The Jewish Fairy Book (Gerald Friedlander)/The Prince and the Rabbi

The Jewish Fairy Book by Gerald Friedlander
XI. The Prince and the Rabbi (from Shebet Jehudah)



IN the thirteenth century there lived a Prince in Beaudun in France. He was very narrow-minded, because he wished all his subjects to think alike. No two human beings are exactly like. The Prince had a great friend who was a Jew, learned in statecraft and diplomacy. The fact that he was a Jew and a Rabbi as well greatly vexed the Prince. "I am a Christian," said the latter one day, "and I want every one in my domains to follow my example."

"Noble Prince!" replied the Rabbi, "you cannot possibly mean what you say."

"What do you mean?" asked the Prince.

"I mean," said the Rabbi, "that you would not care to see all your subjects princes, your equals. Be glad that you have diverse subjects, Christians and Jews, nobles and peasants, bakers and tailors, and so on."

"What I really mean," said the Prince, "is that in the matter of religion I intend to have uniformity—all my subjects must be Christians. I shall order that all Jews in Beaudun be baptized on Ash Wednesday next. A large candle shall be lit in the market-place, and every Jew who comes to the Cathedral to be baptized shall be received by Holy Church provided he comes while the candle is yet burning. All who absent themselves do so on pain of death."

Ash-Wednesday came and the large candle was solemnly lit by the Archbishop. The Cathedral doors were thrown wide open, but not a Jew came to be baptized. That same night every Jew and Jewess, man, woman, and child, except the Rabbi, had been lodged in the city prisons. They wept and prayed, for they knew that it was their last night on earth. Next morning they were led to the stake and perished amid the flames, crying with their last breath: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one." They thus sanctified the Holy Name of the One God, their Heavenly Father.

The Prince sent for the Rabbi and tried to persuade him to become a Christian, as his life would be forfeit if he remained a Jew. "Unless you accept baptism, I shall not be able to save your life. I am anxious to retain your friendship and your valuable services to the State, but I cannot employ a Jew. If you do as I desire, I will confer upon you the greatest honors. You shall be my daily companion and friend. Surely this is sufficient to induce you to ask the Archbishop to baptize you."

The Rabbi replied: "You know how very highly I prize your friendship and confidence. You surely realize that I would gladly give my wealth, my possessions, even my life for the welfare of the land where I live. But there is a limit which I cannot trespass, and that is the limit of honor. You promise to confer upon me the greatest honors at your command. What are the honors which a Prince of flesh and blood can confer compared to the honors which God, the King of kings, confers on His servants? Can you moreover really find any distinction which can replace that which I believe has already been bestowed on me by God?"

"What do you mean?" asks the Prince.

"I refer to the honor and distinction of being a Jew, a member of God's Kingdom of priests, one of His Holy Nation."

"Enough, Jew!" cried the Prince in a furious rage. "I will give you five minutes to make up your mind; either you become a Christian or you perish with the other Jews at the stake."

At the expiration of the five minutes the Rabbi again addressed the Prince saying: "Dear Prince! I must admit that my present intention is not to be baptized. Nevertheless, there is just a possibility that I might alter my mind if I were to see my brethren in faith, the unfortunate Jews, perishing at the stake. This horrible vision might shake my fortitude, for I am very human and weak in my spirit. To think that I might also burn at the stake might make me afraid. My fear would probably be increased if you stood at my side. Come then, let us go now together to the market-place and God in His grace may move me to act even as He may desire."

The Prince with joy on his face cried eagerly: "I quite approve; let us go."

When they came to the market-place they were told that there were no more Jews to be burnt. Now this stirred the heart of the Rabbi, and he also determined to be as brave as his heroic brethren. He went with the Prince nearer and nearer to the fire. All of a sudden he seized the Prince with both hands, for he was a very strong man, and thrust him right into the fire. He then threw himself upon him and they both perished in the flames.

Shebet Jehudah, § 35.