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The Martyrs

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Martyrs of Ruzhany
(according to the book “Daat Kedoshim”)

Title Page of the Book

“Daat Kedoshim” is the name of the book that is dedicated to the martyrs of Ruzhany, written by one of the descendents of the martyrs, Reb Yisrael Tovia Eisenstadt of blessed memory of Ruzhany. The following is written on the title page of the book, “Daat Kedoshim” includes memoirs of the following family histories: Eisenstadt, Bachrach, Ginzburg, Heilprin, Morawicz, Mintz, Friedland, Katzenelenboigen, Rappaport, and Rokach. They are related through their parents or their wives to the martyrs who gave their lives in the blood libel that took place in Ruzhany in the Horodno Province in the State of Lithuania. It also contains a Selicha for the martyrs who were murdered on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, 5420 / 1659.

It was collected and compiled by Rabbi Moshe Aryeh Leib Friedland from manuscripts and published books that are listed in Kehillat Moshe Friedland Library (Bibliotheca Friedlandiana) and written into a book by Rabbi Yisrael Tovia Eisenstadt of blessed memory of Ruzhany.

The Blood Libel in Ruzhany

By the publisher Shmuel the son of Reb Yirmia Winter of blessed memory, Peterburg, published by Berman and his partners, 5657058 / 1897-98 (“Daat Kedoshim”)

… The city of Ruzhany did not rest and was not calm from the anger of the oppressor, for the Satan came forth from his hiding place to frighten it one night with a false libel, perpetrated by our enemies. In their zeal they cast a dead Christian boy, with many incisions on his flesh, into the cave of the home of Rabbi Yisrael the son of Rabbi Shalom. (The house with its cave still stands on its foundation in Ruzhany, and was bequeathed to the household of the renowned rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Gershon the son of Rabbi Yaakov of blessed memory Zakheim and his descendents. It was given by his elderly son our teacher Aryeh Leib to the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Binyamin Wolf the head of the rabbinical court of Yekatrinaslav, because this famous gaon Rabbi Yosef Katzenelenboigen, the head of the rabbinical court of Brisk and its environs, intended to stay over in Ruzhany when he traveled annually to the Zielwa Fair, and he ate the third Sabbath meal (Seuda Shlishit) in this house in memory of the event that took place to his holy forbears, of holy blessed memory.) The next day they attacked the home and went forth screaming, “This is the child whose blood the Jews spilled in order to knead the matzos for their holiday.” This claim was made by those fomenters of destruction who fell upon us, spread out, incited wrath, and led the city into an uproar. Many were placed in fetters, bound in chains, and put in prison. Only the wealthy people of the citizens were able to protect themselves with their money so as not to fall into imprisonment. But what? Their property became booty for the enemies, with barely anyone saying to reinstate it. For three years, from the year 5417 to 5420, the city was under a siege.

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The destruction that came in the wake of the perversion of justice lasted for a significant period of time. Seasons changed without any end, and with no hope for those imprisoned. The city of Ruzhany was perplexed.

These days were during the reign of Jan Kazimierz II, who at first was a cardinal of the Pope in Rome, and then ruled over Poland and Lithuania in the year 5408, which is 1648 in the secular calendar. The tribulations of Ta'ch[1] took place during his day, and the Cossacks swept through Lithuania during the years 5414 and 5415. The Jesuits spread through the land, and spent half of their zeal against the Jews, inciting the simple folk against them with their libels. Kazimierz, who wished to follow in the ways of the kings who preceded him who were protectors of the Jews, as well as the noblemen, did not exert his rule or expend any energy, for he was an enemy of Karl the king of Sweden, and all of his days were spent in anguish and pain, and he knew no rest. The Jesuits, plotters of evil and short of toil, whose hearts were set on evil toward the Jews, won over the hearts of the nation with a blood libel that they incited. They did not permit the Jews to come to the king. Therefore, throughout the three years that the residents of the city of Ruzhany wished to bring the case to judgment before the king who was their protector and fortress, they were unable to obtain assistance in that manner. The Jesuits arranged matters so that there would be cruel judges from the poor of the people, whom they would be able to flatter in order to promote religious zealotry and Jew hatred, and pervert the case at their will.

