From The History Of The Jews In Dubrovnik

From the History
Of the Jews in Dubrovnik
(From Hebrew sources)

By Jennie Lebel

Map of Dubrovnik with points of Jewish interest inset

The most important sources for the history of Jews in Ragusa (the current name Dubrovnik was officially adopted in 1909, when the city was under Austro-Hungarian rule) are preserved in the Historical Archive of this town, which has been extensively used through the decades. I think that the first to 'discover' the archive was Prof. Jorjo Tadić, but it has also been used by other historians and chroniclers, such as the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Sarajevo Dr. Moritz Levi, Dr. Kalmi Baruch, Dr. Bogumil Hrabak and others. There is probably still much material in this archive that must be further studied.
It is our intention to show the 'other side of the coin', to present mostly Hebrew, but also other sources from that time. This means mainly the so-called responsa, i.e. the abundant authentic rabbinical literature of questions and answers. A difficulty lies in the fact that this literature is accessible only to those who are not only fluent in Hebrew and the so-called square script, but also the so-called RASHI or cursive script (this could be compared with German written in Latin and Gothic letters). Every child in Israel can understand the language in which these responsa are written, for it has not changed over the centuries and even millennia, except of course for modern expressions which have been added by reformers like Eliezer Ben-Jehuda (1858-1922), credited with the revival of Hebrew as a modern tongue spoken by a renascent Jewish nation.
Ragusa / Dubrovnik - the 'Pearl of the Adriatic' - takes up a large space in Hebrew sources. It is called 'An Independent Administrative Authority' (Srara Bifney Atsma). Due to its very favourable geographic position, the independent dwarf State of Ragusa served for centuries as a link and/or barrier between Empires, Christian Venice and the Moslem Ottoman Empire, which often quarrelled and could very easily have swallowed it. However, the independence of Ragusa served both parties well and its administration derived benefits not only in peace, but also during wars. Because of the unsafe conditions of the Mediterranean, Ragusa attracted merchants from the Levant, from Italy and from Western Europe, who took advantage of its neutrality. There are traces of this also in Hebrew sources:

He informed me plainly; do not send me goods on a French ship, because it is at war with England, do not send it any other way than by a Ragusan ship, for Ragusa is at peace with all Kingdoms… 1

Precisely because of this entrepot position, medical services, mediation and translation were professions in great demand. Jewish physicians are known mainly by one of them, Amatus the Portuguese (Lusitanus), who stayed very rarely in Ragusa, but traveled extensively between Ancona and Salonica where he died. About some others we learn not exactly in the medical context, such as Moshe, son of Marcilius, who will be mentioned a little later.2
The Jews, who mostly knew foreign languages and had good business connections with partners in various countries and provinces, were an important link in the chain of the general entrepot turnover of goods. Usually honest, respected, responsible and trustworthy people were chosen, very often rabbis and community leaders, who served as 'consuls' and 'factors' in he economic process, and almost the whole exchange of goods was conducted through them.
The Jewish 'consuls' were not diplomatic personnel in the modern sense, but mediators, representatives and defenders of the interests of individuals or of entire Jewish communities. The consuls held no formal power, but their influence was very strongly felt. They could assist, elevate, support and accelerate trade, but if they considered some act of a merchant to be harmful and contrary to the interests of the community they could foil his transaction; and if he was defiant and opposed the accepted written and unwritten regulations, they might even boycott him and exclude him from their ranks.
The migration of Jews to Ragusa, first from Italy, and in greater masses at the end of the 15th century due to the expulsion from Spain and Portugal, was not seen with pleasure by Ragusan businessmen. They felt at once that the Jews were rivals against whom they fought not always with honest means, but often with very brutal and unjust acts. The rivalry was mostly kept 'on low heat' but sometimes it burst into flames that were difficult to extinguish and upset the little Jewish community very much.

