Fifteenth of Iyyar, 5391 (May 17, 1631)
The congregation for the Saturday evening service at the close of the Sabbath filled the small synagogue in Hammelburg. Several out-of-town visitors brought the number well above the minimum of ten men required for the service. It was not a congregation that placed great value on formality or decorum. Each man prayed at his own pace through many of the prayers, and at times, there were quiet conversations while slower members of the congregation caught up with the rest.
After the braided candle had been extinguished and the last words of the hymn to Elijah the Prophet had faded, the congregation began to drift apart. Several small groups remained in the schul talking quietly as others left.
"Reb Yakov," a large man said. "I enjoyed your comments on the Torah portion this afternoon. You say you're from Hanau? What brings you to Hammelburg?"
"Who are you again?" the rabbi asked, looking up.
"Yitzach ben Zvi, from Kissingen," the man said. His accent held almost no hint of Judische Deutsch in it, less even than in the speech of the Jews of Hammelburg. If they had not been speaking in a synagogue, the rabbi and his companions would have taken him for a Christian.
"We're on our way to Poland," the rabbi said.
"Poland? It's a long way to Poland, and with the war, is this a safe route?"
"Is anything safe for a Jew in this world? The route up the Fränkische Saale valley is direct enough. Moische Frankfurter here has traveled this way to the Leipzig fair twice. He knows the road and he has his father's notes from many more trips. So far, they've proven to be pretty good."
"But the war?"
"Now that King Gustav has left Poland, the war in that land is over, so Polish life is getting better. It doesn't take much to make it better than life in this war-torn land. For the moment, the war is all in the north, and without wishing ill on those living there, we hope it stays that way. Tilly and Pappenheim are tied up at Magdeburg, and that should keep King Gustav busy and out of the way. After we cross the Thüringer Wald, we'll stay well south of the armies."
The conversation continued until only the out-of-town guests remained. Yossie listened quietly; Yakov handled the questions. He and his two companions had faced similar questions a week previously, in the Jewish quarter of Aschaffenburg. That had been their first Sabbath away from home.
After a short while, the two women in the group rejoined their companions. They had spent the Sabbath day visiting with the Jewish women of the town. The synagogue served many purposes. It was a house of prayer and a school for the Jewish children of Hammelburg and it housed the community ovens. The bath house was attached and when there were out-of-town Jewish visitors it served as a makeshift inn.
"It must take a fair amount of silver to travel all the way to Poland," Yitzach said.
"That's why we're traveling with an experienced merchant," the rabbi said. "Reb Moische, why don't you explain how we can afford this trip."
"If we wanted to travel quickly, like a court Jew," Moische said, "we'd hire a coach and trade horses at every town. Where the roads are good, we could make a hundred miles in a day covering the entire distance at a trot. At that speed, we could go to Poland and back in a few weeks.
"If we had expensive trade goods, silk, spices, fine pottery from Delft, we'd hire teamsters from Frammersbach to drive our freight wagons, and we might make thirty miles a day. Before this twice cursed war began, my father could afford that."
Yitzach chuckled. "Is it news that the war has ruined trade?"
"No," Moische answered, "but there are still goods that you can buy low here and sell high there. It does slow the trip to a crawl, stopping at every village to buy and sell, but if you have a horse and a cart and you know the market, well, Yossie, you can make a profit. What have you bought and sold?"
Yossie wondered why Yitzach was so curious about their business. "Not much, but I didn't start with much either."
The merchant grinned. "Didn't start with much. Just books. Now what have you got?"
Yossie had enjoyed the way Moische had parried Yitzach's questions, giving almost no information in his answers. Now, he was puzzled to find that he was being asked to say more. After a Sabbath day spent in study together, they were not total strangers, so he only hesitated briefly before answering. "Well, when we left Hanau, Rav Yankel and I had a chest of copies of the Hanau Prayerbook, unbound, and a few boxes of other books, mostly Jewish but some Christian."
Yitzach ben Zvi looked startled. "So many books? What did you do, rob a Yeshivah or a print shop?"
Yossie chuckled. "We didn't rob it. Rav Yankel and I used to work at Hans Jacob Hene's printing press in Hanau. Master Hene died last year, may his memory be a blessing, and the new owner, well, he doesn't deal in Jewish books the way Master Hene did, so there was little reason for either the books or us to stay."
