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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- 
choly preface. 

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. 

113 



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- 
tendom. 

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.