Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Rosenwasser
Pre-Crusade Piyutim: History or Hyperbole
The two פיוטים which are recited in communities which follow מנהג אשכנז during the first two שבתות following י"ז בתמוז were composed by two of the leading rabbinic figures in pre-crusade Ashkenaz, ר' שמעון בר יצחק הגדול and ר' יוסף בן שמואל טוב עלם and represent the two most important subdivisions of that Jewry, France and Germany. Both פיוטים are recited during less than joyful periods in the Jewish calendar, and both bemoan the trials and tribulations associated with life as a Jew in a backward, closed-minded, religiously intolerant Christian world.
I would like to provide some background by examining the historical setting in which the פיוט אל אל חי ארנן by ר' שמעון הגדולwas composed. Then I will note oblique references in the פיוט to historical events or conditions, and attempt to determine whether these represent typological references to a generally miserable situation, or whether they refer to specific events.
II A Brief History of Anti-Semitism in Germany after Charlemagne
Robert Chazan notes the paucity of data for Christendom in the 11th century. So any attempt to reconstruct events and situations pertaining to the 10th or 11th Centuries in Europe must by its very nature, be dependent on fragments of information culled from dispersed sources.
Jews lived peacefully in the united empire of Charlemagne, and also following his death and the split of his kingdom into Germany and France. Royal Germany adhered more to the Carolingian tradition of protecting the Jews than did France. At the same time it respected feudal rights, so Jews were often ceded or gifted to the local bishop as in Magdeburg, or in Meresburg, where King Otto II himself made the gift in 982. Nevertheless, these rights were only related to taxation, while in other matters the king remained the Jews' protector.
With the turn of the first millennium, the Church became more powerful at the expense of the king, as a result of the conversion of the Magyars in the year 1000 and the remaining European pagans soon thereafter, and the Cluny reforms which deprived the king of an important source of income by placing the monasteries under the rule of the pope (and not the king or local count). Furthermore, the formation of viable towns and the ascension and organization of the Burghers who resided there, reduced the usefulness of Jews. Christians could find other good Christians who could swear on the same bible to supply them with imports and crafts. They were no longer dependent on the Jews for trading, and this presaged Jews' entry into money lending and other economically and socially undesirable occupations. Also, the Burghers, unlike the king and the Church, were not restrained by the theological and traditional canons of limited tolerance of the Jews. Thus anti-Jewish edicts became more palatable and they bore with them some notable economic gain to the populace and the nobility. Finally, despite the attempts of Otto the Great to retain control of the Church by appointing bishops in Germany, thus making the religious hierarchy subservient to himself, and the bishops royal officials, the Church's influence in temporal matters inexorably increased.
As in France, anti-Semitism originated with the Church. Undoubtedly, the fulminations of Agobard and Amolo, the fiercely anti-Semitic 9th Century bishops of Lyons, had repercussions in Germany, where their ideas were echoed and expanded by local priests and found fertile ground among the serfs and burghers who heard their sermons, if not among the Jews.
Archbishop Fredrick of Mainz (937-938) contemplated expulsion of the Jews, and consulted Pope Leo VII who advised him to expel only Jews who refused to be baptized, and to read from the gospel to the Jews in their synagogues. Baron points out that Pope Leo VII recognized that under cannon law forced baptisms with the alternative of death were null and void, and the Church could do nothing to prevent backsliders. Therefore he advised Fredrick to give the Jews the choice of expulsion or baptism, effectively amounting to forced expulsion. This Fredrick also sought economic means to pressure Jews to convert. Petrus, doge of Venice, 932-936, wrote him advising him to forbid Jews from dealing in any item (coins and textiles included) which bore the sign of the cross. In 945 Doge Arso forbade Venetian ships from carrying Jewish merchants, and in 995 Jewish goods were forbidden on Venetian ships. These restrictions undoubtedly forced many Jews into penury.
Towards the end of the 10th century we find Burchard, bishop of Worms, also proposing to force Jews to attend Church services in order to induce them to convert.
In the wake of the conversion of Wecelinus, chaplain to Duke Conrad, who was a relative of Emperor Henry II of Germany, the latter decreed that the Jews should be expelled from Mayence in 1012. "The decree was probably not confined to Mayence, but applied to other communities. ר' שמעון בר יצחק composed selichos lamenting the expulsion, as though it were a terrible persecution, intended to uproot Judaism from the hearts of its followers". רבנו גרשם מאור הגולה too (ר' שמעון's friend and neighbor in Mainz) gave utterance to his grief at the severe persecutions of Henry II in selichos. "Thy people are driven from their homes" etc. R Shimon, probably by bribing the officials with large sums of money, succeeded in staying the persecution and even in obtaining permission for the Jews to resettle in Mayence after two years. For this and similar related accomplishments, ר' שמעון is noted as one of the five main rabbinic leaders of Rhineland Jewry, and his name was mentioned for centuries later each שבת, as the one who "exerted himself for the communities, and enlightened the eyes of the diaspora with his liturgical poems, and abolished edicts". Baron believes that the expulsion order was the result of the desecration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by Caliph Hakim, allegedly with the aid and upon the advice of the Jews. Annales Quedlinburgenses also contains a brief passage noting the expulsion of the Jews from Mayence in 1012.