"So you are paying for a trip with books?"
"We sell and trade. There are forges and glassworks in the Spessart, and there is a paper mill in Lohr. We found a good market for scrap iron and rags. Now that we're in the Fränkische Saale Valley, we're trading empty wine bottles for full whenever we can. Friday, I sold some prayer books, bentschers, and a Chumash here."
"You'd better be careful which Christian books you show people in this valley," Yitzach said. "This is a Catholic valley now. If you have books of the lives of the saints, you'll do well, but if you have Lutheran or Calvinist books, be careful with them."
As the conversation wound down, the Sabbath lamp that had burned since Friday evening was extinguished. Aside from small splashes of moonlight shining through the small eastern windows, the only light came from the eternal flame over the ark holding the Torah scrolls. It was not long before the only sound in the building was the sound of gentle snores.
Sunday morning, there was work to be done. Buying and selling within the Jewish community was safe, but it was not a day to travel. Christians didn't like to be reminded that there were Jews living among them on their holy day, so the gates to the Jewish quarter remained closed.
While the merchants traded what they could, Rabbi Yakov ben Pinchas and Yosef ben Shlomo of Hanau worked as teachers in the Hammelburg schul. It was familiar work for the old Rabbi. He'd taught at the cheder in Hanau for many years, working only part time as a typesetter and proofreader at Hans Jacob Hene's print shop. He'd also worked part time as a scribe, writing the occasional marriage contract or divorce papers, or even repairing a Torah scroll when needed.
For Yosef ben Shlomo, the day's work as a school teacher was a new experience. Yossie had been a full-time print-shop worker since his parents died. Not an apprentice, though. Jews could not take apprenticeships in any of the guild trades.
Monday, after morning prayers, Yitzach ben Zvi set off with the group of travelers toward Kissingen. To Yossie, the small horse Yitzach was riding seemed large. Certainly, it was bigger and healthier than the old horse pulling the cart he and his sister shared with the old rabbi.
"Tell me," Yitzach said. "How is it that you can buy and sell so freely? I'm a Schutzjude. I know the laws that limit what we can do."
"Reb Moische, that's your business," Yossie said.
The young merchant, Moische ben Avram, gave a bow from beside the horse he was leading. "At your service. I might ask how you make a living. You face the same trade restrictions as we do."
"I'm a broker, cattle, feed, wine, you name it, I connect sellers with buyers. That's basically all a protected Jew is allowed to do aside from making loans."
"So do you ever take someone's cattle, for example, and give them silver now, before you go to look for a buyer?"
"Sure. Of course, what I do is loan them the value of the cattle, and then the buyer pays back the loan, plus a bit of interest, plus a commission."
Rabbi Yakov coughed. "But of course, you never take more than one sixth of the value."
"What?" Yossie asked. He had been admiring the way Moische had turned Yitzach's question away from their business.
"One sixth. It follows from Parshas Behar. Come Yossie, we just read it two days ago on Shabbos. What the Christians call Leviticus chapter twenty-one, but I forget the verse number. It says 'And if you sell anything to your fellow or buy anything from your fellow's hand, you shall not wrong one another.'"
"I know the text, but where does it say one sixth?"
"That is the oral tradition, the Talmud."
"But it says your fellow's hand, doesn't that mean only other Jews, not the goyim?"
"Except that the goyim around here worship our God, so they aren't idolaters. They bind themselves by the laws against theft and dishonesty, so we must treat them as our fellows in business."
"A good lesson, Rabbi," Yitzach said. "Was it Rabbi Chananya who said that where words of Torah are exchanged, the divine presence is there? But for the sake of argument, since I only act as a broker, not buying or selling, it doesn't strictly apply, does it?"
"Your status as a broker is just a legal fiction to satisfy the Christian authorities," the Rabbi said. "Of course, to support that fiction, you have to give your buyer an exact accounting, so he knows exactly what fee he is paying. A successful Shutzjude must always charge prices that are even more fair and more honest than any Christian merchant or they will cancel your protection and send you packing."