At the end of the year 5419, the time came to put an end to the case in the distraught city that was fluttering between life and death. Then, the farmers of Ruzhany and its environs gathered together to sit on the seat of justice. The masses streamed to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, which is the valley of judgment[2] to deal with the case of the libel, which up to this point had been kept in the Chamber of Secrets. The judges declared, “Let the murderers who murdered the child die, if we know who they are. However, since, after the inquiry and investigation, we do not know who they are, let Judah be guilty! For he was suspected first.” Then, the head judge declared that two heads of the Jewish community in Ruzhany should be killed to bear the sin of the community. (There is a family in Ruzhany whose members are snatched by death before they reach the age of thirty. Legend has it that they are descendents of the judges of those days, therefore they do not live out even half of their lifespan. Let those who believe, believe.) Thus did these judges turn off the proper path. In this judgment, the haughty ones placed a trap at the foot of the two good people: Yisrael and Tovia. They were caught in the trap, for they were important men and leaders of the community, as they were in their eyes as well.

These martyrs went out, as if walking with the accompaniment of a flute, to meet their fate, and they accepted the judgment of Heaven with joy. They accepted to give up their lives as a ransom for the nation, to save them from the perplexity of death and destruction. “Oh! How good is our lot! Our inheritance is beautiful for us”, they said to each other, “for our souls are being given up to save a large group of people.” With hearts full of will and holy desire, they prepared themselves in holiness and purity to be taken out to be murdered, so that they could save their flock, giving their lives for the price of all the residents of the city. They lifted up their hands to Heaven to the G-d who avenges the blood of the oppressed, so that their blood would be accepted as a pure offering to protect the distraught city, so that false accusations and libels will no longer come to its gates, and so that the workers of iniquity will never torture it again.

The sentence against the martyrs was set to be carried out on Friday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, 5420. On the holy day, when all of the people of the world pass before the Judge of all Flesh as young sheep, these holy martyrs passed by as lost sheep to be taken for slaughter by those that judged them with force, after they poured out their supplication to G-d. How awesome was this terrifying scene! A great and dark pall fell upon the entire people.

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Their hearts trembled from the voice that emanated from the depths of the heart, as the martyrs of High uttered the sounds of bidding farewell to all the dwellers of earth, and left the world to walk before G-d in the light of life.

As soon as they had finished their prayer, the ruthless judges approached them to take them to be killed, when a voice was heard from the blasphemers of G-d: “Behold, your good and happiness is in your hands! Give up your religion as a price for your lives, and you will be saved.” “G-d forbid! Far be it from us to rebel against the L-rd our G-d and our holy heritage,” they answered with holy emotion. “Go away! Go away”, they called out, “It is better for us to be a pure sacrifice as an offering of a lamb rather than joining in the heritage of strangers.” The martyr Reb Yisrael was taken out first to be slaughtered, as he sanctified the name of G-d. As his soul departed with the word “Echad”[3], his friend Reb Tovia said, “Happy are you, oh Israel! And it is good for you.” The holy tongue of Reb Yisrael seemed to be answering Reb Tovia as it was licking the dust, “Your lot will also be for life, my friend! Let us go to the life of the World to Come.”

Fathers will tell their sons, the elders of our city will relate to us that after these martyrs were murdered, high government officials arrived to save their lives. However, this was not the will of G-d, for dear to G-d is the death of his holy ones[4], and the decree had already emanated forth from Him, that they should accept upon themselves the judgment. The Rider of the Heavens[5] rejoiced and was glad when the souls of these holy Tzadikim came to cleave with Him, and to grant merit to their children after them and all the residents of the city, whom they would protect with their righteousness.

