Thou wilst cast all their sins into the bottom of the sea

Zu diesem Vers der Bibel, Micha 8,9, schrieb Isaak Erter (1792-1851) folgende Geschichte, deren englische Übersetzung mit der zitierten kleinen Einleitung abgedruckt ist in: J. Chotzner, Hebrew Satire, London 1911, S. 29-33:

„The greatest and most famous satirist of all the Hebrew writers who flourished in modern times in Austria, or rather Galicia, was Isaac Erter. He was born in the year 1792 in a small Galician village called Jamischock, and died at Brody in 1851. He wrote several satires, the following of which will be quoted here, in a condensed form, as a sample. It is entitled „Taschlich“, which term means „throwing“ or „shaking“, and is used by modern Hebrew writers in connection with the custom prevalent among a certain class of Jews, of going to a river on „Rosh-Ha-Shana“ (New Year´s Day), and throwing into it all the crumbs that might be in their pockets. While so doing, they recite the verse to be found in Micah viii, 9 viz. „Thou wilst cast all their sins into the bottom of the sea“.


It was New Year´s Day, and I was walking leisurely on the bank of the river, not far from the synagogue. Suddenly I lifted up my eyes, and lo! and behold, there was Samael, the Satan, standing close by, with a large number of evil spirits grouped about him. As I had never before been afraid of Satan and his formidable-looking attendants, I approached him, and asked him boldly what particular business had brought him and his noisy retinue to that quiet and peaceful spot.

Thereupon Satan, with a cunning smile on his face, answered that he and his followers had come there to cast nets into the river, and catch all the crumbs that would be thrown there during the next few hours by the many children of the Ghetto. These crumbs that represented allegorically the various sins committed by them during the past year, would be brought before the celestial Council sitting in judgment and would serve to prove the existence of much wickedness and corruption among the very people who claimed to be, by dint of their supposed great piety and unblemished lives, the special favourites of the Lord of Hosts.

On hearing these caustic reflections on the moral degradation of my Jewish countrymen, I was greatly vexed, and I therefore told him quite frankly that he would have acted more prudently, and would have effected his evil design with much greater success, had he and his attendants stationed themeselves by the French and German rivers, where the Jews were notoriously lax. While I was thus arguing with Satan, a great stir arose among the group of the evil spirits. For, at that moment, a huge crowd of festively-dressed people emerged from the synagogue, and came towards the river. On arriving there, they duly shook their garments, and recited the prescribed prayer. Some had a venerable appearance, and seemed to be models of all that was good, and noble, and true. But this was only an illusion. For Satan, taking me aside, remarked of them: „These leaders of the Jewish community, who comprise the Rabbi and the head of the „Chassidim“, certainly appear to be venerable, and of a meek and humble disposition. But in reality they are extremely proud and intolerant, and look down with contempt on every person who is neither a member of their family, nor an influential man in the community. I have here a volume, recently published by this very Rabbi, in the preface of which he says of himself that he is the cleverest man in existence, and that his book is a vast treasure of theological knowledge. And yet, as a matter of fact, the book is pure twaddle, which, strange to say, is not even original, as the greater part of it has already appeared in books written by other authors of the theological fraternity.“

After a short pause, Satan referred to the presence of the head of the „Chassidim“. He was clad in snow-white garments, and had a crafty and jovial look about him. „This well-fed man“, said Satan, „is worshipped by his devotees, who attribute to him the possession of supernatural powers, by means of which he is able to work miracles at all times. They come from all parts of the country to obtain his advice on their private matters, and pay him royally for his trouble. But I know him to be a charlatan and a deceiver, and he is, indeed, more guilty of transgressing the laws of decency and good conduct than those who come to seek his aid in winning forgiveness for their secret sins.“

Satan was about to continue his revelations in regard to the real character of some other revered signors, that were gathered by the river´s side, when he was interrupted by a tremendous shout of jubilation, coming from the evil spirits, who were drawing bulging nets from the water. And with the sound I awoke, and found that I had been dreaming a dream.“

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