Finally, during the lives of רבנו גרשם and ר' שמעון הגדול there were many anti-Semitic incidents, many too insignificant to warrant mention in either Jewish or Christian chronicles. For example רבנו גרשם's responsum regarding Jews who went to a fair, and when they returned to their homes, found them ransacked. Grossman also notes that there were many incidents of kidnapping for ransom. He also notes that a שאלה by ר' שמעון addressed to רבנו משלם (presumably when the latter was still in Italy) contains a litany bemoaning the difficulty of the גלות and a prayer for redemption. Likewise the first 50 lines of ר' שמעון's responsum to the community of Constantinople expresses the woes of the גלות in extensive and graphic detail. Grossman also notes that great pressure was exerted on Jews to convert.
III The זולת as an Art Form with a Unique Character and Theme
ר' שמעון הגדול was a prolific פייטן who composed פיוטים for many occasions and for a variety of תפילות. For European פייטנים (Southern Italy, Germany and France) זולתות assumed a melancholy and wistful character. Even זולתות for joyful occasions, such as אי פתרוס (by ר' שמעון הגדול for the 7th and 8th days of פסח) have prayerful and solemn conclusions. Generally, a central theme of these European זולתות is to contrast the state of Jews now, with that of יציאת מצרים, and to offer hope that G-d will once again reinstate our exalted status. Sometimes, the burden of גזירות was so overwhelming that פייטנים composed mournful זולתות for even semi-festive occasions. An example is אחשבה לדעת, by ר' שלמה הבבלי recited on שבת בראשית (מנהג אשכנז ופולין). This פיוט is replete with anguish as the פייטן bemoans our unfair treatment at the hands of Christian neighbors and the Byzantine regime. The זולתות for the הפסקות (Sabbaths intervening the ארבע פרשיות) are likewise mournful and melancholy, despite their being recited at a joyful time.
It is common belief among scholars of פיוט that prior to the Crusades, פיוטים were not recited during the weeks between פסח and שבועות (with the possible exception of the שבת following פסח, which was called שבת ויושע) or during בין המצרים, and that the custom to recite פיוטים on these occasions began at or near the time of the crusades. How is it that many of the פיוטים recited during these periods, both in מ"א and in מ"פ (for example, the פיוטים by ר' שמעון הגדול and ר' יוסף טוב עלם) were composed by authors who died well before the first Crusade? I believe that the פייטנים had written many "general purpose" אופנים, אהבות, מאורות וזולתות which have no special connection to any particular Torah selection or special occasion (The גוף היוצר is always clearly connected to the special occasion). In this approach, they followed ר' אלעזר הקליר, whose זולתות for פרשת זכור, פרה והחודש do not have any clear connection to these occasions. That is why an אופן like לבעל התפארת by ר' בנימין ב"ר זרח could serve equally well for the third שבת of the sefira (מ"פ), שבת בראשית (מ"א) and אחרון של פסח. These "general purpose" פיוטים conformed to their traditional theme. אופנים were majestic and heraldic, and זולתות doleful and introspective. When the community leaders in Germany and France decided to institute פיוטים for the שבתות of the Sefira and בין המצרים, they found a large body of appropriate liturgy available, and selections from this paytanic literature were assigned to the various שבתות of this period. Subsequently, פייטנים added to this body of liturgical poems by composing פיוטים especially for these occasions. In this manner, the זולתות for the second and third weeks of the sefira according to מ"פ (אל א-ל חי ארנן, אריות הדיחו) are the זולתות for the first two weeks of בין המצרים according to מ"א. It is one of these two זולתות which I explain in the accompanying Hebrew article.
In the wake of the crusades, the rabbinic leadership in Germany instituted the recitation of mournful זולתות (but, except for the שבת preceding שבועות, no other פיוטים) during the 5 weeks between ר"ח אייר and שבועות and בין המצרים. Fleischer believes that זולתות were chosen as the venue for this unhappy task, because of their generally melancholy and prayerful character. In several manuscripts, this series of זולתות (including those for בין המצרים) is called זולתות הגזירה and the שבתות during which they are recited are called שבתות הגזירה. The פיוטים (אהבה and זולת) recited on the שבת preceding שבועות (when the massacres reached their peak intensity) are the same as the פיוטים recited on the שבת preceding Tish'a B'av, and clearly refer to the tribulations of the first Crusade.
