Seder Tisha B’AvReadings

Prepared by David Steinberg



1. Philistine Capture of the Arc

2. Death of Saul c. 1005 BCE

3. Fall of First Temple 587 BCE

4. Fall of Second Temple 70 CE

5. First Crusade 1096 CE

6. Chmielnicki Massacres 1648-1658 CE

7. Holocaust 1938-1945

8 Aicha-Book of Lamentations



1. Philistine Capture of the Arc (1 Samuel chapt 4:1-18)


And the word of Samuel came to all Israel. In those days the Philistines mustered for war against Israel, and Israel went out to battle against hem; they encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle was joined, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle.

When the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, "Why has the LORD put us to rout today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, so that he may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies."

So the people sent to Shiloh, and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. 5When the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded.

When the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, "What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?" When they learned that the ark of the LORD had come to the camp, the Philistines were afraid; for they said, "Gods have come into the camp." They also said, "Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, in order not to become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight."

So the Philistines fought; Israel was defeated, and they fled, everyone to his home. There was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

 A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line, and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes torn and with earth upon his head. When he arrived, Eli was sitting upon his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God. When the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out.

When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, "What is this uproar?"

Then the man came quickly and told Eli. Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set, so that he could not see. The man said to Eli, "I have just come from the battle; I fled from the battle today."

He said, "How did it go, my son?"

The messenger replied, "Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great slaughter among the troops; your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured."

When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate; and his neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years.


2. Death of Saul c. 1005 BCE (1 Samuel chapts 28, 29, 31; 2 Samuel 1:17-27)

In those days the Philistines gathered their forces for war, to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, "You know, of course, that you and your men are to go out with me in the army."

David said to Achish, "Very well, then you shall know what your servant can do."

Achish said to David, "Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life." Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had mourned for him and buried him in Ramah, his own city. Saul had expelled the mediums and the wizards from the land. The Philistines assembled, and came and encamped at Shunem. Saul gathered all Israel, and they encamped at Gilboa. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. When Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, not by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets.

Then Saul said to his servants, "Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, so that I may go to her and inquire of her." His servants said to him, "There is a medium at Endor." So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes and went there, he and two men with him. They came to the woman by night. And he said, "Consult a spirit for me, and bring up for me the one whom I name to you." The woman said to him, "Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the wizards from the land. Why then are you laying a snare for my life to bring about my death?" But Saul swore to her by the LORD, "As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing." Then the woman said, "Whom shall I bring up for you?" He answered, "Bring up Samuel for me." When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice; and the woman said to Saul, "Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!" The king said to her, "Have no fear; what do you see?" The woman said to Saul, "I see a divine being coming up out of the ground." He said to her, "What is his appearance?" She said, "An old man is coming up; he is wrapped in a robe." So Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance.

Then Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?" Saul answered, "I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more, either by prophets or by dreams; so I have summoned you to tell me what I should do." Samuel said, "Why then do you ask me, since the LORD has turned from you and become your enemy? The LORD has done to you just as he spoke by me; for the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand, and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD, and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the LORD has done this thing to you today. Moreover the LORD will give Israel along with you into the hands of the Philistines; and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me; the LORD will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines."

 Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of the words of Samuel; and there was no strength in him, for he had eaten nothing all day and all night. The woman came to Saul, and when she saw that he was terrified, she said to him, "Your servant has listened to you; I have taken my life in my hand, and have listened to what you have said to me. Now therefore, you also listen to your servant; let me set a morsel of bread before you. Eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way." He refused, and said, "I will not eat." But his servants, together with the woman, urged him; and he listened to their words. So he got up from the ground and sat on the bed. Now the woman had a fatted calf in the house. She quickly slaughtered it, and she took flour, kneaded it, and baked unleavened cakes. She put them before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night.

Now the Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, while the Israelites were encamped by the fountain that is in Jezreel. As the lords of the Philistines were passing on by hundreds and by thousands, and David and his men were passing on in the rear with Achish, the commanders of the Philistines said, "What are these Hebrews doing here?" Achish said to the commanders of the Philistines, "Is this not David, the servant of King Saul of Israel, who has been with me now for days and years? Since he deserted to me I have found no fault in him to this day." But the commanders of the Philistines were angry with him; and the commanders of the Philistines said to him, "Send the man back, so that he may return to the place that you have assigned to him; he shall not go down with us to battle, or else he may become an adversary to us in the battle. For how could this fellow reconcile himself to his lord? Would it not be with the heads of the men here? Is this not David, of whom they sing to one another in dances, 'Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands'?"

