HUSSITES


HUSSITES, Christian reform movement, closely interwoven with the national and social conflicts prevailing in Bohemia in the 15th century, named after John Huss (Jan Hus; c. 1369–1415). They influenced European history through their reform ideology and their victories in the five crusades launched to subdue them (1420–34). Mainly because of their attitude to the Old Testament and their rejection of the adoration of relics and saints, contemporary Roman Catholics accused them of being a Judaizing sect. (An extremist group even insisted on introducing kashrut and sheḥitah.) The Jews sympathized with the "Benei Hushim" or "Avazim" (Czech husa, Heb. avaz: "goose"), seeing in their actions an approach toward Judaism. The Taborites, the belligerent radical wing, identified themselves with biblical Israel, calling their centers by the biblical names of Horeb and Tabor. The latter remained as the name of the town in southern Bohemia and as the designation of an assembly in the Czech language. The last refuge of Hussite opposition after its defeat (1434) was called Zion.

However curious these biblical and linguistic influences may be, the fact is that the Hussites initiated an important change in the attitude toward the Jews through the interpretations of one of their leaders, Matthias of Janov (d. 1394), of figures like Antichrist as being Catholic and not Jewish, as was maintained by medieval Christianity. However, Huss himself attacked the Jews for their implacable opposition to Christianity. There is no proof in the assertion, read out when Huss was on the stake (1415), that he had "counseled with the Jews." Jacobellus of Stribro (Mies), the leader of the moderate Calixtine faction, in his treatise De usurae ("On usury") said that it would be much easier to convert the Jews to Christianity if they would work in agriculture and crafts like the gentiles. They would thus have less time for study and would more easily be converted. The regents protected the Jews out of greed, but Jacobellus suggested that this protection should be continued because Jews had once been the object of divine revelation. However, as in many other matters, in their approach to the Jews the Hussites followed the lead of Matthias of Janov and not that of Huss, as revealed in the writings of Jacobellus in 1412 and the Anatomia Antichristi (1420) by the radical Taborite Pavel Kravar. The Hussite approach to the Jews was also determined by their concretization of history as a struggle between Christ and Antichrist. Every Christian is a limb (membrum) of one of these two bodies (corpora), and the Jews now have no part in this struggle. They had in the past, however, when Christianity first emerged.

The Hussites considered themselves "God's warriors" (Boží bojovníci) subduing the "soldiers of the Antichrist," i.e., the German Catholic crusaders. There were no direct attacks by the Hussites on the Jews, although they incidentally became victims of the Hussites, as after the capture of Chomutov (Komotau) in 1421, where Jews were burned at the stake together with the Catholics (although the Jews were given the choice between adopting Hussitism or death, a choice denied to the Catholics); and in Prague (in 1422) the Jewish quarter was plundered along with the Old City. However, these attacks were incidental to attacks on Catholics. In the 1420s the Jews were accused of supplying arms to the Hussites and on that account suffered massacres and expulsions at the hands of the Catholics from Austria in 1421, Bavaria in 1422, and Iglau (Jiniouva) in 1428. The rabbinical authorities of the period, such as Israel *Isserlein, Israel *Bruna, Jacob *Weil, and Yom Tov Lipmann *Muehlhausen expressed guarded sympathy with the Hussites, while an anonymous chronicler (writing in Hebrew c. 1470; see Ben-Sasson in bibl.) expressed it freely seeing Hussitism as inspired by Avigdor *Kara. Consequently the chronicler reports outstanding events of the Hussite period, mingling truth and fantasy. According to this Hebrew chronicler, Kara was in close contact with the Hussites and composed a piyyut, which seems to reflect the messianic hopes roused among Prague Jewry by the rise of the Hussites. He states that it was sung openly in Hebrew and Yiddish. The tune the piyyut was sung to seems to have been that of a Hussitic hymn. The collapse of Hussitism was a disappointment to the Jews.

The later followers of Hussitism, the Bohemian Brethren, also showed much interest in Judaism and Jewish history. They too identified themselves with biblical Israel and likened their expulsion (1548) to the galut. They published the Czech translation of the Hegesippus version of Josephus' Wars three times in the second half of the 16th century. In 1592 Václavˇ Plácel published a Hystoria židovskáá ("Jewish History"), also based on Josephus but continuing until the seventh century C.E., which displays an unusual measure of sympathetic understanding for the fate of the Jews. When the Brethren founded their community in Poznan (Posen) some Jews joined them. One, who was baptized and adopted the name of Lukas Helic, collaborated in the translation of the Bible into Czech (Králická Bible). As an outcome of the persecutions, some of the Brethren preferred adopting Judaism to forced conversion to Catholicism or emigration. Some Bohemian Jewish families traced their descent to these converted Brethren, among them Brod, Dub, Jellinek, Kafka, Kuranda, and Pacovsky. Under Catholic Hapsburg rule, there was rapprochement and understanding between the clandestine Brethren and the Jews. Their heritage was manifest once more with the emergence of the sect of the *Abrahamites in the 18th century.

After the Holocaust, many synagogue buildings in Czech localities became prayer rooms of the Bohemian Brethren or the Czechoslovakian Church, and in these localities they took over the care of the Jewish cemeteries. They had a special prayer for these occasions (Věstník židovských náboženských obcí v československu, 11 (1949), 532).

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

E. Schwarz, in: JGGJČ, 5 (1933), 429–37; R. Kestenberg, ibid., 8 (1936), 1–25 (incl. bibl.); J. Macek, Hussite Movement in Bohemia (19582); Baron, Social2, 13 (1969), 209–16, 416–21; H.H. Ben-Sasson, in: Divrei ha-Akademyah ha-Le'ummit le-Madda'im, 4 (1969/70), 66–69; R.R. Betts, Essays in Czech History (1969); H. Kaminsky, A History of the Hussite Revolution (1967); Kestenberg Gladstein, in: Journal of the Warburg Institutes, 18 (1955), 245, 254, 288–9; idem, in: Judaica Bohemiae, 4 (1968), 64–68.

[Ruth Kestenberg-Gladstein]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.