The Jews of Prague

The Prague Golem - Zelezne Lavky

I was wondering around the Prague Castle when I realised that I needed to pick up some souvenirs for friends back home in Australia so I decided to wonder into one of the shops there (and to be honest with you, I have seen more souvenir shops in one city in Europe that I have seen in my entire life in Australia - we Australians really have no concept of mass tourism). Anyway, a friend of mine wanted something arcane, and to be honest with you, I did not realise that you could get any more arcane than Prague. However, as I wondered around this store, I found this book, and simply going on the title I decided to purchase it.

 

This is a collection of stories that arose from the Prague Ghetto. For those who do not know, the Ghetto is not a slum (as is the common usage of the word) but derives from the island in Venice where the Jews were locked up at night. From this one location all of the Jewish Quarters throughout Europe derived their name, and thus the Prague Ghetto is basically the Jewish Quarter of Prague. However, since the Jews have been pretty mistreated throughout the years, and the places in the cities that they were relegated to were dumps, the connection between a Ghetto and a slum arose.

 

However, this quaint little book tells the story of how the Jews arrived in Prague and the challenges they faced there. Mind you, these stories are legends and there is a lot of mystical elements surrounding them. The arrival of the Jews came as a prophecy to the first Queen of Bohemia (the land of which Prague was the capital) that if she were to allow the Jews to settle there then her land will prosper. It did.

 

It also tells the stories of how various Jewish landmarks (such as the Old-New Synagogue, and a couple of streets) came about. Once again, these stories have the elements of legend in them, such as the Jew who upset his patron by praising God whenever his patron gave him money. The patron then withdrew his support, and in the Jew's darkest hour, a monkey full of gold came flying through the window.

 

It should be noted that all of the Jews are upstanding and moral characters in the legends. They are always honest (well, okay, not always, but the characters that the stories promote are) and are always fair in their dealings. However, they also face persecution, but in these times there is always divine intervention (such as when the Emperor Wenceclaus falls into a deep sleep and signs a document revoking his expulsion of the Jews).

 

However, I wish to finish with the story that caused me to purchase this little book: the Golem. I have always known the golem as something that came out of Dungeons and Dragons, and may have originated from some early fantasy book (such as say [book:Frankenstein]). However, it turns out that it did not. It was a Jewish myth. I had only just discovered that, so when I found a book about the Golem I quickly snapped it up. I won't go into any further details of the Golem (and for those who are interested I am sure you can easily find it on the internet), but this book was a fascinating read, if you can find it (and hopefully that does not involve a trip to Prague).

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/215599679