Then Achish called David and said to him, "As the LORD lives, you have been honest, and to me it seems right that you should march out and in with me in the campaign; for I have found nothing wrong in you from the day of your coming to me until today. Nevertheless the lords do not approve of you. So go back now; and go peaceably; do nothing to displease the lords of the Philistines."

 David said to Achish, "But what have I done? What have you found in your servant from the day I entered your service until now, that I should not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?"

Achish replied to David, "I know that you are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God; nevertheless, the commanders of the Philistines have said, 'He shall not go up with us to the battle.' Now then rise early in the morning, you and the servants of your lord who came with you, and go to the place that I appointed for you. As for the evil report, do not take it to heart, for you have done well before me. Start early in the morning, and leave as soon as you have light."

So David set out with his men early in the morning, to return to the land of the Philistines. But the Philistines went up to Jezreel.

Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and many fell on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua, the sons of Saul. The battle pressed hard upon Saul; the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by them. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, "Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, so that these uncircumcised may not come and thrust me through, and make sport of me." But his armor-bearer was unwilling; for he was terrified. So Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together on the same day.

When the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook their towns and fled; and the Philistines came and occupied them.

The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. They cut off his head, stripped off his armor, and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to carry the good news to the houses of their idols and to the people. They put his armor in the temple of Astarte; and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. But when the inhabitants of Yabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men set out, traveled all night long, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan. They came to Yabesh and burned them there. Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Yabesh, and fasted seven days.

David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. (He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Yashar.) He said:

Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!

How the mighty have fallen!


Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it

 not in the streets of Ashkelon;

or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult.


You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor bounteous fields!

For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more.


From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty,

the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, nor the sword of Saul return empty.


Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided;

they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.


O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,

who clothed you with crimson, in luxury,

who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.


How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!


Jonathan lies slain upon your high places.


I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;

greatly beloved were you to me;

your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.


How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!


3 Fall of First Temple 587 BCE (Jeremiah 38; 39:1-14; 40:1-5; 41:1-3; 41:16-end)


Now Shephatiah son of Mattan, Gedaliah son of  Pashhur, Jucal son of Shelemiah, and Pashhur son of Malchiah heard the words that Jeremiah was saying to all the people, Thus says the LORD, Those who stay in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but those who go out to the Chaldeans shall live; they shall have their lives as a prize of war, and live. Thus says the LORD, This city shall surely be handed over to the army of the king of Babylon and be taken.

Then the officials said to the king, "This man ought to be put to death, because he is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm."

King Zedekiah said, "Here he is; he is in your hands; for the king is powerless against you."

So they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king's son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. Now there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.

Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, a eunuch in the king's house, heard that they had put Jeremiah into the cistern. The king happened to be sitting at the Benjamin Gate, So Ebed-melech left the king's house and spoke to the king, "My lord king, these men have acted wickedly in all they did to the prophet Jeremiah by throwing him into the cistern to die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city." Then the king commanded Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, "Take three men with you from here, and pull the prophet Jeremiah up from the cistern before he dies."

So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went to the house of the king, to a wardrobe of the storehouse, and took from there old rags and worn-out clothes, which he let down to Jeremiah in the cistern by ropes. Then Ebed-melech the Ethiopian said to Jeremiah, "Just put the rags and clothes between your armpits and the ropes." Jeremiah did so. Then they drew Jeremiah up by the ropes and pulled him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard.

King Zedekiah sent for the prophet Jeremiah and received him at the third entrance of the temple of the LORD. The king said to Jeremiah, "I have something to ask you; do not hide anything from me."

Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, "If I tell you, you will put me to death, will you not? And if I give you advice, you will not listen to me."

So King Zedekiah swore an oath in secret to Jeremiah, "As the LORD lives, who gave us our lives, I will not put you to death or hand you over to these men who seek your life."

Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, "Thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the God of Israel, If you will only surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then your life shall be spared, and this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live. But if you do not surrender to the officials of the king of Babylon, then this city shall be handed over to the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and you yourself shall not escape from their hand."

King Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, "I am afraid of the Judeans who have deserted to the Chaldeans, for I might be handed over to them and they would abuse me."

Jeremiah said, "That will not happen. Just obey the voice of the LORD in what I say to you, and it shall go well with you, and your life shall be spared. But if you are determined not to surrender, this is what the LORD has shown me-- a vision of all the women remaining in the house of the king of Judah being led out to the officials of the king of Babylon and saying, 'Your trusted friends have seduced you and have overcome you; Now that your feet are stuck in the mud, they desert you.' All your wives and your children shall be led out to the Chaldeans, and you yourself shall not escape from their hand, but shall be seized by the king of Babylon; and this city shall be burned with fire."

Then Zedekiah said to Jeremiah, "Do not let anyone else know of this conversation, or you will die. If the officials should hear that I have spoken with you, and they should come and say to you, 'Just tell us what you said to the king; do not conceal it from us, or we will put you to death. What did the king say to you?' then you shall say to them, 'I was presenting my plea to the king not to send me back to the house of Jonathan to die there.'"

All the officials did come to Jeremiah and questioned him; and he answered them in the very words the king had commanded. So they stopped questioning him, for the conversation had not been overheard.

And Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard until the day that Jerusalem was taken.


In the ninth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, in the tenth month, King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem and besieged it; in the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, on the ninth day of the month, a breach was made in the city. When Jerusalem was taken, all the officials of the king of Babylon came and sat in the middle gate …

When King Zedekiah of Judah and all the soldiers saw them, they fled, going out of the city at night by way of the king's garden through the gate between the two walls; and they went toward the Arabah. But the army of the Chaldeans pursued them, and overtook Zedekiah in the plains of Jericho; and when they had taken him, they brought him up to King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon, at Riblah, in the land of Hamath; and he passed sentence on him.

The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah at Riblah before his eyes; also the king of Babylon slaughtered all the nobles of Judah. He put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him in fetters to take him to Babylon. The Chaldeans burned the king's house and the houses of the people, and broke down the walls of Jerusalem. Then Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard exiled to Babylon the rest of the people who were left in the city, those who had deserted to him, and the people who remained. Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard left in the land of Judah some of the poor people who owned nothing, and gave them vineyards and fields at the same time.

 King Nebuchadrezzar of Babylon gave command concerning Jeremiah through Nebuzaradan, the captain of the guard, saying, "Take him, look after him well and do him no harm, but deal with him as he may ask you." … They entrusted him to Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan to be brought home. So he stayed with his own people….



The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD after Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard had let him go from Ramah, when he took him bound in fetters along with all the captives of Jerusalem and Judah who were being exiled to Babylon. The captain of the guard took Jeremiah and said to him, "The LORD your God threatened this place with this disaster; and now the LORD has brought it about, and has done as he said, because all of you sinned against the LORD and did not obey his voice. Therefore this thing has come upon you. Now look, I have just released you today from the fetters on your hands. If you wish to come with me to Babylon, come, and I will take good care of you; but if you do not wish to come with me to Babylon, you need not come. See, the whole land is before you; go wherever you think it good and right to go. If you remain, then return to Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan, whom the king of Babylon appointed governor of the towns of Judah, and stay with him among the people; or go wherever you think it right to go." So the captain of the guard gave him an allowance of food and a present, and let him go. Then Jeremiah went to Gedaliah son of Ahikam at Mizpah, and stayed with him among the people who were left in the land….


In the seventh month, Ishmael son of Nethaniah son of Elishama, of the royal family, one of the chief officers of the king, came with ten men to Gedaliah son of Ahikam, at Mizpah. As they ate bread together there at Mizpah, Ishmael son of Nethaniah and the ten men with him got up and struck down Gedaliah son of Ahikam son of Shaphan with the sword and killed him, because the king of Babylon had appointed him governor in the land. 3Ishmael also killed all the Judeans who were with Gedaliah at Mizpah, and the Chaldean soldiers who happened to be there…. Then Johanan son of Kareah and all the leaders of the forces with him took all the rest of the people whom Ishmael son of Nethaniah had carried away captive from Mizpah after he had slain Gedaliah son of Ahikam--soldiers, women, children, and eunuchs, whom Johanan brought back from Gibeon. 17And they set out, and stopped at Geruth Chimham near Bethlehem, intending to go to Egypt because of the Chaldeans; for they were afraid of them, because Ishmael son of Nethaniah had killed Gedaliah son of Ahikam, whom the king of Babylon had made governor over the land.


