excerpted from
Narrative of a Mission of Inquiry to the Jews from the Church of Scotland in 1839
William Whyte & Co., Edinburgh, 1844

(Punctuation and spellings have been amended,
where necessary, for ease in reading.)

        Darkness came on, and . . . we found ourselves approaching Brody through an avenue of tall pines.  It was late when we arrived at the gate of Brody; but it was opened to us on the ground of our being English travellers, and we were soon comfortably lodged in a respectable inn kept by a German Jew. . . .

        At an early hour we were disturbed in a most unceremonious way by a series of Jewish hawkers coming to our chamber, eager to dispose of their goods.  First . . . the door was pulled open, then a fur cap and long beard thrust in while a voice demanded, in German, if we needed knives or combs.  No sooner was this visitor gone than another similar head was thrust in, and a voice asked if we wished to buy soap.  This singular kind of annoyance was repeated by eight similar visitors before we were fully dressed, and we were obliged at last in self-defence to lock the chamber door.

        Brody is situated in the midst of a sandy plain and is five miles distant from the Russian frontier.  So completely level is the country all around that the distant village of Potamkin is the only object beyond the town which arrests the eye.  When a traveler approaches Brody there is no city visible, there being only three spires and all the houses being hid by the trees of the environs.  Its nearness to Russia gives it importance and increases its trade.  There are no more than three Christian churches in the town, two of which are Greek and one Roman Catholic, while there are 150 synagogues.

        The streets in general are tolerably clean, and there is a side-pavement entirely of wood.  The appearance of the population was certainly the most singular we had witnessed.  It seemed wholly a Jewish city, and the few Gentiles who appeared here and there were quite lost in the crowd of Jews.  Jewish boys and girls were playing in the streets and Jewish maid-servants carrying messages; Jewish women were the only females to be seen at the doors and windows; and Jewish merchants filled the market place.  The high fur caps of the men, the rich head-dress of the women, and the small round velvet caps of the boys met the eye on every side as we wandered from street to street.  Jewish ladies were leaning over balconies, and poor old Jewesses were sitting at stalls selling fruit.  In passing through the streets, if we happened to turn the head for a moment toward a shop, some Jew would rush out immediately and assail us with importunate invitations to come and buy.  In the bazaar, Jews were selling skins, making shoes, and offering earthenware for sale; and the sign-boards of plumbers, masons, painters and butchers all bore Jewish names.  In the fish market, the same kind of wrangling and squabbling heard in our own markets was carried on by Jewesses buying and selling.  Jewesses also presided at the flesh and poultry market and in a plentifully stored green-market.  Near these were shambles for "torn meat" to be sold only to Gentiles, Jews being forbidden in the law to eat "any flesh that is torn of beasts."

        The fondness of the daughters of Zion for a fine headdress, which called forth the indigent warnings of Isaiah [probably a reference to Isaiah 3:17-20], still lingers in the hearts of the Jewesses at Brody.  They wear a black velvet coronet, adorned with strings of precious stones or imitation pearls; and though this piece of finery costs several pounds, yet so devotedly attached are they to their "round tires like the moon" that scarcely can an old woman be found seated at her stall who does not wear one, as if they were queens even in their captivity.

        There is indeed a complete air of Judaism over the whole town; and at the Post Office, the notices as to the delivery of letters are printed not only in German and Polish but also in the Hebrew language.  The number of Jewish families enrolled at the last census was 5,000.  An intelligent Austrian, whom we afterwards met at Zloozow--the superintendent of the district--reckoned that there were 25,000 Jews and 10,000 Christians in Brody.  His estimate of the Jewish population is probably very near the truth, though the proportion he assigned to the Christian or Gentile population was perhaps too high.  There are a few professed Protestants resident here, whom the German minister of Lemberg [modern name, L'viv] visits once a year, when he preaches in the hall of the inn where we stayed.  How precious would the truth appear to some of our congregations in Scotland were they subjected to such a famine of hearing the word of the Lord!

        The Jews of Brody carry on a considerable trade with Leipsic and Odessa.  They have great influence in the town, and often act as spies to the Austrian police.  About six years ago, Mr. Reichardt, now Jewish missionary in London, with another Christian friend, passed this way and distributed tracts; information was immediately given to the police, by whom they were detained two weeks till the authorities at Lemberg had been consulted, and then were ordered to be removed forthwith beyond the border.

        There are perhaps forty rich Jews in the city . . . but the greater part are poor.  There are many adherents of the New School, although they have only one synagogue.  Most of the rising generation are giving up the study of the Talmud, and several have been baptized.  There is some learning among them; for in one synagogue we met with several lads who understood and spoke Hebrew.  Many of the young men are beginning to attend the Government schools, in which they are taught Latin and acquire general knowledge.  The rabbi of the New School speaks Latin and French.

        We visited one of their finest synagogues.  It is like an ancient Gothic church:  the roof very elevated and supported by four immense pillars in the massy gothic style.  Brass lustres in great profusion were suspended from the roof, especially in front of the ark, all handsome and brightly polished.  The place might easily contain two or three thousand worshippers.  The voice of prayer and the loud Amen of the congregation must sound very solemnly through the vaulted aisles.  In the porch stand vessels of water for washing the hands; and the whole prayer book is pasted up on boards upon the walls, for the sake of the poor.  In a Beth-midrash adjoining the synagogue, we found a company of Jews engaged in study; and each of us gathered a group around him.  Several were able to speak Hebrew fluently; but there was a reserve about them all that distinguished them from the Jews of Moldavia and Wallachia.  They had secret suspicions that our object in visiting them was connected with the Austrian Government, and our inquiries after some of their books excited their suspicion still more; for some of their books, which speak against the idolatry of the Church of Rome, are prohibited.

