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This webpage reproduces a section of

Abyss of Despair

Rabbi Nathan Hanover

Bloch Publishing Company
New York, 5710‑1950

The text is in the public domain.

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 p. ix  Preface

It is surprising that a history-conscious people like the Jews produced so few chronicles and autobiographies between the destruction of the Jewish state and the nineteenth century. They witnessed tremendous events; in many of these events they frequently played an active role; yet the Jews, who were certainly not illiterate, were not often moved to record or evaluate what went on around them. One reason may have been an unwillingness to complain against God's judgment, since almost every event resulted in hardship for the Jewish people no matter whether or not it proved beneficial for society in general. Perhaps this silence was due also to the conviction that the mere recording of events did not serve to promote piety or obedience to the divine law. They did produce a number of "Chains of Tradition" and some descriptions of martyrs and martyrdom, perhaps because they felt that the transmission of God's teaching and self-sacrifice for the sanctification of God's Name were of greater consequence than the rise and fall of kingdoms and more real than personal fortunes whether good or bad. On the other hand, it is not impossible that more chronicles actually were written than have come down to us. The massacres and lootings, the exiles and destructions which every Jewish  p. x community suffered probably destroyed many invaluable records and personal reports.

Few as are the chronicles which have come down to us, they have remained practically unknown. Now and then a Jewish scholar has given of his time to editing one or another of them or translating it into a western language. The Jews of Germany did most in this respect; the Jewish scholars of America thus far have done comparatively little. Ours are, however, historic days for the Jewish people. Interest in our past has grown and one's mind naturally seeks parallels in our long and tragic history.

The events which befell the Jews of Eastern Europe in the decade 1648‑1658 come to mind at once when one thinks of the fate of East-European Jewry in modern times. The modern tragedy is, of course, incomparably greater; yet then as now the eastern part of the Jewish world was bathed in a sea of blood and tears. Almost the sole chronicler of those events was Nathan (Natta) Ben Moses Hanover. His description, brief though it is and devoid of literary grace, does give us an idea of the immensity of the misfortune which befell his generation. Rabbi Nathan did not completely grasp the social and economic significance of the events he described. The facts themselves were apparently not too clear in his mind. Many of the figures he mentions are obviously exaggerated; he obtained most of his information at second or third hand. His description is, nevertheless, the only fairly complete record of what happened, and he sensed the depth of the tragedy and its consequences.

 p. xi  One must therefore admire the devotion of Rabbi Abraham J. Mesch and be grateful to him for his efforts in presenting us with this excellent translation of the Yeven Metzulah. The literalness of his translation reproduces the tone and flavor of the original, its horror, its pathos, its piety. His introduction gives the essential facts needed for an understanding of this chronicle and his notes serve to remove obscurities. Otherwise he lets the author speak for himself. Rabbi Mesch has done well, and has unquestionably rendered a service to those who seek to understand the history of the Jewish people.

One dares hope that, even as Chmielnicki's hordes tried but failed to uproot Jewish life, so Hitler's even more bestial gangs will be proved to have left the roots of Jewish life untouched.

Solomon Grayzel

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Page updated: 22 Dec 22