"That puts it well," Yitzach said. "Now, though, I think I'll send myself packing. My horse and I would both rather move a bit faster than you're walking. But, why not spend the night at my place? It's just outside Kissingen. When you reach the village of Aura on the north bank of the Saale, turn north up the hill to the next crossroads, then east across the upland toward Kissingen. My house will be one of the first you come to. It is on the hill looking down on Kissingen, easy to find. But if you get lost, just ask for me by my goyische name, Isaac Kissinger."
The Fränkische Saale valley led them along a winding path to the northeast through a land of chalky hills and vineyards. When the two loaded carts turned aside at the next cluster of farmhouses in the hope of selling something, Yitzach's horse quickly passed out of sight around the next bend.
The travelers slowed in every village they passed to see if they could find someone who wanted empty wine bottles or some of the ironwork Moische Frankfurter had picked up at a forge in the Spessart. They had pruning hook blades, sickle blades, hoe blades and shovel blades for sale. Whenever they had earned a surplus of silver, Moische disappeared into one of the wine cellars along the way to see if he could buy bottles of wine.
Moische did not need to emphasize that it was dangerous to have too much silver. They had already been robbed once on the trip. It was a small loss because the thieves only took silver, not the books, rags or scrap iron that represented the bulk of their wealth at that time. Wine was a more dangerous cargo than rags or scrap, but a thief who could easily take all of their silver would only be able to carry a few bottles of wine.
As required by law, they were all clearly identified as Jews. The three men in the group wore Jew badges, yellow circles, on their outer cloaks. The two women wore veils that were marked with the two blue stripes reserved for the Jews over their hair combs.
For Yossie and his sister, approaching each cluster of houses was an uncomfortable experience, even after two weeks of travel. They had always lived in the large Jewish communities of Frankfurt am Main and Hanau, while the others had much more experience in the larger world. Yossie's experience with non-Jews was limited to those who routinely dealt with Jews. Here in the Fränkische Saale valley, Jews were rare. Sometimes when they approached a village, children announced their arrival as if they were devils. Some of the men would cross themselves defensively after completing a trade.
Seventeenth of Iyyar, 5391 (May 19, 1631)
Monday afternoon, with the sun low behind them, the travelers turned east toward Kissingen, although the old road sign spelled it Kissick. The valley of the Fränkische Saale was spread out below them to the right, turning north ahead of them and winding lazily away to the southwest behind them. There were vineyards on both sides of the road, but higher up the hills were woodlands. A haze of smoke rose from the valley ahead of them, marking the location of the Kissingen salt works.
"These vines aren't well kept," Moische Frankfurter said, walking beside Yossie. "And did you notice the empty houses in village we just passed?"
"The war, I suppose," Yossie said, as he led the horse pulling the rear cart.
"There hasn't been war in this valley for a decade," the young merchant said. "I suppose, though, that the taxes to pay for the war would be almost as hard on many farmers. Some of them seem to have more wine than they can sell."
"So the Christians are leaving the land, too?"
"More likely, when the families can't afford the taxes, their sons leave to take jobs as mercenaries."
"Can you two men talk about something less grim?" asked Basya, Yossie's sister. "How about a song?" she added, reaching into the back of the cart in front of her and pulling out her copy of the Shmuelbuch and starting to lead them in song.
"Rav Joseph said that if men sing and women respond, the law is broken," Yakov grumbled, quoting from the Talmud under his breath as he walked beside Yossie. "But if women sing and men respond, it is as if fire is sweeping a field of flax."
For the last mile into Kissingen, Basya led the travelers in verses from the epic ballad of Samuel the prophet, King Saul and King David. The subject was biblical and the dialect was Jewish, but the ballad form was as German as the countryside around them. Everyone in the group knew the melody. Only the old rabbi did not join in. Yossie kept his silence through a few verses, not wanting to offend his teacher, but when Yakov made no further comment about the evils of allowing women and men to sing together, Yossie finally joined in the song.
The house of Isaac Kissinger was easy to find. It was one of a small cluster of farmhouses on the hillside above Kissingen. All of the buildings were old, made of ancient plastered stonework below with timber, wattle and daub above.
"Welcome to Kissingen, almost," Yitzach said, greeting them from the door. "Jews aren't allowed in town after dark, so we must live outside the walls, closer to the farmers we serve. Let me help with the horses; they'll be comfortable in the field out back. We'll eat after we settle the horses. I warned my wife you were coming, so there's plenty to eat. We'll be done in time for afternoon prayers."