The rabbinic leadership in France, less directly affected by the crusades, instituted the recitation of full מערכות יוצר for each of these weeks (but see below). These were structured like other מערכות יוצר where the גוף היוצר is positive, optimistic, and even festive, and the אופןexalts G-d and the angels who herald Him. However the other elements of the מערכת יוצר, the מאורה, אהבה, זולת, גאולה are invariably melancholy, doleful, and prayerful. As in מנהג אשכנז, the זולת for the שבת before שבועות is an elegy for the sufferings of the First Crusade. שו"ת שיח יצחק (סי' רלא) cites theלבוש (או"ח סי' תצג ס"ק ד) as follows:
שבת הראשון שאחר הפסח אומרים יוצר ויושע אור ישראל אופן ארוגי מעוז, וי"א אראלים וחשמלים זולת אין כמוך גאולה שבויה עניה, וכן בכל שבתות שבין פסח לעצרת אומרים יוצרות המדברים מענין הגאולה, ומתאוננים בזמן הזה אחר זכרון גאולת מצרים על הגלות ועל הצרות שיש לנו עכשיו בין העמים, שיגאלנו מהרה, ומזכירין כל הגזירות שהיו באילו המדינות ובמדינת אשכנז, מפני שבעוונותינו כולם או רובם היו בזמן הזה. לכך אנו מתפללים להשי"ת שיזכיר זכותם וכימי מצרים יראנו נפלאות. וכו' והנה מנהג העיר פה וברוב המקומות פה כמנהגי ר' אייזיק טירנא, שלא לומר יוצר ואופן באלו השבתות, ולענ"ד הטעם יען הריגת צדיקים בימים אלה וכן גזירת הקהילות ובימים מקדם מיתת תלמידי ר' עקיבא, אין שמחה שלימה למעלה, ע"כ נמנעו מלאומרם וכו' ורק בשבת ראשון שאחר הפסח, משום דשייך עוד ליו"ט כמו שתיקנו קדמונינו ג"כ יוצר לשבת אחר שבועות, וכמ"כ לשבת בראשית לפי שהשבתות האלו כעין אסרו חג, אומרים ג"כ יוצר ואופן, וכמו כן בשבת שלפני שבועות אף שהיתה חימה עזה אז, ולבני אשכנז שבת ההוא כמו ת"ב, כמובא בשו"ת חת"ס (או"ח סימן קנט), מ"מ לכבוד היו"ט הבא להסביר שבח דימי הגבלה אומרים גם יוצר ואופן המדבר משבח התורה וממעמד הנבחר. כנלע"ד.
Rabbi Isaac Tirna recognized the incongruity of reciting positive יוצרות and אופנים with mournful זולתות, and eliminated the former. Nevertheless, he recognized the dual character of the שבתות preceding שבועות and following both פסח and שבועות, (happy because of the festival, and sad because of the tragedies) and allowed the פיוטים to reflect this duality.
With the expulsions of the Jews from France in the 14th century, the French minhagim and פיוטים became established as מנהג פולין. Interestingly, מ"פ never instituted פיוטים during בין המצרים, however, I could not find a reason for this, rather counter-intuitive, custom.
IV פיוטים: References to Specific Events or Poetic Hyperbole?
While there are undoubtedly פיוטים which were composed to commemorate specific events and which therefore contain specific references and detailed descriptions of identifiable incidents, the question arises as to whether other, more neutral פיוטים, especially those composed before the crusades, and therefore before the initiation of the custom to recite פיוטים during the Sefira or בין המצרים, actually include references to specific events or situations or were general Jewish bellyaching. In my research I came across three approaches to this question:
a) All references are very general and typological.
b) While some references are indeed general many others refer to specific incidents and situations
c) While the references are to specific situations, the פייטנים were basically drama queens with their poetry amplifying the tragedy and substituting hyperbole for facts.
A good way to broach the subject is to focus on two passages in the Selicha of רבנו גרשם entitled אליך נקרא cited in Habermann's גזירות אשכנז וצרפת .