After these things, the rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Shimon the son of the holy martyr Yisrael, may G-d avenge his blood, formulated the text of a selicha (penitential prayer) to be recited in the synagogues of Ruzhany annually on Yom Kippur, and he formulated a memorial prayer for the souls of the martyrs that should be recited every year on the days that the memorial service (Yizkor) is recited. To this day, the residents of Ruzhany follow this custom in the Beis Midrash Lecha'k Gachsh'a and in the Beis Midrash of Rabbi Gershon. the descendent of the holy martyrs, may their merit stand before us to save the Jewish people from all disasters, until G-d resurrects the dead, rebuilds the Temple, and the redeemer comes to Zion.

The Selicha for the Martyrs

(According to the book “Daat Kedoshim”. The Selicha was written on a parchment in Hebrew writing and is stored in the Beis Midrash of Ruzhany.
It was a donation of the leader Yosef the son of Tzvi of holy blessed memory in the year 5484 (1724) in Ruzhany [6])

There was a false libel on our holy community of Ruzhany, and two righteous, pure men were singled out for death. They went to their deaths for the benefit of the general community. They are Reb Yisrael and Reb Tovia, who gave their lives at the hands of the officers on the eve of the Sabbath, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, 5420. Let their souls be bound in the bonds of eternal life with the souls of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and let G-d Almighty put an end to our tribulations, as they promised us when they were still alive that they would pray to G-d that there would be no more libels against our community after their deaths. We recite this Selicha on Musaf of Yom Kippur after the Selicha of “Elokim al dami ledami”, and before the Selicha of “Emunei Shlomei Yisrael”, in memory of their sacrifice, with weeping and broken hearts. May their prayers and ours be accepted with mercy and grace, may their be no more pillage in our borders, and may we quickly merit the coming of our Messiah. May their merit stand before us and our children forever. Amen.

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… Forgive us our Father [7]
For we have erred through our great foolishness
Pardon us our King, for our sins are many.
Our G-d, You are slow to anger, and you have been called the Master of Mercy
You have taught us path to repentance
The greatness of your mercy and goodness
You should remember this day and every day for the children of your close ones.
Turn to us with mercy, for You are the Master of Mercy
We have come before You with supplication and prayer
As you have showed to the humble one (Moses) in times of yore.
Recant your angry wrath
As is written in Your Torah
Let us dwell and be protected in the shade of Your wings
As on the day that G-d came down in a cloud.
Overlook rebellion and wipe out our guilt
As on the day that You stood with him there.
Harken to our prayer and listen to our statements
As on the day that You called out in the name of G-d, as is said there:

And G-d passed before his face and called out: G-d, G-D, a G-d of mercy and compassion, slow to anger and full of mercy and truth. Guarding goodness for thousands of generations, wiping out rebellion, sin and transgression, and forgiving. Please forgive our sins and iniquities, and make us Your inheritance. Forgive us our Father for we have sinned. Pardon us our King, for we have rebelled. For you are a good and forgiving G-d, with much mercy to everyone who calls out to You.

For How long, our G-d, will you forget us forever? For how long will You hide your face from us? Will You, G-d be angry forever, and will the wrath of Your jealousy burn like fire? Arise oh G-d, do not let a man be brazen, that the nations shall judge before you. Arise oh G-d in your wrath, wipe away my enemies. Let the nations witness the vengeance of the spilled blood of Your servants.

As a father is merciful to his children, so may G-d be merciful upon us. To G-d is salvation, Your blessing is upon your people, Selah. G-d of Hosts is with us, the G-d of Jacob is our fortress, Selah. Happy is the person who trust in You, oh G-d of Hosts. G-d saves the king who answers us on the day that we call to him.

Please forgive the sins of this nation, in accordance with Your great kindness, just as you bore this nation from Egypt until now. And there it says: And G-d said, I have forgiven according to your request..