Yitzach's wife Chava was not as round as her husband, but she looked comfortable. He also had a daughter, Gitele, who was close to Yossie's age and who seemed to be alternately fascinated and shy in his presence.
Over the meal, as was the custom, zmiros took priority over conversation. Songs based on the Psalms or other biblical verses met the need for words of Torah at the table without sounding academic. Some of the tunes were very simple and repetitive, easy for the smallest child to join in, while others were complete psalms, sung like ballads. When everyone was done eating, Yitzach took out his bentscher and led them in the chanting the long grace after meals.
As the sun approached the horizon, the men gathered for the afternoon prayer service, abbreviated because there were only four of them, not the ten required for the full service. They finished just before the sun touched the western horizon. As soon as the sun was down, while the light was still good enough to read, they started again with the evening service.
"Praised be to the Lord, God of the universe, who has commanded us to count the days of the Omer," Yitzach said, "on this, the thirty-third day of the Omer."
"Amen," the other three replied, ending the service. There had been thirty-three days since the start of Passover, and until the festival of Shauvos, every day was to be counted.
"So," Yitzach said. "Time for a haircut, but we'll do that tomorrow. Chava, Gitele, we need to talk. Come, everyone, back to the table."
"I have a proposition for you," Yitzach said, as they sat down at the table by the light of one candle. "My son doesn't want to take up the life of a Shutzjude. He's a scholar at the Yeshiva of Heidingsfeld. I've married off one daughter and I think it's time for me to find someone to carry this house into the next generation. I'd like to find a husband for Gitele, and that won't be in Kissingen. Your trip to Poland has me thinking that perhaps we should join you.
"So, here is my proposition. Stay through the week, and then we'll come with you. That will give me time to transfer my protected status and will give us time to pack up what we can take with us. Waiting a bit will be worth your time because Wednesday is market day. That will give you a chance to lighten your load by getting rid of all those empty bottles before we leave the best of the Franconian vineyards."
There were several replies. "Father!" Gitele said. "Can we afford a week's delay?" Yankel asked. "Is it safe?" Gitele added. "How long have you been planning this?" Moische asked.
"There are too many Jews around Kissingen," Yitzach said. "We've known that for a while. If some of us don't leave soon, the Christians will force us out. Last winter Chava and I decided we should go, so this spring we've been watching for a group to join. Poland, Hungary, Turkey, they all look better than German lands."
"Too many Jews?" Yankel asked. "Do you have a minyan?"
"No, Rav Yakov," Yitzach said, pausing to count under his breath. "There are eight over age thirteen. When I was a child, there was a minyan, but that was before the war."
"There are three of us," Yankel said. "So together, we have one extra. So long as we are here, we have enough for a Torah service."
"It's a long walk. My brother lives down by the river."
"Tell them I have a sefir Torah in my luggage," the old rabbi said. "We can do the full service Thursday and perhaps on Shabbos if the walk is not too far."
"I can't promise they'd come on Thursday," Yitzach said. "There is work to be done. If you stay through Saturday, though, they will come."
"I don't want them to come on Shabbos if they have to walk over two thousand cubits."
"The walk is longer," Yitzach said, "but we know our eruv laws. When one of us wants to visit the other on Shabbos, we arrange to eat a Shabbos meal at my cousin's place, halfway between."
"So Reb Yitz," Moische asked, once it was clear that the Rabbi was satisfied that no laws would be broken by the proposal to gather a minyan for Shabbos. "How many other groups of travelers have you spoken to?"
"There was a group of Jews out of Wertheim two weeks ago. They were traveling fast and didn't want more people. Last week another group came through. Like you, they were from Frankfurt and trying to peddle their way east. I would have been tempted to go with them if they had seemed competent. I've heard rumors of other groups but not everyone who travels up this valley stops in Kissingen to talk with me."
"Thank you for the compliment," Moische said, with a laugh.
"Don't thank me too soon," Yitzach said. "First, my wife and daughter need to be convinced that you are competent enough for us. And I suspect that we need to convince you that we are competent enough for you."
