Basel: The Jew

The Jew
Basel's dance of death, The Jew

Todt zum Juden:
HVjum Jud,(1) mach dich auff die Fahrt.
   Deins Messiæ hast zu lang g'wart:
Christum welchen jhr habt ermördt
   War der recht, jhr habt lang gejrrt.

Death to The Jew
Yoo-hoo! Jew, (1) start traveling.
You have waited too long for your Messiah.
Christ, whom you have murdered,
was the right one. You have long been mistaken.

Der Jud:
EIn Rabi war ich der Geschrifft,
   Zog auß der Bibel nur das Gifft:
Gar wenig nach Messiam tracht,
   Hat mehr auff Schätz vnd Wucher acht.

The Jew.
I was a Rabbi of scripture.
I drew only the poison out of the Bible.
I have desired Messiah very little,
have paid more heed to treasures and usury.
Kleinbasel. The Jew.
Kleinbasel, Jew
Büchel, Großbasel. The Jew.
Büchel, Jew

The Jew gets a hard time from Death, who tugs his beard, steals his money and accuses him of having killed Jesus.

One wonders why a Jew appears in this dance of death anyway, since Jews where not allowed to live in Basel. In 1397 all Jews with the exception of Physician Gutleben and his family had fled from Basel — most probably because of rumours of well-poisoning.(2)

The Jew-hate seems to have grown with each renovation of the mural in Basel, for if we look at the corresponding scene in Kleinbasel (picture to the left), Death behaves much more civilly: Death originally walked along with the Jew and satisfied himself by reproaching him for being fooled by his religion: »Din talmüt hat vil gelogen, Do mit bistu balt betrogen« (="Your Talmud has lied much, by this you have been swindled").

In Großbasel the Jew is pulled, so the contents of his purse drops out. In Büchel's watercolour (to the right) the money is still in free fall, but in Merian's copperplate (above) they are lying on the ground along with a pair of dice.

The dice were a special tax imposed upon Jews - a so-called Würfelzoll - where the authorities could demand dice from Jews. A "discreet" reminder about how the Jews had thrown lots for Jesus' clothes at Calvary (in spite of the Bible clearly stating that it was the Roman soldiers who cast lot about Jesus' raiment).

Frölich gives the Jew a 5th line: »Dasselb mir inn die Kuche bracht«. The German expression "in Teufels Küche bringen" means to get someone into a hell of a mess. The idea is that kitchens are usually hot, so "Hell's kitchen" is even hotter than the rest of Hell.

English translation from Beck, 1852
Death to the Jew.The Jew's reply.

Up, Jew, and take the common gate,
In vain you for Messiah wait;
Christ, whom, you slew, was He indeed,
You've follow'd long a hopeless creed.

As Rabbi long the law I knew,
But poison from its pages drew;
Messiah had few charms for me,
My faith was Gold and Usury.

Translation from Hess, 1841
Death to the Jew.Answer of the Jew.

Up, up! jew make the on the road
For the messia thou tarryet to long,
Christ whom you have murdered
Was the right, you have long erred.

A rabby I was of the scripture
Drew of the Bible but the poison,
I little did for messia care,
My mind for usure, and treasures were.


Various Artists

Merian (1621)
Merian 1621: Jew
 1715: Jew
Chovin (1744)
Chovin 1744: Jew
Kleinbasel (1768)
Kleinbasel 1768: Jew
Büchel (1768)
Büchel 1768: Jew
Büchel (1773)
Büchel 1773: Jew
Büchel (1773)
Büchel 1773: Jew
Girardet (1788)
Girardet 1788: Jew
Feyerabend (1806)
Feyerabend 1806: Jew
Hess (1841)
Hess 1841: Jew
Beck (1852)
Beck 1852: Jew
Stuckert (1858)
Stuckert 1858: Jew

Footnotes: (1) (2)

Hujum. . .: a challenging shout. In Swiss villages there was a shout, a "Huium-Ruf". A young man, who would a wooing go, could stand in front of the house of his chosen one and shout to his rivals:

Hui-um! Dumedum.
Wele chunt und g'heipi um?!

Yoo-hoo. At all sides.
Who comes and throw me over?!

Jews fleeing from Basel. . .: A document from 1404 specifically states that all Jews had left Basel on November 5th 1397.

We are told in 1446 that the Jews had been worried about their own safety and they escaped to Duke Leopold in Austria. As to why the Jews feared for their safety, several Jews had been arrested in the 1390's in the neighbouring cities and had been charged with spreading a powder in the wells that caused a plague-like disease.
(Source: M. Ginsburger, Die Juden in Basel, Basler Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Altertumskunde, vol. 8, 1909, pages 394-396)