My G-d, turn Your ear and hear, open Your eyes and see our desolation, and the desolation of the city which is called after Your name. For we do not fall before you in supplication due to our own righteousness, bur rather due to Your great mercy. G-d listen, G-d heed, act and do not delay, for your sake my G-d, for Your name is called upon Your city and your nation.

Oh G-d and G-d of our fathers

For how long, our G-d, will You forget us forever? For how long will You hide your face from us? Will you, G-d be angry forever, and will your wrath of your jealousy burn like fire? Arise oh G-d, do not let a man be brazen, that the nations shall judge before you. Arise oh G-d in your wrath, wipe away my enemies. Let the nations witness the vengeance of the spilled blood of Your servants.

As a father is merciful, etc.

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Please, Master of the World [8]
Who acted in days of yore as a warning for the nations.
And now you have hidden your face, and we are dumbfounded and embarrassed.
How great are the troubles that came upon me.
In the year of “My pain is afflicting my heart” (5417)
My enemies around me arose
The laid a trap for me, a false accusation to annihilate my good ones
Is there any pain like my pain?
They took hold of dead bodies
Made incisions on their flesh and spoke evil:
Behold the miserable Jews are drinking the blood of the fallen ones, they juice it out and spill it
And satisfy themselves with the children of the gentiles.
This evil matter dragged out for three years,
We have said that we had a reprieve
For the days dragged on and the anger of our enemies was assuaged.
And then a dark pall fell.
Behold, our enemies judge us, and evil burned in the wicked enemy,
With him was a group of friends, wild beasts and pigs of the forest.
After three years, they came suddenly like a storm
The enemies were going to wreak judgment in the gate
The took council together on the week before Rosh Hashanah
The evil ones made a mockery out of justice.
They judged a crooked and perverted judgment, of which there never was the like
The ears of everyone who hears it will ring.
The evil, wicked wanton one
Judged according to what he saw, without witnesses, without rebellion and without treachery [9]
To cause us to drink the cup of poison,
To spill innocent, righteous blood of those who did no wrong.
The band of wicked ones concluded their perverted judgment.
And said to our enemies who rose up against us:
Choose two Jews who are fitting in their eyes.
They took the people that they chose.
Two good people were caught in the snare,
The martyrs Rabbi Yisrael and Rabbi Tovia were selected from the community.
These men saw the decree of the sharp sword.
Their hands were bound one to the other in their pleasant and beloved lives.
And they swore that their lot in life will be the same

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They were strong, fortified their hearts and offered to be the sacrifices with a joyous heart.
And we were in our eyes like grasshoppers
I will be with you as a sacrifice to G-d, which we will make ourselves.
We will not have mercy upon nor concern ourselves with our bodies.
It is a small thing in our eyes to be the lamb,
And we will dwell under the wings of G-d.
They talked to each other in their house of imprisonment
To strengthen their hearts they girded themselves.
The prepared their souls to die in sanctification of the Divine Name.
Your friends, Oh G-d, how dear are they.
You who are dear in my eye, honored, my brother, my friend, my dear one,
Is your heart the same as mine,
A strong, brave heart like a lion,
See if there is any sadness in me.
They gave themselves over to be killed, and the martyrs took out the two staves of the ark
On Friday they prepared a slaughter, like young sheep.
The anger of G-d went out in wrath and indignation,
And G-d was zealous about the evil in the year of SHLAMIM on the Day of Memorial [10].
The bitterness of death came on the streets of the city.
People gathered together and said, “We have sinned to G-d, and this is its fruits”.
They sanctified the name of G-d like Chanania, Mishael and Azaria [11],
No created being had ever seen such a thing.
Everybody said to the captain: Spare us the sword for a bit,
So that we will have about an hour of respite,
And dedicate it to holiness and praise.
G-d dedicated those who call to Him, G-d prepared a sacrifice.
The mouth of the Tzadik shall speak, in place of offering bullocks,
It shall be dearer to G-d than precious sheep.
Let us fall into Your hands, the Creator of the mountains,
And do not give the soul of Your righteous ones into the hands of strangers.
The martyrs accepted their fate before the G-d of the heavens.
We are being killed for Your sake as young kids and goats
Place our tears in your flask.
And protect our children, the descendents of holy ones.
The martyr Yisrael was the first to stretch forth his neck, and he did not face the monster.
He shouted out Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu with his whole soul, with love.
The captain put forth his hand that was holding the blade.
And the golden bowl was shattered [12].
See how the martyr Tovia cried out as he was slaughtered: Fortunate are you oh Yisrael, fortunate are you,
For you preceded me in leaving the flock of your friends