From 1501 a fairly interesting document has been preserved not only about the promissory note trade, but also about the manner of travel at that time, in particular when Jews travelled with the observance of holidays and an effort not to desecrate the Holy Sabbath. For that reason Jewish merchants, when travelling in caravans, had to leave the protected group of their non-Jewish colleagues, and often fell victim to robbers because of their devotion to faith and tradition.3

In 1501 the Jew Shemuel Richoma (Samuel Richoma Hebreus) arrived in Ragusa (Dubrovnik). Maybe Richoma was not his surname, but a nickname from the Italian ricco uomo (rich man). He came from Italy and intended to go on to Skopje, to his aunt Donna Danora, who was engaged in trade inside and outside Turkey. Donna Danora died in that year and Shemuel, as her heir, demanded from one of Danora's debtors in Ragusa to pay him a promissory note, but the debtor demanded that Shemuel bring proof of his right to inheritance.
At the beginning of 1502 Shemuel Richoma decided to move to Skopje and to settle there. On April 14, 1502 he agreed with two seamen from Koločep that they should carry for him six bales of various domestic goods of a value of 300 Ducats on their ship from Ortona. On May 9 the goods arrived in Ragusa. On the same day Shemuel Richoma signed a contract with the hired coachman Ivan Mirosaliċ that the latter transport his family and goods on his horses from Ragusa to Skopje.

This unique contract, in Italian, is preserved in the Dubrovnik archive and was published for the first time in 1937, and we publish it here because it is characteristic of the circumstances prevailing at the time. Among other things, in this contract the observance of the Sabbath is expressed as noted earlier.

Shemuel Richoma, Jew, who now has here in Ragusa several bales of textiles and other things, and women, which have to be taken to Skopje, takes on voluntarily and contracts this transport with Ivan Mirosaliċ from Maleševac, petty merchant and coachman, who is present and agrees, and has agreed with him in this way, namely: Since the aforementioned Ivan has promised to come to Ragusa on the 21st of this month with 46 good and fitting horses, namely five with saddles, for people who will ride, and the remaining 41 with packsaddles for the bales that are to be loaded. And on the following day, the 22nd of this month, he will take and load the bales and women of the mentioned Shemuel, loading two women on each horse, and equally two bales per horse, only if the bales will not exceed in weight that of the bales usually made here by the Florentine merchants. And the said Ivan is obliged to load and depart from Ragusa on the same morning with the whole load, and to take the said Shemuel and his women and bales directly to Skopje on the horses mentioned, namely Shemuel and the other people who will ride with him, and the said women and bales, with Shemuel's entire goods, promising to keep them good and faithful company and that he shall on the whole trip behave to them humanely, as a good and faithful coachman, and that in everything permitted, honest and customary he shall be obedient and devoted to the said Shemuel, and shall well protect all his belongings and bales. According to the contract, if some horse disappears on the way, the said

Contract of Shemuel Richoma for the Move to Skopje from 1502 (From the book by Jorjo Tadiċ The Jews in Dubrovnik, p. 47

Ivan is obliged, at his account, at once to procure as many other horses as, when and as often as they shall be lacking and missing, so that the said Ivan is due to bring to Skopje the said Shemuel with his escort and bales without any defect or injury. If it should be necessary to take more horses, he cannot ask for more payment from said Shemuel than for 46 horses. In case the said Ivan does not provide the necessary horses on the trip, in place of those that go missing, the said Shemuel is allowed to provide them on account of the said Ivan. And Shemuel promises the said Ivan for his supplies and payment for this whole trip to Skopje, to pay 150 aspra for each horse, during the trip as much as needed, and the rest in Skopje immediately after all is unloaded. The said Shemuel equally promises to pay to the above mentioned Ivan, as petty merchant, for usual and customary gifts three aspra daily, with the remark, since Jews according to their custom honor the Sabbath, that on each Sabbath the said Ivan must stop with the horses at the place which he reaches on Friday afternoon, and for this day of rest the said Ivan will have from the said Shemuel a gratuity of two aspra for each horse, on condition that on the whole trip, except for the Sabbath, the said Ivan is obliged to stop and rest with the whole caravan for one day for the needs and at the will of the said Shemuel, without any payment, for this is according to the contract.

