Megilat ‘efah (Scroll of Terror)

Shabbetai ha-Kohen Katz


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This text recounts acts of violence against Jewish people. The text provides insight into Jewish history; however, The Posen Library does not condone or promote violence or oppression of any kind.

The year 5480 of the creation of the earth and heaven, in the first month, which is the month of Nisan, the wailing of the oppressed increased. For then the hooligans began to cut off and harry the weak from the lily of the valley, and they killed supremely pious, holy, righteous, and beloved ones—several hundred holy souls, poor, sighing, and moaning.

And many officers and a great multitude of the Poles set out against them, to fight with the hooligans and to pay them the fruit of their deeds. And it happened that when the Poles drew close to their camp, to Ukraine—the land of the impure—and its surroundings, then the hooligans met them with great cunning and deceptions. For also those hooligans, who legally are registered in their books as not going to fight against the Kingdom of Poland, so that instead twelve thousand Cossack soldiers would gird their loins in service to the king and to help in whatever should be decreed upon them, but now they [the Polish Cossacks] violated the law of the covenant and made an alliance with the rest of the hooligans, their brethren, and also sent out and gathered auxiliary hordes with them. And they entrapped the general of the king’s army with all his officers and aides, slaughtering them, and plundering all their money. [ . . . ]

And this was close to the holiday of Shavuot, three days before the catastrophe, on Wednesday, which is destined for their pogroms. And on that day the king [Władysław IV Vasa] died in Lithuania, very far from the land of Ukraine. And he was gathered up near the great city of Vilna, the capital of his kingdom. And the king knew nothing about the war in the hour of his demise. Also, the hooligans did not know of his death. And we the people of the Lord, His servants, His flock, dispersed in the states of Lithuania, wept and mourned for the late, honored king, and we still did not know about the harsh decree that the Lord had passed against His people.

And the entire House of Israel in the land of Ukraine, each one of them left his home—abandoned their dwellings and their land—and nothing was left to anyone except his body and a few belongings, which they saved, each one, to live on. And on the day of the holy assembly of Shavuot, they violated the commandments, to flee and courageously protect their souls. The Sabbath, our festival and holiday, which the whole Jewish people should celebrate. And many fled to the holy community of Nemirov, the large and important city, the chief community; and they did not yet know about the death of the king [Władysław], and because of that, they still placed hope in Him who dwells in praise, that God would send help through the king.

And it happened afterward upon hearing [that the king had died] they were very sad and wept and implored in prayer, and tears were always on their cheeks, and they sang dirges and howled; for they saw that great and terrible misfortune had befallen them. And when the hooligans heard of his death, they were very happy. Then the entire nation of Poles was paralyzed with fear, trembling in their boots. The main roads were abandoned and quiet, as if a terrible Sabbath had struck the nation.

About fifty scheming hooligans came to the holy community of Nemirov, and they sounded trumpets and rams’ horns, and the whole nation witnessed these sounds (Exodus 20:15), thinking they were Poles come on horses and chariots with great fanfare, so they went to open the gates of the fortress, so they would not be locked out. Their devilish trickery succeeded, and they killed about six thousand holy souls in the city: geonim, rabbis, sages, wise men, old men, young men, maidens, grooms and brides, children and women. And especially the wise gaon R. Yeḥiel Mikhel, a man of counsel. And a few hundred were drowned in the water and in all manners of severe torment.

And in the synagogue before the Holy of Holies, they slaughtered by turns the cantors, prayer leaders, and beadles. There the children of Israel sacrificed burnt-, sin-, and guilt-offerings, binding themselves like rams, sheep, and goats. And a pleasant odor went up to God, who dwells in Tarshishim [paradise], and afterward they destroyed the miniature Temple there, the wild persecutors roared, and they took out all the Torah scrolls, old and new, and tore them to bits. They scattered them on the ground to be trodden on by men and beasts alike; they also made footwear and clothes out of them, facing the writing to the earth so their feet tread all over the parchment.

And this was on the twenty-fourth day of the month of Sivan, the third month, of all kinds of thirds, the day when the lights were hung [the fourth day of creation], and the word lights is written defectively [i.e., without the letter vav], so it is a cursed day of malediction for weak children.1 For the evil decree of 4931 [1171, marking pogroms in Blois] was also on that day [Wednesday] the twentieth of this month, when we were shamed and humiliated.

Behold, the holy community of Nemirov was the center of the pogroms of the empty, foolish, and stupid hooligans, and from there they spread out over the entire land and became many more. One started in the holy community of Tul’chyn; they besieged the fortress there for eight days, and they surrounded it until everyone in it was hungry and thirsty. And there were Jews there as well as many nobles from other nations, and always, day and night, they did not rest. They fought the Cossacks, and afterwards the insurgents spoke to the officers and nobles, “Why are we fighting each other, for it is the miserable Jews who have hated us from ancient times?” And they spoke sweetly to them, with impassioned complaints: “After all, we have nothing against you, nobles and peaceful men. Just give us the Jews, who deny our faith, and we will drink a cup of consolation for them, and we will do what we want to them, and we will gore them as with the horns of oxen.” And the nobles heeded the words of the hooligans and delivered the sons of Judah to them. And there they killed about three thousand righteous and innocent souls; they struck them down, wounded their bodies, and beat them severely with every kind of weapon, with plows, spades, and axes.

Translated by
Jeffrey M.


[It is a play on words: me’orot = lights; me’ara (without vav) = a curse.—Trans.]


Shabbetai ha-Kohen Katz, “Megilat ‘efah (Scroll of Terror)” (manuscript, Vilna, 1651). Excerpts published in: Simon Bernfeld, Sefer ha-demaʻot, vol. 3 (Berlin: Eschkol, 1926), pp. 133–140.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 5.

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