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And were the first to enter the light, and I will follow after you.
He also cried out loudly
Shema Yisrael, who protected me like the apple of his eye.
He hastened to sanctify the Divine Name, and was slaughtered like the first one.
These pure peace offerings
The angels shouted out and wailed
Two olive branches were cut off together, alas.
And turned into naught within a moment.
Take note, oh heavens, and call out to the Dweller on High,
About the innocent blood of the Tzadikim who did no wrong,
Which was spilled in a false and deceitful libel
And we do not know the reason.
From the beginning of the libel, our dear ones and our possessions
Were always pillaged by our enemies, as refuse.
Our energy has been exhausted and our money used up,
And their appearance is as bad as it was in the beginning.
About these things we must call out and raise an outcry.
The young people of Israel have been brought low.
G-d is a G-d of vengeance, oh G-d of vengeance appear.
And return them seventyfold into their bosom.
Give them fully what they deserve,
And repay them for what they did on the day of vengeance.
G-d, do not answer us empty-handed.
Take vengeance before our eyes for the blood of your servants that was spilled like a bullock.
And let the land not cover it up.
In the community of the holy and faithful ones, faith flutters about, filled with innumerable corpses.
Our martyred friends Reb Yisrael and Reb Tovia together like two twin gazelles
They are together above among the elevated ones.
The council is great and deeds are mighty
Remember us for good, oh mighty G-d, of mighty deeds
The merit of the martyrs should be a forgiveness and atonement for us.
And hasten our salvation and redemption,
Harken to us oh G-d of Jacob, Selah.
Bring near the vision of Your seers, and let the house of Joseph be a flame,
And let the golden city shine bright
Restore Your city of Zion according to Your will.
Bring us back oh G-d to You, and we will return

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Martyrs tomb
In the book “Daat Kedoshim” it is written:

“The graves of the martyrs were surrounded with a wall from ancient times. When they were about to fall and the inscription on the walls can no longer be made out, holy people headed by the renowned Gaon Moshe Aryeh Leib Friedland of Peterburg, arose themselves to re-erect it upon its ruins. The following words are written upon it:

ruz017.jpg [30 KB] - Grave of the martyrs in the Ruzhany Cemetery
Grave of the martyrs in the Ruzhany Cemetery

The inscription on it is as follows:

The Wall of the Daughter of Zion
For the holy and pure soul, our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi
Yisrael the son of the scholar Reb Shalom
And the holy and pure Tovia the son of Rabbi Yosef Shlomo of holy blessed memory
Whose blood was spilled in a libel on Friday
Rosh Hashanah, the year SHLAMIM
May their merit stand for their children and descendents forever
We have renovated and restored this monument in the year
It shall be only good for Israel [13]

Descendents of the Martyrs

In the book “Daat Kedoshim”, the names of the descendents of the martyr Yisrael are listed up to the seventh generation, and of the martyr Tovia up to the eighth generation. These included communal leaders and Torah giants in Ruzhany and other cities. In our book, we will only list the first generation of the aforementioned martyrs.