4 Fall of Second Temple 70 CE Quoted from Josephus: The Jewish Wars gen. editor Gaalya Cornfeld

 Greatly distressed, Titus again reproached John and his supporters: "You rotten wretches, was it not you who set up the balustrade to guard your sanctuary?  Did you not put up at intervals along it slabs inscribed in Greek characters and our own, forbidding anyone to go beyond the barrier?  And did we not give you leave to execute anyone who did go beyond it, even if he were a Roman? Why then, you guilty men, are you now trampling dead bodies inside it? Why do you desecrate the Temple with foreign blood and your own? I call on the gods of my fathers to witness and any god that ever protected this place-I doubt that there is one now-I call on my army, on the Jews in my camp, and on you yourselves as witnesses that I am not compelling you to desecrate your Temple. If you change the battle-ground, no Roman will go near your holy places or violate them. I will protect the Temple for you even if you do not wish me to."


Meanwhile, countless numbers fell victim to the famine in the city. The sufferings they endured were unspeakable. In every home, the very shadow of food led to conflict, and the closest relatives came to blows, snatching from each other any pitiful means of sustenance. Not even the dying were believed to be in want of food, and even those expiring were searched by the brigands in case any of them had food hidden inside their clothing and were feigning death. These desperate ruffians stumbled and staggered along like mad dogs, open-mouthed with hunger, battering at the doors like drunken men, and in their helpless confusion bursting into the same house two or three times in a single hour. Necessity drove them to gnaw everything, and objects that not even the filthiest dumb animals would look at they picked up and ate. In the end they did not stop at eating belts and shoes; they stripped off the leather from their shields and gnawed at it.  Some tried to live on scraps of old hay, and there were people who collected stalks and sold a tiny bunch for four Attic drachmas.

Titus retired to the Antonia, intending to launch a full scale attack the following day at dawn and take possession of the Temple. The sanctuary, however, had long before been condemned by God to the flames; and now, after the passing of the years, the fated day was … the very date when centuries before it had been Burned by the king of Babylon. But now it was their own people who had caused and started the conflagration. For when Titus had withdrawn, the rebels shortly after attacked the Romans again, and a clash followed between the guards of the sanctuary and the troops who were putting out the fire inside the inner court; the latter routed the Jews and followed in hot pursuit right up to the Temple itself.

Then one of the soldiers, without awaiting any orders and with no dread of so momentous a deed, but urged on by some supernatural force, snatched a blazing piece of wood and, climbing on another soldier's back, hurled the flaming brand through a low golden window that gave access, on the north side, to the rooms that surrounded the sanctuary. As the flames shot up, the Jews let out a shout of dismay that matched the tragedy; they flocked to the rescue, with no thought of sparing their lives or husbanding their strength; for the sacred structure that they had constantly guarded with such devotion was vanishing before their very eyes.

When Caesar failed to restrain the fury of his frenzied soldiers, and the fire could not be checked, he entered the building with his generals and looked at the holy place of the sanctuary and all its furnishings, which exceeded by far the accounts current in foreign lands and fully justified their splendid repute in our own.  As the flames had not yet penetrated to the inner sanctum, but were consuming the chambers that surrounded the sanctuary, Titus assumed correctly that there was still time to save the structure;  he ran out and by personal appeals he endeavored to persuade his men to put out the fire… But their respect for Caesar and their fear of the centurion's staff who was trying to check them were overpowered by their rage, their detestation of the Jews, and an utterly uncontrolled lust for battle. Most of them were spurred on, moreover, by the expectation of loot, convinced that the interior was full of money and dazzled by observing that everything around them was made of gold. But they were forestalled by one of those who had entered into the building, and who, when Caesar dashed out to restrain the troops, pushed a firebrand, in the darkness, into the hinges of the gate. Then, when the flames suddenly shot up from the interior, Caesar and his generals withdrew, and no one was left to prevent those outside from kindling the blaze. Thus, in defiance of Caesar's wishes, the Temple was set on fire.

