publisher colophon

149. Seal of Jekuthiel Son of Bienush/Kussiel

Dimensions: unknown.

Location: Wroclaw City Archives, Document V 128.*

Bibliography: Brann, 1901.

The document to which this seal is attached is intriguing in form and content. The information which follows was published by Brann at the turn of the century as part of his series dealing with the history of the Jews of Silesia. The German subtitle of this document is “oath to keep the peace of the Jew Kussiel done on Monday the 5th of Nissan 5195 = 4th of April 1435”; the subtitle notes parenthetically that the original parchment is damaged by mice. The document is written in old German in Hebrew letters, making it the sole example this writer has seen of a medieval legal document sealed by a Jew in a Yiddish prototype.

Brann prints the text in Hebrew characters and then adds a modified translation in old German. An attempt at a literal translation, though admittedly the complete sense is lost at times, would read as follows:

On the Wednesday before the Jewish Sunday Kussiel appeared and willingly affixed without force, swearing by his highest Jewish oath with fingers held upright toward the sun, concerning the accusation he had against the city [Breslau] and ourself, that the city and we all had to answer to and we had to excuse ourself before the king of Poland, his noblemen and advisors, where this had happened, and any other similar ecclesiastic and secular [persons], wherever he thought to harm us and further, never to accuse us of such things either secretly or publicly through him or his friends or anybody else, but only to do good, and he has agreed not to break this [accord] and . . . otherwise will be at loss of life and goods.

To affirm this I have attached my Hebrew seal. Breslau, first Monday of Nissan of the year [5] 195 after the creation of all creatures.

Of course, we have no seal on this transcript. No response was received from the Wroclaw City Archives as to the question of whether the seal still exists on the original document.

To understand the context of this document, one must briefly review the early history of the city of Breslau and the position of the Jews there. Breslau, in lower Silesia, was from the beginning an important market center, situated on the banks of the Oder at a point where the river breaks into several navigable arms. The town developed as a depot for river traffic and, like Frankfort on the Main, became famous for its fairs. The seat of a bishopric from the eleventh century, Breslau was part of Poland until 1163, when it became an independent duchy with nominal allegiance to the Holy Roman Empire. However, after the last duke died in 1335, the city was purchased by King John of Bohemia, whose successors retained it until about 1460. Poland was not formally part of the Empire, and Bohemia, as a separate kingdom of non-German-speaking people, had a rather distinct character within it. Thus, Breslau was a point of convergence for these different political bodies and in fact changed allegiances several times over the two-hundred-year period from 1335 to 1526.

Breslau was also an orthodox and pious Roman Catholic city and a center of opposition to the Hussite movement in Bohemia. Anti-Jewish feeling was likewise strong. The Jews were expelled in 1319, 1349, and 1360. The fanatic Franciscan John of Capistrano preached there in 1453, accusing the Jews of desecrating the Host. As a result of the ensuing riots, forty-one Jews were burned at the stake and the rest expelled again. An imperial privilege was given to Breslau in the latter part of the fifteenth century permitting the city to exclude all Jews except those visiting the fairs, a ban that stayed in force until the eighteenth century—though the Schutzjuden, or “protected Jews,” got around the prohibition.

This is the climate which is reflected in the Jekuthiel document. Despite the garbled section, the meaning seems clear. Jekuthiel, called Kussiel by the Christians, had favored status under the neighboring Polish king. Accused by the city of Breslau of some misdeed, or perhaps prohibited by the municipality from doing business, he had counterattacked and had in turn made accusations against the city fathers. This document “to keep the peace,” as stated by the subtitle, is the record of an accord between Kussiel and a representative of the municipality whereby he no longer holds a claim against the city, backed by his influence with the Polish king, in return for an understanding that he will be treated with equity and respond in kind.

The document is enlivened by the curious phrase that Kussiel affirmed his testimony, “swearing by his highest Jewish oath with fingers held upright toward the sun.” Such customs must have been common, for in a similar pledge made by a Jew a century earlier at Liechtenstein, Isaac of Vienna is recorded as swearing by his right eye. (We will never know whether Kussiel was one of the forty-one Jews burned eighteen years later.)


*Brann’s original Breslau number.

This translation is mainly based on Brann’s German text. In the Hebrew, the true name is given, Jekuthiel son of Bienush.

*Brann’s original Breslau number.

This translation is mainly based on Brann’s German text. In the Hebrew, the true name is given, Jekuthiel son of Bienush.

Location: Wroclaw City Archives, Document V 128.*

On the Wednesday before the Jewish Sunday Kussiel appeared and willingly affixed without force, swearing by his highest Jewish oath with fingers held upright toward the sun, concerning the accusation he had against the city [Breslau] and ourself, that the city and we all had to answer to and we had to excuse ourself before the king of Poland, his noblemen and advisors, where this had happened, and any other similar ecclesiastic and secular [persons], wherever he thought to harm us and further, never to accuse us of such things either secretly or publicly through him or his friends or anybody else, but only to do good, and he has agreed not to break this [accord] and . . . otherwise will be at loss of life and goods.

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
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