Zakheim Family

The generations of the holy Rabbi Yisrael may G-d avenge his blood, the son of Reb Shalom of holy blessed memory. The first generation of the martyr Reb Yisrael consists of three sons:

a) the famous Gaon Rabbi Menachem Nachum Za'k the head of the rabbinical court of Pila and Pluck.

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b) The great rabbi, Rabbi Shimon of holy blessed memory. He authored the Selicha and memorial prayer for the martyrs that are transcribed above. His name is included as an acrostic in the heads of the stanzas. He was the leader of the Ruzhany community. He also sat in Torah judgments with the rabbis of Brisk and Ruzhany. He signed together with them in Registry I of the community of Ruzhany in the year 5437 (1677). There is more…
c) The famous rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Shalom of holy blessed memory, the head of the rabbinical court of Birz and the region in the Zamut province.

The Bachrach Family

The generations of the holy rabbi Rabbi Tovia may G-d avenge his blood the son of Rabbi Yosef Shlomo of holy blessed memory Bachrach. The first generation of the martyr Tovia consists of two sons and one daughter:

a) The Rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Talma of holy blessed memory Bachrach, the head of the rabbinical court of Tiktyn.
b) Rabbi Natan Nota of holy blessed memory Bachrach of Tiktyn.
c) The wealthy woman Yocheved of blessed memory. In the ledgers of Ruzhany it is written that during her illness prior to hear death in the year 5447 (1687), she commanded that a fund be set up in the community of Ruzhany with the income being used to finance the weddings of the children of her relatives.

The Martyrs of Ruzhany

(From the book “Neshamot Yisrael”)

The community of Ruzhany takes an honorable place in the annals of blood libels against the Jews. The famous blood libel lasted for several years there after the decrees of Ta'ch ve Ta't [1], or the Chmielnicki tribulations. That blood libel left a very deep mark up on the souls of the Jews of Ruzhany, to the point that even now, several hundred years later, the Jews from there speak about it as if it took place to them yesterday. Descendents of those martyrs who took it upon themselves to be the sacrifices for the community still live in Ruzhany. The townsfolk surround them with honor. In their family, the gloomy legend of the deeds that took place still lives on to such an extent that when you hear it here, in the house that stands silently on the place where the martyrs lived, it seems to you as if all of those events are literally taking place to you and to the descendents who are telling you that terrifying historical legend.

I tell about this as I have heard it here in Ruzhany from the descendents of the martyrs and the elders of the town. I have checked the facts in the old ledgers in which echoes of the blood libel in Ruzhany are collected. Political roots are recognizable in the blood libel of Ruzhany more than in the other blood libels of that unfortunate period.

That time which preceded the tribulations of Ta'ch ve Ta't was one of the bright periods in the life of Polish Jewry, who lived under the shadow of the protection of the kings and powerful leaders of Poland.

The renowned King Kazimierz occupied the throne of Poland at that time. He was favorably inclined to the Jews, and according to legend, he had a Jewish girlfriend, Estherka. Ruzhany was then owned by Duke Sapieha, who, like King Kazimierz also related favorably to the Jews under his rule.

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According to the old ledgers, in those days Ruzhany was a city filled with scholars and scribes whose leaders were Reb Tovia and Reb Shmuel Bachrach, who both came from outside, one from Koblenz and the other from Vienna. It is possible that Duke Sapieha brought them there himself, wanting to develop commerce in his domain. In any case, they did not come as uninvited guests, for the duke granted them complete rights of citizenship. They built fine houses for themselves in the heart of the city. Their business expanded in the land; they became wealthy and saw good. Aside from their wealth, they were great in Torah and generous in charitable deeds. They educated their children and raised them in Torah and good character. Before long, the name of these two men spread through the land, and the greats of the generation bound their families to them with marriage.

These words testify to the general status of the wealthy and middle class among the Jews of Poland of that time. Enlightened Jews such as Reb Tovia and Reb Yisrael Bachrach, who had large-scale business dealings with the highest class people in the Land of Poland, had a great cultural influence upon the magnates and noblemen. This aroused the wrath of the Jesuits, who did not have great power during the days of King Kazimierz.