While the Temple was ablaze, the attackers plundered it, and countless people who were caught by them were slaughtered. There was no pity for age and no regard was accorded rank; children and old men, laymen and priests, alike were butchered; every class was pursued and crushed in the grip of war, whether they cried out for mercy or offered resistance. Through the roar of the flames streaming far and wide, the groans of the falling victims were heard; such was the height of the hill and the magnitude of the blazing pile that the entire city seemed to be ablaze; and the noise-nothing more deafening and frightening could be imagined. There were the war cries of the Roman legions as they swept onwards en masse, the yells of the rebels encircled by fire and sword, the panic of the people who, cut off above, fled into the arms of the enemy, and their shrieks as they met their fate. (274) The cries on the hill blended with those of the multitudes in the city below; and now many people who were exhausted and tongue-tied as a result of hunger, when they beheld the Temple on fire, found strength once more to lament and wail. Peraea and the surrounding hills, added their echoes to the deafening din. But more horrifying than the din were the sufferings.

The Temple Mount, every where enveloped in flames, seemed to be boiling over from its base; yet the blood seemed more abundant than the flames and the numbers of the slain greater than those of the slayers. The ground could not be seen anywhere between the corpses; the soldiers climbed over heaps of bodies as they chased the fugitives


5 First Crusade 1096 CE Quoted from A History of the Jews by A. L. Sachar, 5th Edition, Knopf, 1964, pp. 188-189


The pious orgies began in Lorraine, where the rich fields and the flourishing cities were irresistible bait. In Metz twenty-two Jews were killed, and though the toll of lives was smaller in other communities, innumerable homes were pillaged and destroyed. Early in May the crusaders straggled into Spires, where the Jews had been recently granted new privileges by the authorities. The synagogue was surrounded by a howling mob and but for the sturdy resistance of the worshippers and the quick precautionary measures of the kindly bishop the Jews would have fared badly. Failure, however, served only to increase the fury of the pilgrims. On May 18, greatly reinforced, they fell upon the Jews of Worms. About eight hundred had fortunately sought safety in the Episcopal palace, but those who remained in their homes were butchered without mercy.

The corpses were stripped and lay naked until the refugees in the palace could smuggle out clothing for the poor mutilated bodies. The following Sunday, despite the protestations of the bishop, the rabble attacked the episcopal palace itself. For two days the besieged resisted, and then those who had not taken their own lives were cut to pieces, for the glory of God. Only a few saved themselves by submitting to baptism. From Worms" the wolves of the forest," as they were called by one Jewish chronicler, moved on to Mayence, whose citizens at once opened the gates and pointed out the Jewish hiding-places. Again the greater number committed suicide, and the rest were massacred….

The dead, numbering about thirteen hundred, were flung, stripped, into ditches, and their property was plundered. One Jew fired the synagogue before killing himself, and the blaze destroyed nearly all of the city. A small number who escaped the notice of the rabble by hiding in the treasury of the cathedral attempted to steal away at midnight, but were soon overtaken and also butchered. In this spirit the crusaders crossed Germany, leaving behind them a trail of plundered homes and broken lives. Perhaps as many as twelve thousand Jews perished in the Rhenish valley in the wild Judenhetze, which lasted for three months. The persecuting zeal of the crusaders was not yet exhausted when they entered Bohemia. Here the Jews had lived in peace, untouched by the currents which affected the lives of their people in other lands. Taking advantage of the absence of the powerful duke, who was fighting a foreign war, the motley horde brought the Prague community into Jewish history by virtually destroying it.


6 Chmielnicki Massacres 1648-1658 CE Quoted from A History of the Jews by A. L. Sachar, 5th Edition, Knopf, 1964, pp. 240-241


By the middle of the seventeenth century even Poland had ceased to be a haven of refuge. The clergy, an austere and intolerant caste, had insinuated themselves into the very heart of political life, and the Jesuits had won complete control of education. The German tradesmen, long a thorn in the side of the Jews, were more powerful and more unscrupulous than ever. Jews continued to serve the nobles as tax-collectors, tax-farmers, financiers, and particularly stewards and overseers of their estates. But these positions, while adding to their power, increased popular animosity. The peasants, who were being exploited by the nobles, hated the tools of tyranny more than tyranny itself.