For the next hour, the travelers repeated many of the answers they had given two nights before in Hammelburg. This time, though, there were fewer evasive answers.
"My wife and I left Frankfurt Monday a week after Passover ended," Moische explained. "I'd hoped to leave the week before, the first Monday right after Passover, but that didn't work out. Instead, we left on the eighteenth day of the Omer. That seemed good enough, and eighteen is a lucky number."
"It took a day to pack up Reb Yankel, Yossie and Basya in Hanau, and then we spent the Sabbath of Parshos Emor with the Jews of Aschaffenburg. Last Monday, we set off into the Spessart. In a week, we made it to Hammelburg, buying and selling as we went.
Yitzach interrupted. "You know, Reb Moische, yesterday I asked how you could manage, buying and selling across the countryside, and we got off into matters of commercial law and legal fictions and Talmud. You never answered my question."
Moische Frankfurter answered, "A merchant can't afford to disclose the secrets of his trade."
Yossie chuckled. "He never lets us suggest a price, ever. Before we buy or sell, he always looks in his book and then tells us what offer to make, and he tells us what the final price should be. Sometimes, he's wrong, but mostly, his advice is good."
"When I'm wrong," Moische said, "It's because of the war. I've been this way twice before, to the Hannover fair and back, by way of Meiningen and Erfurt. My father did it many times. The first rule for any merchant is to constantly watch the prices of everything."
"I know that well enough," Yitzach said. "But I only need to know the prices of goods in and around Kissingen. You need to know the prices everywhere."
"We only know the prices where my father or I have been before. Of course, you have to correct for the season." He paused. "So, Reb Yitzach, if you come with us, what will you bring as trade goods?"
The answer to that question emerged after morning prayers and breakfast Tuesday, while Moische's wife and Chava set to work cutting the men's hair. Between Passover and Shavuos, the thirty-third day of the Omer was the only day on which it was auspicious to have a haircut, so all of the men took their turn.
"So," Yitzach said, while his wife worked around his head with comb and shears. "What I propose to do is slaughter a cow and make sausage. I'll sell the meat I can't preserve and buy trade goods with the profit. There aren't more than a handful of Jews east of here. The Protestants did a good job of driving us out of Saxony back before my lifetime, so you'll want kosher meat that will keep. My sausage should keep all summer if it stays dry and out of the sun. I'll need help, though, because we'll have to keep the fire smoking, and we'll need to shave an awful lot of beef very thin.
"You're a shochet?" Moische asked.
"The best in Kissingen, if you discount my brother's son Ari. He's the one I want to take over this place. I also have a cousin who is competent. We take turns buying cattle at the Neustadt market. Most of the meat we sell to Hammelburg."
"Where did you study?" Yankel asked.
"Heidingsfeld, where my son is now. When my father died, I left the yeshivah and came home to take over his business."
The cow was slaughtered that morning, and everyone was put to work, under the able direction of Yitzach and his wife. The larger butchering job, of course, was left to the shochet himself, but then the meat had to be salted and rinsed to get the blood out, and every bit of meat had to be stripped from the carcass excepting the hindquarters. That part would go, at a discount, to the Christian butchers in town because kosher preparation of the loins would have been too much work.
By evening, the big chimney in Yitzach's kitchen was festooned with thinly sliced beef hung from freshly cut willow twigs. Larger cuts of meat hung awaiting sale or additional work the next day. They'd stripped the derma from the intestines for use as sausage casing, and the smell of grilling liver filled the house.
Yossie was the strongest of the travelers, with years of experience doing hard physical labor at the printing press. Because of his strength, he spent a good part of the day chopping firewood from Yitzach's woodpile for the kitchen fire. The wood had to burn to charcoal on one side of the kitchen hearth, then the hot coals were swept over to the other side to provide dry heat under the meat. When the wood supply was adequate and the fire burning properly, he was put to work at the cutting block, shaving thin curls of beef. For a break in that job, he was sent to the salt works for a sack of salt. By nightfall, Yossie's arms ached as much as they had ever ached after a long press run.
Wednesday morning, Yossie was spared from more physical labor. The evening before, Moische and Yitzach had asked him to come with them into town to help in the marketplace. The three of them woke up before sunrise, said their morning prayers quickly and ate a cold crust for breakfast before setting out.