The Jesuits did not have the power to openly complain to the king and the powerful magnates. First they put their heart into breaking the power of the court Jews. It was easy to incite the Polish masses, who were prone to be seduced to nonsense, against such people. Thus began the weaving of the threads of the Ruzhany blood libel, through which the Jesuits hoped to build themselves up. A great deal of planning took place in their camp.

The ancient ledger of the community of Ruzhany relates that on one dark night before the holiday of Passover, a dead Christian lad was cast into the cellar of Reb Yisrael. The body of the child was cut in many places. The next day, a large crowd of Poles fell upon the house and shouted that the Jews took the blood of the lad for the matzos that they eat on Passover. Many Jews were bound in fetters and cast into a dark prison. The court case lasted for three years, and the city was in a state of siege throughout that entire time. In the meantime, the Jesuits sowed the poison of hatred amongst the masses, and their power over them increased greatly. It seemed that the magnates as well as the King himself, who certainly did not believe the blood libel, were not able to stand up to this. A great danger hovered over the imprisoned Jews as well as the communal leaders. Their lives hung in the balance, and along with them, the entire Jewish population of Poland was in danger. The Jesuits intentionally dragged out the conclusion of the judgment, in order to increase the anger of the masses. The Jews were plundered of their money. The ledger writes that the blood libel cost the Jews 15,990 zloty. Nevertheless, they were unable to obtain a proper judgment. They finally attained only one thing – that the case not be put off any longer. However, the Jesuits insisted that the judges be only farmers from the area of Ruzhany – that is, people from the group who were already completely dominated by them.

Of course, the guilt of the accused was not proven during the court proceedings; however this did not prevent the judges from issuing a verdict of a death sentence. The words of the judges were as follows: “Since the true guilty people were not identified, but the lad had without doubt been slaughtered by the Jews, we have decided that two people selected by the community should be taken out to be killed for the sin of the entire community.”

Reb Yisrael and Reb Tovia willingly accepted upon themselves to be the sacrifices for their community. The ledger writes that the verdict was carried out on Friday, the eve of Rosh Hashanah[14]. The martyrs recited the confession, poured out their prayers to G-d, and then exposed their necks to the executioner.

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A great, dark pall fell upon all of those assembled. The judges wished to have mercy on them if they would join the Catholic faith, “a religion of love and forgiveness,” but the tortured martyrs pushed off this offer with the fortitude of their souls.

Legend states that the elderly mother of one of the martyrs approached the king and received a royal decree from him to annul the decree of the accused and to set them free. On the way back, she stopped in the synagogue to hear the kedusha. The opportunity was lost during those few moments. She brought the royal decree after the verdict had been executed.

Reb Tovia was the first to be put to death. Legend has it that his severed head did not immediately fall to the ground, but rather circled for some time in the air. When the head of the second martyr went under the axe, Reb Tovia's head called out, “Fortunate are you, Yisrael!”

This did not satisfy the thirst of the Jesuits for Jewish blood. The elders of Ruzhany relate that after some time, they wished to recycle the blood libel before the holiday of Passover. However, that night, the sleep of the duke eluded him. As he was tossing and turning in his bed, he heard the sound of the crowd. He sent his servants to see what was going on outside. The servants returned and told him that several people are carrying something in a sack and tossing it into the cellar of a Jew. The next day, a crowd gathered just like during the first blood libel. However, this time, the duke demanded an exacting trial. During the trial, the servants turned the lies of the false witnesses upon their heads. The witnesses suffered the same verdict that they had intended for the Jews.

