HISTORY OF THE
JEWS IN KOJETIN (KOJETEIN)
Arthur Steiner, Engineer, in Brno (Brunn),1929
The first Jews settled in Kojetin (which they calledGojetein or Goitein), and in other communities in Moravia, several centuries ago. It can be assumed, with a high degree of probability, that the first Jewish settlers arrived as early as the twelfth century, the period of the Crusades, and that they came in search of refuge from the persecutions of the Jews taking place in other countries. In the fourteenth century the pressure on the Jews in the royal Moravian free cities of Brno (Brunn), Znojmo (Znaim), Olomouc (Olmutz), and Unicov (Mahrisch-Neustadt), and ultimately their expulsion from these cities in 1454, also contributed to their settling in Kojetin. Factors that militate in favor of these assumptions include favorable local conditions and historical considerations, as well as sixteenth-century records and the presumable age of the Kojetin synagogue and cemetery.
The oldest records to provide definite information about the existence of a Jewish community in Kojetin are found in a chronicle in the local seigniorial archives. It is stated in this chronicle that in 1566, 52 Jewish families were living in the Judengasse, the Street of the Jews. The writer goes on to describe the protection fees and other assessments characteristic of the period:
"In the year 1566.
"Fixed payment by the Jews of Kojetin.
"a) All Jews in Kojetin, both the residents and those in their charge (villeins), make an annual payment on the feast of Saint George to their Lord (Vratislav of Pernstejn) in the amount of 20 Schock· 7.5 Groschen, for ground rent.
"b) Also once a year, on the feast of Saint Andrew, they contribute 2.5 stone (1 stone = 10.25 kg ) of suet. This assessment was soon converted into a money payment, and instead of suet the Jews made payments of 1.5 Schock on the feast of the feast of St. George and 1.5 Schock on the feast of the feast of St. Wenzel.
"c) The Jewish residents made an annual payment on the feast of Saint George, for the Jewish villeins under their care, of 7.5 Groschen current payment for each villein.·
"d) In addition, the Jews paid the Lord on the feast of Saint George an additional 13 Schock, and another 13 Schock on the feast of St. Wenzel."
These assessments were certainly oppressive for that time, and they also indicate the high price the Jews were obliged to pay for the right to settle in the community and for their supposed protection.
Other records in an old Title Register of the city of Kojetin contain a description, in Czech, of the purchase of a piece of property for the Jewish cemetery:
"In the year of Our Lord 1574, on the Friday following the Feast of Candlemas, before Judge Jakob Sumrest: Jan Suchanek sold the one-third portion (plus two ells) of his field (known as 'Na krizieich) behind Olomouc Street, as free and unencumbered, with all appurtenances to the entire section of this field existing since time long past as he himself used them, to the Jews of Kojetin, as inherited property for their burials and their cemetery, for the price of 28 Schock.
"Which said amount the said Jews immediately paid in cash to the said Jan Suchanek.
"The Jews hereby bind the said Jan Suchanek, for a future time, to build and erect at his own expense a fence between his field and the property sold to them.
"And he delivered this field to them, before the aforementioned judge, in proper order and in accordance with the customs of this city." (Title Register, Folio 128 a-b)
Other observations and oral tradition indicate that this simple fence offered adequate protection, for the reason that next to the cemetery stood the place of execution and burial for criminals, and later the boneyard as well. The local people, who were very superstitious in those days, understandably avoided this site.
These records clearly indicate that at that time the Jewish community was already fairly large and, accordingly, that it had been in existence for a long time. The aforementioned chronicle also indicates that the cemetery was being expanded at this time. Unfortunately old tombstones, the inscriptions on which could provide clues to their age, no longet exist, but numerous empty spaces in the cemetery point to the previous existence of such stones.
However, the synagogue provides interesting clues regarding the fate and the probable age of the community. It was built of stone and brick, and was initially designed to hold about 300 persons. Evidence indicates that it was renovated in 1614, but it dates from a much earlier period. This is indicated (despite the absence of a definite style) by the construction method used in the large building, which is set deep into the ground, and particularly the construction of the entrance with its small windows and the four steps that lead down to it. The cupola in the temple and the pyramidal roof, however, are definitely constructed in the manner current around the turn of the seventeenth century, and were in fact (as appears to be explained later) rebuilt after a fire in 1718.
