The Blood Libel of 1757

Translated by Regina Spirn

In order not to leave these pages blank, I will present the story of a NOBLE DEED, about which I heard yet in my childhood, performed by Reb Yoske (Reb is a honorific like Mr. - does not mean Rabbi) may this tzaddik rest (righteous one) rest in peace, the man everyone calls Reb Yoske Kodosh (martyr) from Dzikow (Kodosh means “holy”) but it is also used to refer to people who died for the sanctification of G-d's name” - i.e. they refused an offer to avoid execution in return for converting to another faith. It is used here in this sense. How my father wrote me from Jerusalem the whole story, as he heard it from his father, the illustrious Rabbi Note (Noh-teh) Shlomo, who had heard it from his father Reb Leibesh ( or Leybush, a variant of the name Leyb, meaning “lion” in Yiddish), son of Hanna, the daughter of Reb Yoske Kodosh (martyr).

This is the story as narrated in my father's letters: our forefather Reb Yoske Kodosh (martyr) was a shohet in the town of Dzikow. He and three other Jews traveled over (or along) the river Wista (Poland's main river) to cross over to (the Russian port of?) Poland and a gentile wagon driver went together with them. The gentile decided to remain there with his family and the Jews returned to Dzikow. A great commotion arose, and the Jews were accused of having murdered the gentile, especially so because Reb Yoske was a shohet.

The feudal lady of the area had them arrested and kept 3 days without food. Then a treif meal with very strong aromas was offered to them but they wouldn't eat it. They were then tortured at her behest and Reb Yoske was thrown into a barrel of lubrication/grease which she set on fire. After a while, he was removed and offered him again to remain alive and be treated for his burns if he converted, but he picked up some dirt, threw it into her mouth and jumped into the fire and died. His ashes were scattered over the Wista River at her order as a means to prevent his soul from taking revenge on her. After a while, she traveled on the Wista and two birds attacked her and blinded her both eyes while she was shouting that Reb Yoske was blinding her. After some time the gentile who had traveled with the three Jews came back, and the feudal lady realized that she had killed the Jews for no reason. To make amends, she gave grain and other things to their families and did them favors. She ended her days in prolonged horrible sickness.

This story was known in Dzikow and all around it. The holy Rabbi from ______???, grandson of the holy Rabbi from Banz (pronounced Tzikas) also told his story, and added that he also heard from his holy grandfather that a week after Reb Yoske was burned, on Friday night (Erev Shabbos), the holy Ba'al Shem Tov said (in Heaven): “Welcome Reb Yoske Kodosh (martyr) and the other Kiddoshim (martyrs) (the 3 other Jews who also refused to convert), welcome!. They had come to wish the Ba'al Shem Tov a “good Shabbos.”

As additional proof to the veracity of this story, the author tells that when his father and future father-in-law went to the Rabbi of Tsunz (apparently to ask whether it was a proper “Shidduch” between the parties), his father mentioned that he was a descendant of Reb Yoske Kodosh (martyr) and the Rabbi of Tsanz got very excited and impressed, and he told over the same story. He approved the Shidduch warmly and invited them to have the official betrothal in his own home.

Reb Yoske Kodosh had a daughter Channah. She had two sons, Reb Leybush who was a Rabbinic judge in Dzikow, and Reb Zissel who was a cantor in Dzikow. My father was the son of Reb Leybush, and he told me this story.

[The continuation is the author's discourse on a Talmudic passage, where the laws of the obligation to die rather than convert are discussed. No additional family names are mentioned in the story.]

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