The Trial of 1502

One of the big affairs happened in the night between August 5 and 6, 1502, when in Ploče, on the way that led to Turkey through the village of Brgat, an old Christian woman was murdered who lived there with her ten year old grandson. On the following day ten Jews were arrested, suspected of having committed that crime.Without concrete proof, testimonies were collected from some persons who claimed to have seen Jews on that night near the house of the old woman. In line with the police regulations of that time, the accused were tortured according to the notorious method: their hands were bound behind their back, they were lifted up by pulling a rope and then suddenly lowered to the ground. There were other methods; during that time two confessed that they had been accomplices in the murder - with the aim to take blood from the old woman and extract her heart ‘for Jewish rituals’. In order to avoid further torture, the prisoners confessed that they had in fact committed this murder and pointed to a few more Jews as accomplices who were at once arrested. Among them was the highly respected physician, Moshe son of Marcilius from Bari, who had for seven years conducted a medical practice to the general satisfaction of all the inhabitants, and for some time was also the official physician of Bari.. Some eminent Turks in nighbouring Bosnia were among his patients.4
Not all those arrested broke down during interrogation but the confession of one was enough to seal the fate of the others. Ten Jews accused of ritual murder were sentenced to death. Four were publicly burnt at the stake in the central square in Ploče in front of St. Anton's church, together with the corpse of the physician Moshe who had been strangled in prison the day before. They did this out of fear that the Turks would ask for him and free him. Two of the accused died in the interrogating torture and they were thrown into the sea outside Lokrum. Three were lucky only to be expelled from the town.
We found no trace of this event in Hebrew sources, nor in the Dubrovnik archive. Among the records of three state councils and of the government meetings, always full of detail, there is not one word about this process. It is also significant that somebody had destroyed three pages of the record of the court inquiry against the physician Moshe, cut with a sharp knife at the binding itself.

Two very well known Dubrovnik rabbis have left an authentic picture of their time in their writings. Rabbi Shelomo Ohev (according to Tadić: Salumun Oef) as a consul of the Levantine Jews (according to documents of the Dubrovnik archive), together with four colleagues on January 25, 1577 defended the interests of some Levantine Jews.6

In the fifteen-sixties a Jew named Shneur Benvenisti was arrested in Ragusa and sentenced to death by hanging. There are no details left why he got such a severe penalty, but before the execution Benvenisti was called to court by the authorities and ordered to write a last will; they dictated to him what to write, certainly not out of his free will, and without any Jews as witness, only in the presence of the court clerk and the investigator - torturer. The problem was whether this last will was valid and the question was sent to the well-known Rabbi Shemuel de Medina in Salonica, who decided against the legality of this and similar documents. However de Medina did not stop there, but expressed himself very sternly in his reasoning on the administration of justice in Ragusa, where there was no law, and right did not rule but banditism, that there was nothing stable there, not even the ruler, but every month a new one was appointed He mentions that Jews had settled there only recently, that they were very few in numberand were not permanent inhabitants of the town.7
That same Rabbi De Medina discussed several questions sent in connection with commercial transactions between Venice and Ancona and towns in Albania and Macedonia. Sometimes only some insignificant detail is mentioned, and sometimes there are names, such as Shemuel Ergas (with Tadić 16 times) - Hoshen Mishpat, question 377. The minutes were written in Ragusa on Wednesday, 13th of Shvat 5336 (1576), and were signed by the witnesses Yitzhak Binjamil and Jehuda ben Altabib.8

There is testimony from 1597 from which it can be seen that on Thursday, Adar beth 25, 5357 in the court at Monastir (Bitola, Macedonia), in front of three judges David Trevis gave his evidence under oath about nine Jews who drowned in the Adriatic, sailing from Ragusa to their homes in Monastir. David Trevis stated that he was at that time in the temple in Ragusa, and that the haham, the respected Rabbi Shelomo Ohev, his name be blessed, ordered the hazan (cantor) to say the 'kadish' ,a prayer for those persons who had suffered the shipwreck and drowned in the sea, in the 'infinite water'. However the chazzan did not know the name of those drowned, so Rabbi Ohev asked Trevis to give the names to the hazan. Trevis knew those people because they were his fellow townspeople with whom he had arrived in Ragusa, but - fortunately for him - he decided not to return with the group, and so he could give their names. Rabbi Ohev later sent a letter to Monastir with details of their death, so that their wives, hitherto considered ‘deserted wives’ (agunot) cold be declared widows and could remarry.9