A tradition still alive in the second half of the nineteenth century held that the synagogue was 600 years old. In any case it is interesting that even transmitted oral tradition spoke of synagogues in three other Moravian communities , Hustopec (Auspitz), Bucovic (Butschowitz), and Straznice (Spassnitz, called Dresniz by the Jews) , supposedly built by the same builder, in the same construction style, and with the same mistakes, as in Kojetin. (One such mistake is that the entrance was positioned on the side instead of facing the Holy of Holies on the east.) Based on their initial letters, these four Moravian communities were designated for short by the first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet. (aleph, bet, gimel, and dalet).
Still to be found in the synagogue, and in an amazingly good state of preservation, is an extremely valuable brocaded porach with gold embroidery. The inscription indicates that it dates from the year 5442 (1681), and that it was donated during a time of great distress in the community.
As already indicated, the community may already have been in existence in the twelfth century and the size of the synagogue and the cemetery point to a community of some significance. After the sixteenth century, however, it diminished considerably. One factor contributing to this decrease may have been the Thirty Years' War, although it impoverished the Jews less than the Christians. Evidence indicates that by 1657 there were only 16 inhabited Jewish houses. The Register of Lahnen (properties) in the Provincial Archive contains a list of the inhabitants names and occupations:
"Kojetin, Register of Lahnen
. Designation No.62 of the Provincial Archive Folio 77
Inhabited houses of Jews (13)
"Occupied houses of Jews (3 )
"Total of inhabited houses of Jews 16
"Total Lahnen "7 Achtel Lahn"
However, during the second half of the seventeenth century the Jewish community once again experienced strong growth. During this period the Cossack hetman Chmelnicky (1648-1659) and his bands of Cossacks ravaged Poland, robbing and murdering and creating a bloodbath among the defenseless Jews . Many of the Jews fled to the neighboring territories of Austria, where they acquired land for the establishmentof new communities or many of the existing communities. Certainly some of the refugees fleeing the terrible bloodbath found a welcome haven in Kojetin, offering in exchange the rich store of their Talmudic knowledge, and introducing the Polish prayer rituals that prevailed here until modern times. Kojetin may also have been a place of refuge for some of the Jews who were driven out of Vienna in 1670, many of whom settled in Moravia.
The Register of Lahnen mentioned above shows that after 1657 seven Jewish houses were established and 33 Jewish properties were occupied in the Alte Odung, the area now known as the Street of the Jews. The Register contains the following information:
("Kojetin folio 78.)
Jewish houses registered since 1675.
(These three houses disappeared from the 36 properties,
and no one can say where they were located)
Total in Lahnen
"Jewish property in the Neue Odung, 1657
1 entry in Lahnen
"Jewish properties in the Alte Odung
(18 Folio 19).
"Jewish properties in the Alte Odung
"Total of Jewish properties in the Alte Odung
"Of these 36 Jewish properties there are three houses that cannot be located, and thus the total is now "33
"Total in Lahnen "1 Lahn 7 Achtel"
This record clearly shows the Polish origin of many families and surnames. But these names also include many given to the Jews in mockery by their Christian fellow citizens, names that indicate occupation or origin or which are biblical. Some of these names still existed in Kojetin a few decades ago; they included Gramisch, KIopfer (Schulklopfer), Polak, Konig (Kral), Gutmann, Bachrach (Barach), Wiener, and similar names.
At that time Kojetin was part of the holdings of the Prague Archdiocese, and the Jews enjoyed considerable preferential treatment. The curving Street of the Jews, which was in the center of the community, was always a broad, cheerful street, and even before the Jews were permitted to own property each house had a meadow, which was later transformed into a beautiful garden. In the days when the Jews were still excluded from profitable businesses and earned their livelihood chiefly as peddlers, many of them also went in for cattle-raising and the cultivating of grasslands.·
Shortly after the arrival of the settlers from Poland, the Street of the Jews was devastated by an overpowering fire, during which the synagogue lost its roof. Since the community was unable to collect sufficient funds for its restoration, the synagogue remained unroofed for 50 years. We have considerable information for this period as regards the conditions of the Kojetin Jewish community and the benevolent treatment of the Prague authorities as compared with that of the local officials. Some research has also been done on the history of the Kojetin Rabbis of the time, who had great influence on the destiny of the Jewish community.·
The sight of the collapsing House of the Lord naturally had a depressing effect, and ultimately restoring it became a matter of absolute necessity.
