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The confiscation of books

In September 1509 the baptised former Jew Johannes Pfefferkorn appeared before the Frankfurt city council with an order from the emperor Maximilian to assist him in confiscating all Hebrew books. He claimed that the Talmud in particular contained insults to Christian beliefs and was a heretical departure from the Hebrew bible.
Accompanied by several city councillors and Frankfurt clerics Pfefferkorn entered the Judengasse to confiscate Hebrew books, starting at the synagogue. However, the Jewish community managed to persuade the Archbishop of Mainz to intervene and stop this campaign. They sent the cantor, Jonathan Zion as an embassy to the emperor in North Italy to get back the confiscated books and prevent further confiscation. His efforts were unsuccessful, and Pfefferkorn confiscated over 1,000 books in the Judengasse during a second operation in April 1510. Shortly after this, a way out unexpectedly appeared for the Jews. The duke of BraunschweigKalenberg had become deeply indebted in the emperor's service and had pledged his jewels with the Frankfurt Jews. He asked the emperor to help prevent the sale of the jewels, and the emperor offered to return the Hebrew books if the Jews gave the Duke more time. However, despite the return of the books Johannes Pfefferkorn persuaded the emperor to order at least five scholarly reports on the key accusations. The report by Johannes Reuchlin, which opposed the confiscation primarily on legal grounds, provoked violent attacks by Pfefferkorn and his backers among the Cologne Dominicans. Reuchlin was then defended by Ulrich von Hutten and other leading humanists. This dispute with the "obscurantists", as the humanists described their opponents, raged for years in publications and lawsuits, and became one of the key intellectual events at the dawn of the modern era.

© Jüd. Museum Frankfurt 1992-2002 /  Sources