The Process of Yitzhak Yeshurun in 1622

Rabbi Shelomo Ohev wrote the book 'Shemen haTov' (The Good Oil) that was bound together with the book 'Zekan Aharon' by his son-in-law, Rabbi Aharon ben David Hacohen-Lunelli, printed in Venice by David ben Aharon Hacohen-Lunelli who was Rabbi Ohev's grandson and the son of Rabbi Aharon Hacohen-Lunelli. The book contains a special appendix under the title 'Maasse Yeshurun' (The Yeshurun Case) as well as poems dedicated to Yeshurun. On pages 147a, 147b and 148a Rabbi Aharon describes the sufferings of the Jew Yitzhak Yeshurun, who had been accused and sentenced for a 'ritual murder' he had not committed.
On Saturday, the first day of the Succoth festival in 5383 (September 16, 1622) the news spread in town: a girl, daughter of Giulio Longo, a local merchant who lived in the suburbs, had disappeared. A search was organized, but she was not found. Towards evening a false rumour spread that she had been found. Among the people who assembled on the spot there was a Jew, whom a Christian from Ragusa addressed and told him that it was lucky that the matter had ended in this way, for otherwise, had the girl not been found, the Jews would have been suspected and brought to court under the accusation that they had killed her for the festival rituals. The Jew only made fun of this.
A day passed. Night had fallen and it was established that the rumours had been false and the girl had not been found. At night her father went outside the town with the guards to look for her, all over the surroundings, in the gardens and on the roads outside the ramparts where the girl used to walk. They went from house to house until they came to the house of (Maria Matkova), 'a mean and wicked non-Jew'. They conducted a search there and found the corpse of the murdered girl under her bed, wrapped in her torn dresses.
The woman was arrested at once and chained, and the girl's father tried to kill her, but the guards did not permit him to do so. It was decided to keep her under house arrest until dawn, for the town gates were closed until then.
Many friends and neighbours and men came with their wives to see her in her house and to hear her shame; they asked her why she had done it and cursed her to her face, and she kept silent. Among others a certain non-Jew arrived and suggested that perhaps the Jews had talked the woman into killing the girl in order to use her blood for the festival. These words were fixed in her mind 'like a snake's venom' and aroused a hope that she could save herself.

'Maasse Yeshurun' (The Yeshurun Case)

The next day, when she arrived at court, this damned woman saw that there was no hope for her and remembered what that man had suggested, that this was a Jewish custom for their festivals, and so she told the judges: "I did this because a Jew forced me to do it.” This woman actually knew only one Jew named Yitzhak Yeshurun with whom she had pawned some clothing for 50 dinar, worth one real (the dinar was a small silver coin, of different size at different times, but with the same appearance; on one side the image of Christ, and on he other that of Saint Blaise (the patron saint of the city of Dubrovnik, where he is known as Sveti Vlaho). She declared that this Jew had ordered her to kill the girl. The court immediately ordered the closing of the gate of the Jewish courtyard, called ghetto (Giuderia), and to bring YitzhakYeshurun to court to confront that damned woman. When they brought him in and he heard what she claimed, a great fear came over him because of this false accusation and he said that had never done it and that her accusation was false, but the judges sent them to two separate jails.

'Maasse Yeshurun' (The Yeshurun Case)

Towards evening they brought the Jew before the judges and hatched a conspiracy to induce him to confess. At the investigation the Jew was afraid when he saw that they prepared a trap for him that could lead to a death sentence; he made a mistake and said that he had never before seen her, did not know her and did not understand her language. However, witnesses were found who confirmed that Yeshurun knew this woman and that they had sometimes seen him speaking to her. Yitzhak Yeshurun was arrested on the spot.
On the third day after his arrest the torture began. They bound his hands behind his back and suspended him by them. He was thus suspended for a whole hour and during that time they raised him by a rope to more than 20 ells (1 ell = 45 cm) and released the rope so that he fell suddenly and parts of his body fell apart. So in that hour they did three times what in their language was called 'tratti' (jerks). They did all this in order to force him to confess that he ordered that woman to commit the crime, but he, by the grace of God, endured the torture with courage. Then they took him, tortured, beaten up and crushed, and returned him to jail. They conferred and decided to continue the torture and to apply another kind of torture.
On the seventh day after the arrest the torture was continued. Before they suspended him by his hands bound behind his back, they shaved his head because they claimed he was a magician and had therefore endured the torture the first time and had remained silent. Yeshurun complained, wept and screamed that he was innocent, but they did not believe him. With enormous strength and with the help of God he withstood the torture this time too. The judges were amazed that such endurance was hidden in him and understood that this was 'not from this world', so they did not want to rely on their opinion alone, but turned to a council of 12 counsellors called Minor Consiglio (The small council). The counsellors conferred and decided to torture him for the third time with more severe tortures than before.
On the twentieth day after his arrest, his torturers invented a much more severe method of torture in order to extract a confession from him. They not only left him suspended by his hands bound behind his back, but tied each of his feet separately and stretched each foot to one side, shook him and left him suspended after they put a beam between his legs so that he could not put them together; this aggravated his position of being suspended by his hands, and the beam was very heavy. The pain was more than excruciating. They raised and lowered him every now and then for a whole hour. He only called God and moaned and wept 'like an ostrich in the desert '.
Yeshurun's torturers heckled him: "Jewish dog!" and demanded that he confess to have ordered the woman to kill the girl, and when he again answered that he was completely innocent and that his torturers would have to render an accounting to the heavenly court if he died, they laughed at him.
After one hour they took him down from the rope and marvelled how a person could endure such torture and not confess. They then decided to torture the woman by binding her hands behind her back, but she continued to claim that Yeshurun had talked her into the murder.
Fifty days after his arrest (November 5, 1622) they again suspended him with his hands bound behind and brought a goat and bound it with its head down next to Yeshurun. The goat wiggled in all direction and hit Yeshurun with its horns until it died.
At once they brought a still bigger goat and suspended it like the fist one. It also tried to escape, hitting Yeshurun with its horns so terribly that even a stone or iron would have broken into pieces. He intended to confess to the crime he had not committed. He told himself that it was better to die at once than after severe torture. But miraculously, this time when they attached the goat to him, it was as if he had got some unusual strength and resistance and he almost did not feel pain.
Instead of believing Yeshurun's innocence, who explained to them that he had endured all tortures because to him, as to the Biblical Daniel (who was thrown into a lion's den and by his righteousness saved his own life and that of his compatriots) the Almighty had given strength and stood beside him, the authorities came to the conclusion that an ordinary person could not endure such tortures without dying, and even walk as if he were healthy. They concluded that Yeshurun was a sorcerer and with the help of his magic did not feel the tortures. That woman, sentenced to death, constantly claimed that Yeshurun had induced her to commit the crime.