The Chief Rabbi of Hungary, R. Samson Wertheim (1658-1724) had promised
to restore the synagogue with his own funds· . But the local authorities,
who would have preferred to see the "Jewish Schul" in a dirty corner instead of in the beautiful open square, raised objections that were reinforced by reports from informers.
A petition was filed with the Chancellery of the Prague Archdiocese for restoration of the synagogue on its former location. At the same time proposals were submitted for the selection of a Rabbi and a Cantor, along with other proposals aimed at the well-being of the Jewish community, and approval was requested. On May 6, 1718, the anxiously awaited ruling of Ferdinand Count von Khuenburg, the Prince Archbishop of Prague was issued, in which he graciously acceded to "the most humbly submitted proposals" of the Jewish community of Kojetin:
( These are excerpts from the original document in the Kojetin Community Archive.)
The synagogue was now restored in the manner described, although not with money supplied by Rabbi Samson Wertheim, who became celebrated and esteemed not only for his great piety but also for the power of his advocacy. The community, greatly diminished and impoverished by the fire, was now fully reorganized, and despite its small size it became the headquarters of important Rabbis.
The Rabbis of Kojetin
It cannot be determined who were the direct predecessors of Moyses Bernard,
the first Kojetin Rabbi known to us by name, or the dates of his activity.
According to information provided later by Rabbi Eleasar Flekeles· , they
were great Talmudic scholars and authorities in this field.
Not until 1765 was a Kojetin Rabbi appointed. He was Mosche Plumenau, and he had already been working for two years in Nachod. In 1768, Isaschar Ber Bloch, a native of Hamburg, was apointed Rabbi in Kojetin. His sermons, published under the title: "Beit Yisahar"	, won him fame as a darshan, and they were greatly admired as being in the spirit of the times.
This won him an appointment in 1778 to Bucovice (Butschowitz) and then to Senica (Szenitz) in Slovakia, where he is supposedly buried.
Eleasar Flekeles was born in Prague in 1755, and was trained in the very popular Yeshiva of Rabbi Ezechiel Landau, the great master of the Halakah, with whom Flekeles carried on a learned correspondence. He was barely 25 when he became Rabbi in Kojetin in 1779, where he remained for four years, earning the affection of the community. In 1783 he accepted an invitation to serve as Chief Jurist in Prague.
The name of his successor, a Pole and an adherent of Hassidism who after several months had to flee back to his homeland because of the complaints made against him, was quickly forgott.
He was followed in 1785 by Gabriel Bohm of Mikulov (Nikolsburg). At that time the community was in the grip of the messianic movement known as Sabbatianism.
A man named Lasi Kohen was accused at the dukanen of having placed one thumb over the other in the form of a cross. This sufficed to warrant a public accusation that the pious, law-abiding man was a heretic and to exclude him from being called for the Torah.
Rabbi Ezechiel Landau and Rabbi EleasarFlekeles unreservedly pronounced the Anathema against him. Rabbi wrote to the wavering Rabbinate of the community that anyone suspected of Sabbatianism was certainly a disciple of this movement.
Rabbi Mordechai Benet, Chief Rabbi of Moravia, behaved more prudently: He wrote a personal letter to the suspect, urging him to cease and desist from his stubborn opinions and to refuse to allow himself to become the source of a rift in the community. With noble resignation, Lasi followed this advice to the end of his life, so that even his most bitter opponents became admirers of his submissiveness as they stood before his coffin.