        We visited the hospital belonging exclusively to the Jewish community, called by them beth haholim, "the house of the sick," situated in one of the suburbs.  Over the door is a Latin inscription, "Aegrorum saluti."  All the wards were remarkably clean and well arranged, fully equal to those of our own hospitals.  There is a commodious kitchen, where the food is prepared after the English fashion, and there are baths and a flower garden for the use of patients.  The physicians, two surgeons, and the nurses belonging to the establishment are all Jewish.  There were fifty-three cases under treatment at the time, each patient having a board over his bed with his name and disease written on it.  It was a sad sight to look upon the pale faces of dying men of Israel.  O that "the great trumpet were blown for those that are ready to perish!"  The expense of this establishment . . . is defrayed by the interest of legacies and by contributions from the town.

        We then went to the new burying ground, opened in 1831, when the cholera made its ravages in this country, at which time, for a space of three months, there were in Brody 150 deaths every day.  The extensive burying ground is already half filled up, although the tombs are thickly planted together.  The monuments are of a soft chalky stone, and most of them adorned with curious emblems.  The stone is generally painted, and the epitaph is of a bright colour, or sometimes in letters of gold.  One had a crown painted on it, with the words kether shem tov, "the crown of a good name." . . .

        Another had a cup and platter marking the grave of a Levite, who poured water on the hands of the priests.  The outspread hands were frequent, marking the tomb of a Cohen or priest, with the words kether kohanim, "the crown of the priesthood."  One stone had two lighted candles painted on it, and another had a golden candlestick.  The grave of a lady of wealth, who in her lifetime had gone on a pilgrimage to Palestine, was marked by the figure of a ship on the sea and Noah's dove flying towards it.  A gate broken off its hinges and in the act of falling represented the door of the ark in the synagogue rent in mourning for some eminent worshipper, who had been mother of a numerous family.  A hand holding an open book showed the tomb of an author.  A hand pouring water out of one vessel into another was painted on the tomb of a woman who used to carry water for the synagogue.  One monument had a painting of Abraham's house in the plains of Mamre, surrounded by oak trees, with his flocks feeding near; it covered the grave of a man named Abraham.  A house and a human heart, a lion, a roe, an eagle, a pale tree, and many such like were common emblems.  The whole scene brought forcibly to our remembrance the words of the Lord Jesus to the Pharisees, "Ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous."  The same spirit remains in Israel to this very day.  Standing with us among the tombs, our Jewish guide gave us an affecting account of the death of Rabbi Landau, whose picture we had often seen in Jewish houses.  He came from Lemberg when the cholera was raging and visited this burying ground, where he prayed very earnestly over the graves of the rabbis, asking of them forgiveness and promising to be with them soon.  He returned to town, sickened and died, and the next day was buried.

        In the evening, we went to the shop of a Jew and bought tephillin, or phylacteries, the broadest he had.  These consist of little scrolls of parchment in which are written certain passages of the law, enclosed in two black leather boxes, which are bound by leather thongs on the forehead and left hand during the time of prayer.  It was to these that our Lord alluded when reproving the Pharisees, "All their works they do for to be seen of men; they make broad their phylacteries."  We got also the mezuzah, a small scroll of parchment, on which a portion of the law is written, with the name of G-d on the back in transposed letters, which is folded up and nailed obliquely on the door post of every Jewish house.  Both of these superstitions are derived from a misinterpretation of the command in Deuteronomy, "And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes; and thou shalt write them upon the posts of they house, and on thy gates" [Deuteronomy 11:18-20].  The natural heart in all ages and in all nations is well pleased to substitute mere external observances in the place of spiritual heart-religion.  We afterwards purchased a talith, a white woollen shawl, striped with blue at the edge, and having white fringes called tsitsith at the four corners.  The Jews wear this over their head during prayer, while they hold the fringes in their hands and frequently kiss them in obedience to the commandment, "Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments" [Numbers 15:38].  Upon the part which comes over the forehead, the Jews often wear a band of silver embroidery.  A Jewess who had been employed to prepare the tallith for us refused to sew the embroidered band upon the robe unless we procured for her a silk ribband to put between them, alleging that otherwise she would be breaking the law, which forbids them to mingle "woolen and linen" together. . . .

        Early this forenoon, we were sent for by the Commissary of Police, a sharp bustling Austrian with a pipe in his mouth who examined us very roughly.  We believe that they had suspicions of our being missionaries and, in order to entrap us, alleged that we were Jews travelling under a false passport.  The Commissary held a letter in his hand, which he had received from Jalinsky, stating that we went into the synagogue there and joined in the Jewish prayers, even using "Hear O Israel, the Lord thy G-d is one G-d."  "And further," added he, "Why did you buy tephillin last night?"  We were somewhat perplexed as well as amused by this attempt to show that we were Jews and not Christians and were now made aware of the system of jealous espionage maintained in this kingdom of Popish darkness.  We answered that we were Protestant pastors from Scotland and that all ministers in our country are instructed in Hebrew, that we had read in the synagogue only to show the Jews that we knew their language, and that we had bought tephillin as curiosities.  This seemed to satisfy him, and we received our passports for Lemberg; "only," he said, "you must go by Zloozow." . . .

        We at last got away about midday and enjoyed a pleasant drive through a well-cultivated plain, with gently swelling hills on the left, the young wheat springing fresh and green."

Copyright © M S Rosenfeld