Gershon Apfel: Yitzhak Yeshurun was arrested. On the third day after his arrest the torture began

The torturers again gathered for a consultation with the ‘Great council’ (Consiglio Maggiore dei Pregati) where it was decided to get the better of him if his magic power was in his hair, his clothing or any part of his body. They ordered him to be shaved over the whole of his body, from head to foot. They did not leave one hair. They cut the nails on his hands and feet with scissors, removed all his clothes and gave him others. They took him from that jail to another one. They made him drink herbal preparations that made him vomit and caused strong diarrhoea, to empty him from above and from below, and if he would die, he would die. And not this only, but from time to time their priests arrived, cursed him and burned incense in order, as they thought, to thrash out the magic charm and the devils from him, and they did not know that God Almighty was with him. And the little food they gave him - it was all unclean and unworthy and forbidden by his religion, but they did not allow Jews to bring him food and drink, fearing that it was bewitched. And the Lord saw all his disgrace. And after all the tortures they added another one, for the fifth time.
On the first day of the festival of Hanukkah he was again tortured. In he course of an hour and a half they applied 'tratti' (Tratti di cordo - Jerks of the rope) and the rulers and all the citizens could not believe that Yeshurun did not fear death although he was five times submitted to severe tortures, which human strength cannot by its nature endure - except with the help of God.
When they saw that Yeshurun did not confess to the crime even at the price of death through torture, they tried to provoke a quarrel among the Jews and to find some reason to arrest another one of them and to torture him too, so that at least he would confess to something that he had not done.
The Jewish community in Ragusa was in panic:

We were afraid day and night, and always when they took Yitzhak to be tortured, our hearts were terrified that, God forbid, he should be induced to confess, disaster would not befall him alone, but we would all, God help us, drink the glass of grief. We always found out when they took him to be tortured and at once all gathered in the temple in front of God's scrolls and prayed for his mercy.

What they feared happened. At the end of October 1622 Rabbi Aharon ben David Hacohen was arrested at the house his parents "on the basis of a letter that had reached me from abroad from a haham, and they took this letter that was written in the Holy Language and ordered the letter to be translated and they found some dubious passages in it." They took him below the gallows and questioned him again, expecting to obtain at least some confession, but he trusted God and took an oath to do good deeds if he remained alive. Even though finally nothing was found that would justify keeping Rabbi Aharon in jail, two more Jews were arrested, Joseph Abuav and David Lanciano and thrown into a pit, because a non-Jew testified that he had seen them in conversation with Yitzhak Yeshurun on the day that the girl was killed.
Guards patrolled day and night around the Giuderia, the Jewish ghetto, so that no Jews could leave and escape. Rabbi Aharon wrote about this:

They allowed no representative or defender among the non-Jews to defend us as was the custom, although we shouted and sent letters on this and that. We beg you to listen to us, to visit us and to mention our claims, and know that we are truly sincere…
We shouted to them and got no answer, and we could trust nobody except our father in heaven, to whom we prayed, fasted and wept…