Bohm left the Kojetin Rabbinate in 1794, when the uproar was at its peak, and moved to Stravnice (Strassnitz). His successor was Ahron Kitsee, son of Rabbi Hirsch Kitsee, a widely known writer, and grandfather of Dr. Adolf Jellinek, who became famous as a historical researcher and as a preacher in Vienna.
Kitsee was followed in 1795 by Gerson Buchheim. In 1811 he went to Slavkov (Austerlitz), and his place was taken by Moses Perls, whose extensive knowledge of the Talmud, decisiveness, and reverence for truth quickly won him honorable renown. In 1822 he became the Rabbi of Holice (Holitsch). He died in 1858 in his native Uhersky Brod (Ungarisch Brod), as did his successor David Buchheim, who served in Holice from 1822 until his departure in 1832 for Hranice (Mtihrisch-Weisskirchen). He died in 1839.
Jesajas Reiniger was called to Kojetin in 1834. As a young student in the Yeshiva of Bratislava (Pressburg), he had found particular favor with Rabbi Mosche Sofer. In 1841 he was invited to Hranice, where he died in 1856, mourned by all of Moravia.
He was followed in 1842 by Jakob Karpeles, who died just 20 months later while trying to rescue a student who was about to drown while bathing in the river.
Kojetin's next Rabbi was Jakobb Michael Brull, who was born in Neu-Raussnitz on January 16, 1812, and who served in Kojetin from 1843 until his death in 1889.
He was ordained a Rabbi by his father-in-law, Provincial Rabbi Nehemias Trebitsch, and in addition to his official duties in Kojetin he continued his studies and research. Brull's knowledge of the entire Talmud, of which he was a liberal interpreter, was unequaled during his lifetime. He did research on the Targumim and Midrashim, and together with Chajes in 1852 he wrote Die Mnemomik des Talmud (The Mnemonics of the Talmud), published in Vienna in 1864. He wrote for various periodicals (Ben Chananja, Beth Talmud) and for the Jahrbucher fur judische Geschichte und Literatur (Year-Books for Jewish History and Literature).
As the last Rabbi of the old school, Rabbi Jakob Brull represented A harmonious blend of knowledge and pure understanding of human nature. Like many of the Hassidic Rabbis, he was possessed of innate humor and a tendency toward mysticism, and had a loving relationship with the Jewish population, which he also encouraged in the direction of modern culture and education. It was not unusual to hear the sounds of classical music as well as Talmudic arguments in his household. Thus it is not surprising that he was equally respected by the Christians. This respect was extended to the Jewish community of Kojetin. Those who had the good fortune to know Rabbi Brull personally (including this writer) will never forget the impression made by this amiable and venerable old man who was a genuine Jewish priest of the people.
One of Rabbi Brull's sons, Dr. Nehemias (Nahum) Brull served as a Rabbi in Frankfurt-am-Main; he died on February 5, 1891. The other son, Dr. Adolf (Elchanan) Brull, was a professor of religion, also in Frankfurt-am-Main; he died on September 18 1908. Both sons were highly esteemed in intellectual circles, and like their father they actively promoted a genuine humanity and religious freedom. Dr. Nehemias Brull left at his death an extremely valuable and extensive library (10,000 volumes) of Oriental works, which his widow sold to the city of Frankfurt-am-Main.
After Rabbi Jakob Brull it was difficult for the community to exist without a Rabbi. For some time it had to be satisfied with substitutes, and the Rabbis appointed in subsequent years served only for short periods.
Dr. Nathan Steinhart, now professor in Brno (Brunn), served as Rabbi from 1896 to 1900. He was followed by Dr. Sam. Rosenzweig, who served from 1901 until his death in 1903, and then by Dr. Richard Feder (1903-1904) who since then has been a Rabbi in Kolin and the publisher of various journals, Hebrew instruction books, and works of Jewish history. Dr. D. Rudolfer served from 1906 to 1907; he is now Rabbi in Krnov (Jagerndorf). Dr. K. Kupfer served from 1908 to 1909.
The last Rabbi in Kojetin, an extremely zealous and yet peaceable scholar, was Samuel Friedenthal, a student of the Bratislava (Pressburg) Yeshiva, who served from 1910 to 1922, when he died after an illness of many years.