מבית תענוגיה סכתה ומלונה From its abode of pleasure its shelter and its inn
מגורשת עדתך לכל רוח ופנה Your people are exiled to every direction and corner
Now בית תענוגיה clearly refers to the Temple in Jerusalem. This is a reference to the verse in מיכה ב, ט: נשי עמי תגרשון מבית תענגיה. The word סכתה could also refer to the Temple, which is called סכת דויד in עמוס ט, יא, but it clearly means something much more temporary, flimsy and undependable than בית תענוגיה. מלון too, is used as a reference to the Temple and the Land of Israel in מלכים ב יט, כג. Nevertheless,מלון means a temporary shelter, and the פייטן is lamenting the fact that we are displaced even from our temporary shelter! So is this a general lament over the exile from our land and Temple, or does it refer to an edict of expulsion? Graetz takes this selicha as an expression of רבנו גרשם's "grief over the persecutions of Henry II". However, H. Tykocinski, objects to the historian's use of this poem on the grounds that it is totally stereotyped. Chazan believes that this selicha was written shortly after the tragedy and it "is suffused with the immediate sense of tragedy so typical of this genre." As such, it is one of five primary sources he uses to document the edict of expulsion of 1012. However, Chazen does agree with Tykocinski that another selicha by ר' שמעון הגדול entitled אנקת אסיר and also cited by Haberman is completely stereotyped. So approach (a) above can be further divided into a strong form (Tykocinski) and a weak form (Chazen).
Haberman clearly ascribes to approach (b). Even אנקת אסיר refers to specific incidents. I believe that both Grossman and Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Leib Rapaport belong solidly in the (b) camp. Grossman almost directly addressing the (a) camp, says"אין לראות את הקובלנות ואת תיאורי הרדיפות כהתייחסות כללית אל הסבל בגלות. רקע ריאלי להן, והחזרות והפיוטים "יוכיחו. Rapaport is even more specific, when he refers to the פיוט for the second שבת following שבעה עשר בתמוז, אריות הדיחו פזורה by ר' יוסף טוב עלם.החרוז באות ק קבצו עלי חילים (בכת"י גיעולים) וכו' אהלי אדום וישמעאלים שכן בימיו באו הישמעאלים לצרפת הדרומית במחוז של ריט"ע. Now אהלי אדום וישמעאלים is lifted right out of תהלים פג, ז, and ר' יוסף also needs the word וישמעאלים to complete the rhyme, so it would not be unreasonable to posit that the word וישמעאלים was included en passant for its poetic value, and not because it had any historical validity. Nevertheless, Rapaport insists that the inclusion of וישמעאלים refers to the Moslem incursions, either under Abd ar Rahman III in 929 or some unrecorded later invasion.
Graetz appears to be in group (c). He notes that ר' שמעון בר יצחק composed selichos lamenting the expulsion, as though it were a terrible persecution, intended to uproot Judaism from the hearts of its followers". Per Graetz, these selichos (he probably refers to (אנקת אסיר, indeed refer to the specific event of the expulsion edict of 1012, but it wasn't all that bad, and ר' שמעון should stop bellyaching. However, in truth, expulsion is a terrible ordeal, and one can sympathize though ח"ו not condone with those who chose apostasy. As a child the writer remembers people with PhDs from Germany who worked as clerks in the post office. The psychological and economic displacements were devastating and traumatic for them and their families.
Personally, I side with approach (b) in a somewhat modified form. When ר' שמעון הגדול wrote this זולת, he could not have known that they would be recited on שבתות which have a somber feature (because at that time those שבתות had not yet been designated as שבתות with פיוטים). It would have been entirely possible for this זולת to have been selected by the gaba'im for a neutral (semi-festive) שבת such as הפסקה שניה or שבת בראשית. So he had to keep the context general and ambiguous enough to fit a spectrum of occasions. Therefore, he did not make any historical reference blatantly specific, but could still be certain that any contemporary congregant reciting the פיוט, would make the connection and nod in appreciation and understanding when he came to certain words, while in later generations the reader would relate to the generally dire condition of the Jewish people. Paytanim hide profound ideas behind seemingly innocuous lines of poetry. In our own פיוט, אל א-ל חי ארנן, ר' שמעון הגדול hides a reference to ספר יצירה. These people, in addition to being saintly Jews and great scholars were also world class poets. Why do the historians from group (a) have such a hard time understanding that there are underlying ideas which are best expressed soto voce? Did you ever hear the Ode to Joy in the first movement of the ninth? Most people don’t, but that is Beethoven's genius, להבדיל.
Baron and Graetz have absolutely no problem theorizing that the motivation forרבנו גרשם's cherem on anybody who embarrasses or chastises a repentant apostate was the fact that his own son became an apostate ר"ל, and that he never gave up the hope that his son would return to the fold. This kind of idea is anathema to Orthodox decisors, who believe that a Rav or a Dayan should consciously remove any personal conflicts of interest and preconceptions before rendering a decision.
However, if one believes that personal considerations did indeed influence רבנו גרשם's halachic decisions, how can that same person say that contemporary events didn't find expression in his poetry? After all, poetry is supposed to reflect contemporary events, needs and styles, while the הלכה is supposed to be immutable and permanent. If the הלכה of pre-Crusade middle ages subtly reflects the vicissitudes and needs of that era, one would assume that its poetry should be yet bolder in highlighting the events of that stormy time.