The bitterness between classes and creeds was nowhere worse than on the banks of the Dnieper where lived the Zaporozhian Cossacks. These rude frontiersmen, who served as a bulwark against the Tartars and Turks, enjoyed virtual autonomy under an ataman of their own selection. They despised the Poles, who, as Catholics, scorned their Greek Orthodox faith and, as landlords, oppressed them. But their loathing was intensified a hundredfold against the Jews, who lived in large numbers in the Ukraine and were so often the instruments of the nobles' tyranny.

In 1648 came the inevitable uprising of the Cossacks. It was led by the Cossack chieftain Bogdan Chmielnicki, one of the outstanding figures of the seventeenth century. Bogdan was brave, resourceful, a natural genius in warfare, but a creature of impulses, a terrifying savage. Not only did he enter the revolt as the champion of his people's rights; he was an offended chieftain seeking vengeance for personal injuries which he had sustained at the hands of Poles and Jews. The Polish squire on whose estate he lived had stolen his hayricks and flogged his infant son to death. Some Jews had apparently spied upon him and involved him in difficulties with the Polish lords. He thirsted for vengeance against all members of the cursed races. Fate threw victims to him. He was able to win victories over the flower of the Polish military forces. As he triumphed, the serfs everywhere rose against their masters. The fury of the revolt was without precedent. Houses and castles were torn stone from stone. Whole villages were uprooted. The Polish gentry were hunted down, burnt, flayed alive, sawed asunder. Catholic priests were hanged to trees together with hogs and Jews.

The Jews died in their tens of thousands after suffering cruelties which have rarely been equalled in all history. Their infants were slit like fishes, their women were ripped open, live cats were let into their bowels, and they were then sewn up again. "Often they did not attain to burial, dogs and swine feeding on their dead bodies." In Tulcin two thousand Jews and six hundred Poles sought to keep off the Cossacks. When resistance became futile, the Jews were betrayed by the Poles and ruthlessly massacred. The Cossacks then cynically slaughtered the traitors as well. The story of Tulcin was repeated everywhere; rape, murder, pillage, in every village, in every town. When Bogdan entered Kiev in triumph in 1649, he at once ordered a general massacre of the great community of Jews who lived there. Fortunate were those who fell into Tartar hands, for they were sold in the markets of Constantinople and were later ransomed by compassionate co-religionists.

In the fall of 1649 the new King of Poland, John Casimir, patched up a truce with Bogdan by which the Cossack leader was recognized as a semi-independent prince. It was part of the convention that Jews were no longer to live in the Cossack districts. For a moment there was a respite for the terrified and broken people. Only for a moment. The civil wars soon flared up again, and the Cossacks began a new series of depredations. Suddenly in 1654 hordes of southern and northern Scythians poured into the country, and next year the Swedes also began their invasions. The new wars" resembled nothing so much as a hideous scramble of ravening beasts and obscene fowls for the dismembered limbs of a headless carcase, for such did Poland seem to all the world before the war was half over." Not until 1658, when Poland had agreed to the most humiliating concessions, did peace come at last.

It is impossible to estimate accurately the toll of these awful years, perhaps the worst in Jewish history since the destruction of national life. (NB this was written in 1930) High estimates say five hundred thousand Jews perished; conservative estimates place the dead at not less than one hundred thousand. Seven hundred Jewish communities were destroyed. Everywhere there was ruin and desolation, and scarcely a family had been spared. For years the Western world was filled with derelicts, as in the dreary days of the Spanish expulsion. The darkness seemed never to lift and Jews turned more and more to the comfort of the Talmud, to the promises of the Cabala, and above all to the pseudo-Messiahs who continued to bring emollient messages from Heaven. )


7. Holocaust 1938-1945 Quoted from Siddur Sim Shalom pp 384-388


It was Wednesday, August 5, 1942, when the Nazis came to the Ghetto for the children in Janusz Korczak's charge. It was not clear whether Korczak told the children what they might expect or exactly where they were going, but his staff of teachers and nurses had the two hundred orphans ready when the Nazis raided the orphanage at 16 Sienna Street. The children had been bathed, given clean clothing, and provided with bread and water to take with them. The Nazis burst in, but the children, though frightened, did not cry out or run and hide. They clung to Korczak who stood between them and the Germans. Bareheaded, he led the way, holding a child by each hand.

