JOSEPH (Joselmann) BEN GERSHON OF ROSHEIM


JOSEPH (Joselmann) BEN GERSHON OF ROSHEIM (c. 1478–1554), the greatest of the Jewish *shtadlanim in Germany during the Middle Ages. According to one tradition, his family originated in Louhans, France, and he himself once added "of the Loans family" to his signature, as did his sons after him. However, it is very doubtful if he was a relative of Jacob Jehiel Loans, physician to emperor Frederick III. During the 15th century, Joseph's family lived in Endingen, in Baden. Three of his father's uncles, Elijah, Aberlin, and Marcolin, were martyred there in 1470 as a result of a *blood libel. When the Jews were expelled from Endingen his father settled in Obernai, Alsace, and fled from there in 1476 after the pillage campaigns of the Swiss mercenaries and settled in Haguenau, Alsace. Orphaned at the age of six, Joseph was brought up by his mother's family. He earned his livelihood from moneylending and commerce and settled in Mittelbergheim, near Strasbourg. In 1507 the Jews who had been expelled from Obernai appealed to him to intercede with the provincial authorities and the emperor to repeal the expulsion decree. Because of his success, he was appointed in 1510, together with R. Zadok, as parnas u-manhig ("leader") of the Jews of Lower Alsace. He once referred to himself in one of his appeals to the imperial diet in Speyer (1535) as Gemeiner Judischheit Regierer im deutschen Land ("ruler of all Jewry in German lands") and was penalized for so doing because only the emperor could be considered as the ruler of the Jews. He also signed himself Befehlshaber der ganzen Judenschaft ("commander of all Jewry"), and was referred to by similar titles by the emperor and government bodies.

While acting on behalf of the Jews of Mittelbergheim in 1514, Joseph first came into the presence of the emperor, Maximilian I. In 1520, in the course of his activity on behalf of the Jews of Obernai, he obtained a general letter of protection for the Jews in Germany from Emperor *Charles V at the coronation celebrations held at Aachen. During the Peasants' Revolt in 1525, he saved the Jews of Alsace – and his town of *Rosheim in particular – from the peasant bands in exchange for a gift of 80 guilders. He also intervened with King *Ferdinand I, the future emperor and brother of Charles V, on behalf of the Jews of Haguenau in 1529, and in the same year was called upon to protect the Jews of *Pezinok (Poesing) in Hungary when they were threatened by a blood libel. In 1530 he succeeded in convincing the emperor and Ferdinand I that the accusation that the Jews had spied for the Turks was false, and the emperor renewed the letter of protection. During the same year the emperor ordered Joseph to engage in a disputation with the apostate Antonius *Margarita, author of the anti-Jewish work Der gantz juedisch Glaub (1530). When Joseph succeeded in refuting his accusations, the apostate was expelled from Augsburg. Joseph was called upon to protect the Jews of Silesia in 1535, when the danger of a blood libel threatened the Jews of Jaegerndorf, and a year later he intervened with Elector John Frederick to avert an expulsion decree against the Jews of Saxony. Martin *Luther, whose attitude toward the Jews had already become hostile, refused to receive him and act as mediator between him and the elector. In 1539, at the Protestant convention of Frankfurt, he succeeded in proving the innocence of the martyrs of Brandenburg who had been put to death as a result of an accusation of *Host desecration. Phillip *Melanchthon himself made a declaration to the convention on this subject. In 1544, after he had complained to the emperor over a renewed blood libel in Wuerzburg, he obtained a further letter of protection for the Jews of Germany, "the most liberal and generous letter of protection ever granted to Jews" (S. Stern). During the emperor's war against the Protestant princes, the Smalkaldic League, in 1546, he interceded on behalf of the Jews, who were oppressed by both sides. In 1548 he was again compelled to appeal to the emperor with a complaint against the towns of Alsace. His intervention in favor of the Jews of *Colmar continued until 1551, when at the imperial diet in Augsburg he worked against the severe restrictions on Jewish moneylending, such as the prohibition on selling promissory notes to Christians, and the threat of expulsion from the duchies of Wuerttemberg and Bavaria. His last activities – like his earlier ones – once more concerned the Jews of Alsace, when he came to the aid of the Jews of Dangolsheim and those of Rosheim.

As well as his memorandum against the blood libel of Pezinok (1530) and the disputation with Antonius Margarita, Joseph took up the defense of Judaism in his work Iggeret Neḥamah (1537) against the anti-Jewish attacks of the Protestant minister M. *Bucer. The Hebrew original, which has been lost, was read on the Sabbath in the synagogues of Hesse in order to raise the morale of the Jews and strengthen their faith. In 1530 he convened a meeting of communal delegates at Augsburg in order to establish a code to regulate their moneylending and trade affairs. Similar regulations covering the relations between the Jews and the general population of Alsatian towns were proposed and carried out by him. Joseph was called to Prague in 1534 in order to mediate in the dispute between the local Jews and the *Horowitz family. One of the members of the family, Sheftel, who objected to outside intervention, even planned to assassinate him. Joseph was also opposed to the messianic movement of David *Reuveni and Solomon *Molcho. Appealing to the municipal council of Strasbourg against the anti-Jewish writings of Luther in 1543, Joseph obtained a ban on the propagation of these libelous documents within the city.

Joseph wrote several religious, ethical and historical works, which in part are still extant (see bibl.). His Derekh ha-Kodesh, a work of ethics and guidance for a life of sanctity and martyrdom (*Kiddush ha-Shem), written in 1531 while he was in Brabant waiting for an audience with the emperor, has been lost and only a few extracts from it were copied by R. Joseph Yospa *Hahn in his Yosef Omeẓ. His grandson was the kabbalistic scholar R. Elijah b. Moses *Loans.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

S. Stern, Josel of Rosheim (1965); S.P. Rabbinowitz, Rabbi Yosef Ish Rosheim (1902); M. Lehmann, Rabbi Joselmann von Rosheim; eine historische Erzaehlung, 2 vols. (1925); E. Scheid, Histoire de Rabbi Joselmann de Rosheim (1886); Krakauer, in: REJ, 16 (1888), 88–105; Stern, in: ZGJD, 3 (1889), 65–74; Bresslau, ibid., 5 (1892), 307–34; L. Feilchenfeld, Rabbi Josel von Rosheim (1898); H. Fraenkel-Goldschmidt (ed.), Rabbi Yosef Ish Rosheim, Sefer ha-Mikneh (1970); M. Ginsburger, Josel von Rosheim (1913); JJLG, 14 (1921), 45; Y. Tishbi, in: Sefer Assaf (1953), 515–28. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: H. Fraenkel-Godlschmidt (ed.), Rabbi Yosef Ish Rosheim, Ketavim Hstoriyyim (1996); E. Carlebach, in: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (1998), 40–53.

[Jacob Rothschild]


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