On November 29, 1622, Rabbi David Hacohen-Lunelli, father of Rabbi Aharon, the author of the book ‘Zekan Aharon’ was also arrested. He was accused of having tried to send a letter to a friend of his, an official, in which he asked him to try to halt the blockade and curfew which was in force day and night. They were forbidden to converse with any living soul for fear that they would escape and to allow the Jews to leave their ghetto in order to engage in their trades, for they had no guilt. The guards had allegedly seen that old Rabbi David handed the letter to the son of that official so that he would take it to his father. Rabbi David was accused of wanting to give the official's son money in order to bribe him, and this was the reason why they arrested him during the Hanukkah Festival and sent him to torture.
Old Rabbi David remained in jail for fifteen days and the Jews could not help him since all were detained in the ghetto. All they could do was to pray day and night during those fifteen days, and also during Hanukkah, asking the Almighty that the old rabbi should not be tortured like Yeshurun who was as innocent as Rabbi David.
In the meantime in the prison of Ragusa they did not know what to do with Yitzhak Yeshurun. Some demanded that he be beheaded, while others said: no blood shall be spilled without sufficient witnesses and proof, but throw him into a deep pit, bury him live. And indeed he was sentenced to twenty years and it was ordered that no Jew should approach him, in the hope that they would find additional excuses and reasons to punish the other Jews.
In the meantime they ordered that no Jew should enter town without a special permit from the authorities, and even then all would vouch for each other in order to make their life difficult and to hatch plots against them
They threw Yitzhak Yeshurun into a pit at the bottom of a cave and closed the entrance with a big stone wall and bulwark and they did not leave him more than one opening of about 28 cm by 28 cm so that they could pass food through it. The pit was very narrow, less than one meter wide.
The original text continues:

And they left him there… and all his bones burst and all his organs atrophied… His hands and arms atrophied from the strong binding and suspension and other tortures. His joints dislocated and he lost all feeling and felt his body as a dead tissue so that he could not even lift his hands to his mouth. And although we spoke about him to those competent to let him go until he recovered a little, for he could not lift his hands to his mouth and could not relieve himself and that he would die, and that would be as if they had killed him with their own hands, nobody listened to us and nobody wanted to hear us, for it was their intention that he should die…
But the Lord did not allow this and may His name be blessed… Although they had thrown him there, miraculously, although he did not feel his hands and his organs had atrophied, we tried as much as we could with God's help and we hired a non-Jew to bring him food and water. He did that as follows: He would take a wooden beam with a little cavity at one end, where he would put some food and drive it through the hole. Yitzchak would lick the food like a bull grazes grass in the field. Through a wooden tube, which Yitzchak would put in his mouth, this non-Jew would slowly pour water from the outside. He had to do so because the walls were so thick that a human hand could not reach the inner face of the wall. This man was paid by the Jewish community, and every one took the obligation, according to their respective resources, to ensure that Yitzchak would get meals twice a day, in the morning and in the evening…

Gershon Apfel: Yeshurun in the bottom of a cave closed with a big stone

Tadić wrote on page 130 that "the heart of some Christian was moved by compassion, and he fed him beef and vegetables…" - while from the above text it can be seen that this Christian was hired and paid by the Jewish community. In addition, in the original text it says nowhere that he fed him beef (!!!) but only vegetables, which Yitzhak ate as cattle grazes vegetables in the field.

Poor Yitzhak Yeshurun could not help himself, the pit filled with excrement and urine and stench and his body collapsed, it was covered with festering wounds and he was at the limit of life. In this condition, as if by miracle from the Lord, there came unexpected help. A tomcat squeezed through the narrow opening, lay on his hands and warmed Yitzhak and licked his wounds so that they were cured without medicine. Within a month he started to feel his hands and his body again.
In that year, as Rabbi Aharon wrote, voices were heard in Christian circles against such cruel measures as were applied to the Jew Yeshurun. These voices started not because they were against those tortures, but because they were overcome by fear and panic because disease started to spread in their town and there were many fatalities. It was already heard that this was God's punishment for their behaviour towards Yeshurun, the innocently condemned Jew. After almost three years from Yeshurun's 'burial' in the pit, his application for a pardon was delivered.. It is not written who delivered this petition in Yeshurun's name, but it contained the following:
Already for three years I am buried in this solitary and dark prison full of humidity and water from all sides, my body is more and more ruined without a bed, festering wounds spread over my entire body so that I have almost lost my sight… and in addition, worst of all is the hunger of which I shall die, because the few remaining Jews in Ragusa are unable to help me…