There is no doubt that this legend has some basis in fact. The Jews, who knew the feelings in the hearts of the incited farmers, had suspected for many years that a libel might be perpetrated during the timeframe of Passover. Every night of the timeframe leading up to Passover as well as the nights of the holiday itself were literally “nights of watching” for the unfortunate community[15]. The Jews were diligent to preempt the evil and the set up guards, apparently with the knowledge of the duke, who for the most part acted as a protector for the Jews against the hatred of the Jesuits and the farmers. Therefore it is hard to believe that the situation was as it was told in the aforementioned legend.

The residents of the town relate another legend – that not one of the descendents of the judges who sentenced Reb Tovia and Reb Yisrael to death died a natural death. They live near the bounds of the city, and all of the Jews of Ruzhany know them. To this day, the grandchildren of the martyrs relate to grandchildren of the executioners with feelings of anger and hatred. Feelings of unfulfilled revenge fill the hearts of all the Jews of the community of Ruzhany when they see the descendents of the executioners in the marketplace.

Apparently, the feelings of revenge in the tormented souls of the Jews of Ruzhany were forgotten completely only this year[16]. The great-grandchild of the martyr Reb Yisrael told me that this past Yom Kippur during the time of the recitation of the memorial for the souls of the martyrs, someone slinked into the synagogue and said that a gentile who wished to slaughter his pig plunged the knife into his own heart and died. It was quickly established that the gentile who stabbed himself was the last descendent of the judges of the martyrs[17].

Thus are the words of legend and the words of fact intertwined together in the mouths of the Jews of Ruzhany. The mournfulness of the decrees of Ta'ch some 250 years ago is still hanging in the atmosphere as dark clouds and heavy, angry shadows spread over every soul.

A. Leviathan


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Gezerot Ta'ch ve Ta't (the tribulations of 5408 / 5409) refer to the Chmielnicky uprising, and the massive destruction of Jewish communities that came in its wake. return
  2. Jehoshaphat was a king of the kingdom of Judah. His name means 'G-d judges', and in the Book of Joel, 3:2, the Valley of Jehoshaphat is mentioned as a place of judgment. return
  3. The last word of the first line of the Shema, “Hear oh Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is one.” return
  4. See Psalms 116:15. return
  5. A mystical term for G-d. return
  6. The year is spelled out with a verse from Genesis, “And G-d was with Joseph, and he was a successful man.” return
  7. The entire text of page 13 is the generic text of the Selichot service, that is used for any occasion during the year when Selichot is recited. I believe it is included here for completeness. I have translated it freehand, from my own knowledge, although I did consult the ArtScroll Siddur and the Birnbaum High Holy Day Machzor to compare with their translations. The entire text is generic on this page, except for the paragraph (repeated twice) “For How Long…,” which is a medley of Biblical verses. This is also standard in Selichot services, where a different medley of verses, depending on the occasion, is added at this point. The author of this Selichot service evidently chose to add in verses that deal with revenge for martyrdom. Starting on page 14, the Selicha text is unique. return
  8. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: Formulated according to alphabet, with the signature at the end of Shimon Chazak. Printed, with some variations, from the parchment manuscript that is found in the manuscript collection of Rabbi Moshe Aryeh Leib Friedland. return
  9. This line is curious – I expect that it means the opposite of what is says (i.e. is meant to be sarcasm). return
  10. Rosh Hashanah is known in the liturgy and in the Torah as the Day of Memorial. return
  11. The names of the three friends of the biblical Daniel who were thrown into the fiery furnace. return
  12. Kohelet 12:6. return
  13. Tears are often noted on monuments in a cryptic form based on verses and words. SHLAMIM is equivalent to 5420 / 1659. The year of restoration is equivalent to 5635 / 1875. return
  14. According to all other sources in this chapter, this was on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. return
  15. The night of Passover is known as “Leil Shimurim”, a night of watching, based on Exodus 12:42. return
  16. There is a footnote in the text here: “This article was written in the year 5672 / 1912”. return
  17. Mr. Abba Leviathan clearly recalls the day that the gentile, the final descendent of the judges of the martyrs, killed himself, as is related here – the editor. return

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