The great advocate ("shtadlan") of the German Jews during the reigns of the emperors Maximilian I. and Charles V.; born about 1480; died March, 1554, at Rosheim, Alsace.

While still young he worked for the welfare of his coreligionists, and probably was instrumental in thwarting the hostile plans of Pfefferkorn. In 1510 he was made by the Jewish communities of Lower Alsace their "parnas u-manhig" (sworn guide and leader). As such he had "to keep his eyes open in special care of the community," and possessed the right to issue enactments for the Jews of his district and to put under the ban ("ḥerem") refractory members. On the other hand, he had to defend in dividuals and communities against oppression, and, if necessary, to appeal to the government and to the emperor. During the first years of his public activity Josel lived in the town of Mittelbergheim. In 1514 he with other Jews of this place was accused of having profaned the consecrated host, and was put in prison for several months, until his innocence was established. Soon afterward Josel moved to Rosheim, in which place he remained until his death.

Seal of Josel of Rosheim.

In 1515-16 he aided his oppressed brethren in Oberehnheim by bringing their complaints personally before the emperor Maximilian I. and obtaining a special imperial safe-conduct for them. During the peasants' war in 1525 Josel succeeded in protecting the Alsatian Jews against oppression and in inducing the army of the peasants, already drawn up at the gates of Rosheim, to leave the town in peace.

Advocate of the German Jews.

Josel was the advocate of all the Jews in the German empire. Soon after Charles V. had ascended the throne (1520) Josel procured a letter of protection from him for the whole German Jewry; ten years later he obtained its renewal. Several times he interceded successfully with King Ferdinand, brother of the emperor, in favor of the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia. In 1530, in presence of the emperor and his court at Augsburg, Josel had a public disputation with the baptized Jew Antonius Margarita, who had published a pamphlet full of libelous accusations against Judaism. The disputation terminated in a decided victory for Josel, who obtained Margarita's expulsion from Augsburg. At this same Reichstag Josel defended the Jews against the strange accusation that they had been the cause of the apostasy of the Lutherans. Josel's most important action at the Reichstag of Augsburg was the settlement of rules for business transactions of the Jews. They were forbidden to exact too high a rate of interest, to call a negligent debtor before a foreign court of justice, etc. Josel announced these articles to the German Jews as "governor of the Jewish community in Germany."

In Bohemia.

While still occupied with the Augsburg articles Josel had to hurry to the court of Charles V. of Brabant and Flanders in order to defend the calumniated German Jews there (1531). In this to him most inhospitable country—for no Jews were living there then—he spent three months, occupying himself, when he was not officially engaged, with Hebrew studies. Though his life was once in danger, he succeeded in attaining the object of his journey. At the Reichstag of Regensburg (1532) he tried in vain to dissuade the proselyte Solomon Molko from carrying out his fantastic plan to arm the German Jews and to offer them as a help to the emperor in his wars with the Turks. Molko did not follow Josel's advice, and soon after was burned as a heretic. In 1534 Josel went to Bohemia to make peace between the Jews of Prague and those of the small Bohemian town of Horowitz. He succeeded in his mission, but the Jews of Horowitz plotted against his life, and he had to seek refuge in the castle of Prague.

In 1535 Josel traveled to Brandenburg-Ansbach to intercede with the margrave Georg in favor of the Jews of Jägerndorf, who had been falsely accused and thrown into prison; and he obtained their freedom. Two years later Josel tried to help the Saxon Jews, who were threatened with expulsion by the elector John Frederick. He went to Saxony with letters of high recommendation to that prince from the magistrate of Strasburg and to Luther from Capito, the Alsatian reformer. But Luther had become embittered against the Jews on account of their faithfulness to their creed, and he refused every intercession, so that Josel did not obtain even an audience with the elector. But at a meeting in Frankfort (1539) he found occasion to speak to the prince, whose attention he attracted by refuting, in a public dispute with the reformer Butzer, some spiteful assertions about the Jews. In the same Reichstag Melanchthon proved the innocence of the thirty-eight Jews who had been burned in Berlin in 1510, and this helped to induce Kurfürst Joachim of Brandenburg to grant Josel's request. The Elector of Saxony then also repealed his order of expulsion.

Refutes Luther's Charges.

