Gese-
rah, or edict of expulsion, as the title would seem to indicate. The vol-
1 Die Wiener Ceserah vom Jahre 1421. Von Samuel Krauss. Wien und Leipzig.
WlLHELM BRAUMUELLER, 1920. PP. XII. 264.
114 THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW
ume may be aptly described as a study of the political life, the social
conditions, and the literary figures of Austrian Jewry in the first quarter
of the fifteenth century. The technical aspects of the communal orga-
nization of the Jews in Vienna and the surrounding cities, the ecomomic
hardships and restrictions under which Jewish artisans and merchants
were compelled to labor, the arbitrary tyranny of the outer government,
which was combined with a measure of real inner autonomy, the stag-
gering burden of taxes, levies, and imposts of every description, and the
problems related to their collection and administration, all these sub-
jects are comprehended, and treated unevenly, it must be confessed,
with numerous digressions on incidental themes.
The latter indeed are striking in their variety. They cover, for
instance, minor biographical notes about the leading rabbis of the times
or topographical details about Vienna and the neighboring cities, or
curious oddities concerning Jewish names. Sometimes, however, as
under the subject of conflagrations, they bring to light vital facts, which
lay bare the tragedy of mediaeval Jewry, reproducing the cloud of sus-
picion, and the vindictive hatred of the populace, which reduced the
Jews to a state of helplessness, bordering on fatalism.
It would indeed appear as if all the sinister forces of mediaevalism
conspired in the early fifteenth century to bring about the final cata-
strophe; and to the chief of these elements Krauss devotes a learned
chapter. Thus the author is led to treat of the Hussite wars in their
relation to the Jews, who were wantonly accused of complicity with the
Hussite enemy at whose very hands the Jews were suffering torture.
The chapters on the desecration of the host and the blood accusation,
which also are treated in relation to the Geserah, form interesting con-
tributions to the study of these mental aberrations of Mediaeval Chris-
Dr. Krauss has therefore added to his works an important histo-
rical monograph of varied interest. The wide compass of the book, how-
ever, is also its essential weakness; for the treatment becomes inevitably
diffuse. There is a lack of definiteness felt throughout the work, and
strange to say, it is most pronounced in the treatment of the rabbis and
the rabbinate. One looks in vain for a serious, well-balanced apprecia-
tion of either the learning, the works, or the personalities, of the great
rabbis of the time. As to the institution of the Bet-Din, which was of
KRAUSS' WIENER GESERAH — NEUMAN 115
focal importance in mediaeval Jewry, it is almost entirely overlooked.
These shortcomings, however, while serious, cannot blur the positive
merits of the book, which is an important contribution to Jewish, as well
as general Mediaeval history. It is fair to state that the work is not
only worthy of the great scholarship of the author; it is, above all, a
beautifully pious tribute to the memory of Jewish martyrdom.
Dropsie College. Abraham A. Neuman.