The person who wrote the petition for him knew exactly that the number of Jews in Ragusa had sharply fallen in those years. On December 13, 1622 there were 47 adults who were forced to vouch for Rabbi David Hacohen-Lunelli, Joseph Abuav and David Lancin, so that these three could be freed from jail and those three vouched for all inhabitants of the ghetto that none of them would leave without a special permit. In the first months of 1624, petitions were delivered and approved for the departure from Ragusa of five families: Uziel, Hacohen, Pernik and two Lanciano families. 11
The Jews of Ragusa, all as one man, did not rest regarding Yeshurun. They continually asked the authorities to remove the man from the pit, to suspend his further serving of the sentence and grant him amnesty:

We tried with all our strength, again and again. For a year and a half, we knocked every day on the doors of the rulers - from the age of 18 to the oldest ones -and asked them to agree, all three legislative bodies and three quarters.11

It can be read between the lines and it was also spelled out that the Jews of Ragusa paid bribes to all those people. It was stressed that 'the matter was not easy, and that 'the water reached to their souls' while they bribed those people and paid according to their demands.
In another source, in the responsa of Rabbi Daniel Ishtrusa 'Magen Giborim', Salonica 1754, question 25, we found a reflection of the effort to procure the money for the purchase of Yitzhak Yeshurun:

In this small town on the seashore, where there were few inhabitants, sons of Israel, there occurred a bad and bitter event, when a Jew was arrested and accused of ritual murder and anger fell upon the whole community. They passed through evil and misfortune. And they spent a lot of money to the extent that they had to pawn valuables from the Temple in order to save a Jewish soul and for other expenses. And the Lord helped them and they went out from darkness to light.

Although they thought to have paid all their debts, suddenly bills started arriving for the interest. Then they decided to introduce the gabela, a kind of internal tax in Jewish communities, a tax on all possible sorts of goods for import and export and transit of goods, both from local Jewish merchants and those who passed through the town, from Turkey and to Turkey, but in a way that the merchants did not feel it. And the Jewish merchants of Ragusa acted thus until one day a local merchant refused to pay tax on goods from Western Europe and was excluded from the community. This man went at once to the authorities and told them all he had against the community, especially in relation to the gabela. The authorities immediately punished the community as a whole and prohibited the collection of gabela, except if someone decided of his own free will to pay it.

Finally, after two years and eight months in the pit of horror, the Martyr of Ragusa Yitzhak Yeshurun was freed from a false ‘blood accusation’, on condition that he leave his town forever immediately after his liberation:

And they opened the pit at once and destroyed it. And all we Jews came there to thank the Lord for all the good deeds he did to his people and especially because nobody thought that Yeshurun would leave the pit alive. What astonished us was his physical condition. He was healthy and a sign of the torture could be seen only on the small finger of his left hand. And we all rejoiced in his liberation and we all came to visit him and see him, and we all were amazed and knew that something like that could only have happened with God's help…

After his liberation from the pit Yitzhak Yeshurun left Ragusa for Jerusalem where he died at an unknown date. Kaznačić writes on page 14: "Jesurun partí infatti subito per recarsi a Gerusalemme, dove anche finí la vita" - but does not indicate the source of this information.
Along with the ransom of Yeshurun the Jews of Ragusa achieved another success: the authorities allowed them to leave the ghetto freely, and they compared this to the exodus from Egypt.

It is very strange that Jorjo Tadić praises the attitude of the citizens of Dubrovnik, who had not exterminated the Jews from their midst or mounted a pogrom against the Jewish community, as had happened in those times in similar cases in the West, where Yeshurun would surely have been killed, and the majority of Jews would have remained without their homes, shops, property, and some also without their lives. Tadić concludes that "looking from this aspect at the proceedings against Yeshurun shows the inhabitants of Dubrovnik of that time in a rather good light…

Notes

1 Nachmuli, Hoshen mishpat, question 18.
2 About Jewish physicians in Ragusa see: Tadić, pp. 243-
271.
3 This contract with Mirosalić, in Italian, is preserved in
the Dubrovnik Archive (Diversa Notariae LXXXI, 111)
and published for the first time by Tadić, pp. 47-49.