Behind him were the rest of the two hundred children and a group of nurses clad in white aprons. They were surrounded by Germans and Ukrainian guards, and the Ghetto police. One could see how weak and undernourished the children were. But they marched to their deaths in exemplary order, without a single tear, in such a terrifying silence that it thundered with indictment and defiance.


There was one non-Jewish peasant woman. I do not know her name. I do not know her face. But she helped my mother save two children. There was the work camp. And the wire fence. On that day my mother could not bribe. On that day she had no choice. She could not bribe. If she left us in the barracks, they would take us away. And she had to go to work. No choice. She handed her children through the fence to one peasant woman. . . . My sister and I are here. That means the peasant lady kept us for whatever length of time and then she returned us to our mother.


We witnessed the arrival of transports from Bendin and Sosnowiec. An elderly rabbi was among them. As they came from nearby towns, they knew what was awaiting them. They knew. And the rabbi entered in the undressing room and suddenly he began to dance and to sing all alone. And the others said nothing and he sang and he danced for a long time and then he died for kiddush hashem.


On May 7, 1942, the Germans decreed that those living in the Kovno Ghetto were not to have children. Every child born would be shot, together with the mother. Nevertheless, children continued to be born in the Kovno Ghetto. I shall never forget one brit milah ceremony in particular. A young couple who had been childless for five years was blessed with a child, a baby boy. They had decided to move to a building next to a technical high school so that the noise of the machinery and other noises would drown out the noises which would be made by the child. The brit was held there, in secret, of course.

As the mohel was about to begin, we heard the noise of screeching brakes and slamming doors in front of the building. A group of men from the Gestapo got out of their cars. We were panic-stricken. The hands of the mohel were shaking. We did not know what to do. How could we possibly save the mother and child? The mother was the most courageous amongst us. She shouted to the mohel: "Quickly! Circumcise the child. They are coming to kill us. The child at least should die as a Jew!

Thank God, the murderers did not come this time. They were merely visiting the school next door. The child was circumcised in the shadow of death.


Rabbi Leo Baeck wrote about his meetings with fellow inmates at Theresienstadt: It was dangerous for us to meet at night. There was an additional danger as well. During the day these men were involved in terrible, back-breaking work. And after such work, when they needed rest, they came together at night to listen to lessons and lectures, which could have weakened their bodies further. I shall never forget those meetings. We would assemble in darkness. To light a candle there, or even a match, would have brought immediate disaster upon us. We spoke about matters of the spirit and eternal questions, about God, about Jews in the world, about the eternity of Israel. In the midst of darkness, I sensed light in the unlit room, the light of Torah. . . . More than once I could not see their faces, but I did see great spiritual light.


Maidanek was an industrial factory for producing corpses: death, the destruction of the greatest number of prisoners in the shortest time at the lowest cost was Maidanek's purpose. Life was treated as something ephemeral and unimportant, as essentially worthless; in fact, contemptible. Death was our constant companion and not a terrible one, for quite often one wished passionately for it. It was life that was terrible, the long, agonizing process of parting from it after it had been shorn of dignity.


One day when we came from work, we saw three gallows rearing up in the assembly place, three black crows. Roll call. SS all around us, machine guns trained: the traditional ceremony. Three victims in chains-and one of them a young boy, a sad-eyed angel. . . .

The three victims mounted together onto the chairs. The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses. "Long live liberty!" cried the two adults. But the child was silent. . . . At a sign from the head of the camp, the three chairs were tipped over. . . . Then the march past began. The two adults were no longer alive. Their tongues hung swollen, blue-tinged. But the third rope was still moving; being so light, the child was still alive. . . . For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes. And we had to look him full in the face. He was still alive when I passed in front of him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet glazed.

Behind me I heard a man asking, "Where is God now?"

And I heard a voice within me answer him: "Where is He? Here He is-He is hanging on this gallow. . . ."


8. Aicha-Book of Lamentations



David Steinberg

August 2003