The same year Josel heard that the Hessian Jews had to suffer many persecutions because of a pamphlet by Butzer. He therefore wrote a defense of Judaism in Hebrew, to be read in synagogue every Sabbath for the comfort of his coreligionists. The magistrate of Strasburg having expressed the belief that attacks on Christianity were contained in the defense, Josel had a verbatim translation made and sent to him. Soon Josel had to defend the Jews against the attacks of Luther himself, who in 1543 had published a very spiteful pamphlet entitled "Von den Juden und Ihren Lügen," which had led to harsh treatment of Jews in different Protestant districts. Josel refuted Luther's assertions in a voluminous petition to the magistrate of Strasburg, and the latter thereupon inhibited a new edition of Luther's book. In 1541 Josel appeared as "chief of the Jews in the German lands" at the Reichstag of Regensburg, and succeeded in averting a dangerous edict which would have forbidden the Jews to engage in any monetary transaction. He succeeded at the Reichstag of Speyer in 1544 in obtaining a new letter of protection for the German Jews from the emperor, wherein they were expressly allowed to charge a much higher rate of interest than the Christians, on the ground that they had to pay much higher taxes than the latter, though all handicrafts and the cultivation of land were prohibited to them. At the same time Josel paid to the emperor in the name of the German Jews a contribution of 3,000 florins toward the expenses of the French war. In the Speyer letter of protection, referred to above, the emperor disapproved of the accusation of ritual murder, and he ordained that no Jew should be put in prison or sentenced for this crime without sufficient proof. Josel was anxious to obtain this order because in 1543 at Würzburg five Jews accused of ritual murder had been imprisoned and tortured. After having personally interceded in favor of these prisoners Josel at length obtained their pardon from the emperor.

In 1546 Josel was called upon to interfere in behalf of the whole body of German Jews, who suffered much during the Smalkaldic war. Through Granvella, the influential counselor of the emperor, Josel obtained an imperial order to the army and a mandate to the Christian population in favor of the Jews, so that they were not molested in the course of the war. As a proof of their gratitude Josel caused the Jews to provide the imperial army with victuals wherever it passed. In recognition of the great services rendered by Josel to the emperor onthis occasion and previously, Charles V. renewed at Augsburg in 1548 the safe-conduct for Josel and his family, which thereby received the right of free passage throughout the German empire and free residence wherever Jews were allowed to live. Josel's life as well as all of his belongings was thus protected by a special imperial order. Even in the last years of his life Josel was able to make himself useful to Charles V. In 1552 he sent to the emperor at Innsbruck by a special messenger a warning that Elector Moritz of Saxony intended to invade Tyrol, and the emperor was thus enabled at the last moment to effect his escape.

Literary Activity.

Josel worked for the welfare of his people to the last, dying suddenly in March, 1554. In his active life he always found time to study religious literature, and besides his apologetic pamphlets he wrote several religious and ethical works, which in part are still extant. His most important books are: (1) "Derek ha-Ḳodesh," written 1531 in Brabant, containing rules for a pious life, especially in cases where a Jew has to bear martyrdom. Two fragments of this work, otherwise lost, are retained in the book "Yosif Omeẓ," by Joseph Hahn, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1723. (2) "Sefer ha-Miḳnah," finished 1546, the first part of which contains words of admonition against traitors in the midst of Israel, the second part being cabalistic. A manuscript in the Bodleian Library, Oxford (Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS." No. 2240), contains the greater part of this work. Josel's memoirs (printed in the Hebrew original with a French translation in "Rev. Etudes Juives," xvi. 84) contain reports (incomplete) of some important events in his life until 1547, especially some relating to his public activity. They seem to have been written down soon after that year.

  • H. Bresslau, in Geiger's Zeitschrift für Gesch. der Juden in Deutschland, 1892, v. 307-334;
  • M. Stern, ib. iii. 66-74;
  • Kracauer, in Rev. Etudes Juives, xvi. 84, xix. 282;
  • Scheid, ib. xiii. 62, 248;
  • Grätz, Gesch. ix., passim;
  • M. Lehmann, Rabbi Joselmann von Rosheim, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1879;
  • Ludwig Feilchenfeld, Rabbi Josel von Rosheim: Ein Beitrag zur Gesch. der Deutschen Juden im Reformationszeitalter, Strasburg, 1898, where the earlier bibliography is to be found.
D. A. Fe.
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