Much has been written about the proceedings against Yitzhak Yeshurun and only lately, working on the Hebrew sources, it crossed my mind to check the credibility of the translation that is always quoted and to compare it to the original
And as L. Munster found some disceepancies in the identity of the physician Moshe from Barletta (see above), so also in Kaznačić's translation several very significant errors appear which greatly change the sense of the text.
Prof. Jorjo Tadic, who published a book about Jews in Dubrovnik, writes (pp. 119-134) that the whole chapter about Yeshurun from the book 'Zekan Aharon' (Aharon’s beard) by David ben Aharon Hacohen Lunelli published in Hebrew in Venice in 1657 was translated into Italian, and the Dubrovnik historiographer Fra Serafin Crijević (Cerva) wrote the same thing in his book Sacra Metropolis Ragusina, vol. I, pp. 291-301.
In Tadić, p. 130, we read that "Isaak was thrown into a deep prison, with a door walled-in with stone and lime. Only one opening, three hand breadths wide, was left to let outer air in. The whole room was not longer than twenty hand breadths…"
According to Tadić, the size of the 'room' (not the pit) was about 20 spans (pedalj) breadths, meaning 20 x 22,5 cm, i.e. very comfortable 4,5 meters.
'Tefah' or 'tofah' was an old measure of length, and one 'tefah' equals 9,3 cm.
The "three tefahim wide opening", i.e. 3 x 9.3 cm, which means 28 cm.
On the same page Tadić writes that "the heart of a Christian was moved by pity. He fed him with beef and cabbage which he attached to a long stick and put it through the ventilation hole, where the mouth of the prisoner would await the food."
From the above-quoted examples we come to an obvious conclusion: Much of historic literature, even of the most distinguished textbooks, encyclopaedias and lexicons, has been written with no knowledge of Hebrew texts, which resulted in a chain of assumptions, transmitted from one author to the other. The source text has most often not been checked, and sometimes not even referred to.
4 On the physician Moshe (Moses), son of Marcilius, see: Tadić, pp. 246-247. Ladislav Munster, Collection of the Jewish Historical Museum (JIM) , Belgrade, 1/1971, p. 99, corrects Tadić and writes that Moshe (Moyses) Maralio (not Marcillio) was from Barletta, not from Bari; Moyses Maralio, fisico ebreo de Barlecta. He presents this from documents from camera della Sommaria, Registri 'Partium', vol. 41, fol. 85.
5 On the alleged ritual murder in 1502. See in detail: Tadić,
pp. 108-118.
6 De Medina, Hoshen Mishpat, question 18 - concerning the surname Ohev, writes that a certain Joseph Ohev, merchant from Ancona, testified in Venice on the 12th Nissan 5329 (1569), but soon afterwards we learn that this Joseph Ohev was murdered in Ancona and that his widow lost all their property and fled to the Ottoman Empire - Idem, question 380.
7 De Medina, Hoshen Mishpat, question 350.
8 De Medina, Hoshen Mishpat, question 63.
9 Sasson, question 4.
10 See Tadić about the families Abuav (Abuaf/Aboaf),
Lanciano, Pernik, Uziel.
11 Tadić, p. 131, says that the sentence was approved by
the votes of three quarters of the members of the Great Council, of which all noblemen from the age of 20 were members.

Bibliography

(h) = Hebrew
(s/c) = Serbo-Croat

De Medina (h) Shemuel de Medina, Responsa, Salonica 1594.
Yaari (h)Abraham Yaari, Travel Literature of Jews whoImmigrated to Eretz Israel, Tel-Aviv 1946.
Magen (h)Daniel Ishtrusa, Magen Giborim, Salonica 1754.
Mayim(h) Eliahu ben Chaim, Mayim Amukim, Constantinople 1610.
Mishpatim (h) Shemuel ben Yitzhak Gaon, Mishpatim Yesharim, Salobniva 1732.
Nachmuli (h)Shemuel Nachmuli, Ashdot HaPisga, Salonica 1790
Ohev (h) Shelomo Ohev, 'Shemen HaTov', Venice 1657
Sasson (h)
Aharon ben Joseph Sasson, Torat Emet, Venice 1626.
Tadić (s/c) Jorjo Tadić, The Jews in Dubrovnik until the middle of the 17th century, Sarajevo 1937.

Jennie Lebel (1927-2009), Israeli historian born in Serbia. From the History Of the Jews in Dubrovnik is a chapter from Not to be Forgotten (Da se ne zaboravi) translated by Paul Munch

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License