Market day in Kissingen was busy. At the town gates, farm carts vied in friendly competition with merchants. The Jews knew their place and held back, waiting their turn. Once the crowd around the gates had thinned, they paid their Jew tax to the guard at the gates, as required by law, and then entered the town. In Kissingen, Jews were permitted to buy and sell in the marketplace, but the protocol at the town gates guaranteed that they would always get the least desirable spaces.
Once the three of them had staked out their spot, Isaac took his cart to the Christian butchers so he could sell the non-kosher cuts of meat while Yossie and Moische arranged what they had to sell. They had straw-packed baskets of the flat bottles used for Franconian wines, window-glass, ironwork, books and paper.
"Today," Moische said, "make all sales in silver. Here's the price list, what you should open the haggling with, what they should offer, and where you should go for the final price. I want to spy out the market to see if I am right on the prices, so for now, you run things."
Yossie felt a bit abandoned. Then he straightened his shoulders. He'd been the buyer at other markets, after all. Not just for himself, either. He'd done it for Master Hene's print shop and he knew how things worked. Buying and selling door-to-door the last two weeks helped, but he'd never been in charge of a market stall before. It certainly didn't help that he was a complete stranger in Kissingen.
His first few sales were small; bottles by the twos and threes, a shovel blade, a pruning hook, and two sheets of paper. Then, to Yossie's surprise, a man came to buy four full baskets of bottles.
"So, Jew, where are they from?" the man asked, pulling one of the flat green bottles from its straw packing and looking at it with care.
"Paul Fleckenstein's glassworks in Heigenbrucken, on the Lohrbach," Yossie answered. He remembered being fascinated as he watched the glassblower manipulating the red hot glass. That such green glass could be made by melting the red Spessart sandstone was almost magical.
Only after inspecting several more bottles with equal care did the man begin to dicker seriously. The man knew what he was doing, but with Moische's price recommendations in mind, Yossie was prepared.
Moische came back shortly after that to amend the price list. "You need to read the sales," Moische said, after Yossie described what he'd sold. "If you're buying wine from the vineyard next door, or if you make it for your own use, you reuse bottles. Break a barrel of wine into bottles, drink them up, and then refill the bottles when you break open the next barrel. If you sell just one or two bottles, you're probably just replacing broken glass.
"But think. If you're selling wine for shipment to far away places, you buy enough empty bottles to hold a whole barrel of wine and the empties never come back. Your last sale means that someone in town is still shipping wine to someplace far away. The local wine is good enough to grace a noble's table, which is why we are buying as much as we can with our profits."
"You've been tasting Christian wine?" Yossie asked, mildly taken aback.
"Of course. How else would I know its value in trade?" Moische said. "We're forbidden to drink the wine of idolaters, but I don't drink, just taste. It is very good wine, but then, Reb Yitzach's wine is no worse, and he has promised to bring a bit of that along with us."
Soon after Moische left for another round of spying on the marketplace, Yossie found himself facing a Catholic priest. Christian clergymen had always made him uncomfortable.
"My son," the priest said, with an alarming smile that might have been intended to be friendly. "I hear you have books for sale."
"A few, Father," Yossie said, in his best German. He knew that for a Jew to show insufficient respect could lead to trouble. He was more alarmed to be addressed as "my son" than to be addressed merely as "Jew."
Yossie went around the back of the cart to show the books. Moische had shifted their goods around carefully so that the Jewish and Protestant books were all on the cart they had left behind at Yitzach's house.
"Have you read this?" the priest asked, holding up a book.
Yossie leaned over to look. It was a volume of St. Thomas Aquinas. "My Latin is poor, Father, but I like what I know of the Saint's logic."
"If your Latin were better," the priest said, "you would find that the logic of Aquinas is compelling. The only way to salvation is through our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ."
Yossie groaned inwardly, fearing that the conversation was becoming a trap. "I have no desire to engage in a religious disputation, Father. All I want to do is find a good home for these fine books."
"Where did you get them?" the priest asked.
"They are from the estate of Master Hans Hene of Hanau, may his memory be a blessing."
The priest looked startled. "The printer? I had not heard that he died! May his soul rest in peace. And you, a Jew, why do you bless his memory?"