The Ninth of Av is around the corner; here is a short post on an unusual qina (lament) from medieval Ashkenaz…
The Nuremberg Mahzor is a fourteenth century prayer-book according to the eastern Ashkenazi rite. The illuminated manuscript contains not only breathtaking artwork but also important payytanic texts, some of them unattested anywhere else in medieval manuscripts. Among these piyyutim is an unusual qina for the Ninth of Av that relates an imaginative dialogue between the Crusaders and the Jewish people.
The qina opens in medias res with the following verses:
“Come with us, you of smitten cheeks,” Say the uncircumcised and the unclean, my smooth-tongued enemies. “We are on our way to the land of the lovely diadem, the radiant land. We shall attack and plunder the spoil of the fortified cities, There we shall take our share, to each man two lengths of dyed cloth.” (Translation by T. Carmi, in his The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse)
The awkwardness of this call had led Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson many years ago to explain that “the impact of the crusader climate opinion was so widespread that during one of the crusades the writer of a lament wrote as though crusader excitatoria (propaganda letters) were addressing the Jews” (A History of the Jewish People, p. 416). More recently, Elisabeth Hollender discussed the qina and wrote: “it is startling to see that here even the liturgical space, the communication with God, is not free from the fear of Christian attractivity… Israel cannot accept this offer, and it is exactly this refusal that shows the Jewish devotion to their religion, their God, as can be seen in the next passage of the qina”. Indeed the qina continues with harsh criticism of Christianity but also with a bitter sense of desperation from the absence of God and the past leaders of Israel. This intriguing qina (and other qinot from the Nuremberg Mahzor) is discussed in Hollender’s article that was published recently in Giving a Diamond – Essays in Honor of Jospeh Yahalom on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday. The volume (edited by Wout Van Bekkum and Naoya Katsumata ) was published by Brill and features fifteen essays that deal with various aspects of Hebrew verse and prose compositions from Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages.