(Mother & Martyr) Mistress Rachel (Mainz Anonymous)

There was a distinguished young woman there named Mistress Rachel, daughter of Isaac, son of Asher, who said to her friend: “Four children have I. Have no mercy on them either, lest those uncircumcised ones come and seize them alive and raise them in their ways of error. In my children, too, shall you sanctify the Holy Name of God.” One, of her friends came and took the knife. When Rachel saw the knife, she cried loudly and bitterly and smote her face, crying and saying:  “Where is Your grace, 0 Lord?” She [the friend] then took Rachel’s little son Isaac, who was a delightful boy, and slaughtered him. She [Rachel] had spread her sleeves between the two brothers and said to her friend: “Upon your life do not slaughter Isaac before Aaron.” The lad Aaron, upon seeing that his brother had been slaughtered, cried: “Mother, mother, do not slaughter me,” and fled, hiding under a box. Rachel then took her two daughters, Bella and Madrona, and sacrificed them to the Lord, God of Hosts, Who commanded us not to depart from His pure doctrine, and to remain wholehearted with Him.

When this pious woman had completed sacrificing three of her children to our Creator, she raised her voice and called to her son Aaron: “Aaron, where are you? I will not spare you either, or have mercy on you.” She drew him out by his feet from under the box where he had hidden, and slaughtered him before the Exalted and Lofty God. Rachel then placed them in her two sleeves, two children on one side and two on the other, beside her stomach, and they quivered beside her until finally the errant ones captured the chamber and found her sitting and lamenting over them. They said to her: “Show us the money you have in your sleeves”; but when they saw the slaughtered children, they smote and killed her upon them.

It is of her that it was said: ”The mother was dashed in pieces with her children.” She perished with them, as did that righteous woman who perished with her seven sons, and it is of her that it was said: ”The mother of the children rejoices. “

–Mainz Anonymous

[source: Shlomo Eidelberg (trans. & ed.), The Jews and the Crusaders: The Hebrew Chronicles of the First and Second Crusades, pp.99-115]

The story of Mistress Rachel is from the Mainz Anonymous, a late 11th C or early 12th C. Hebrew chronicle of the massacre of Jews in the Rhineland during the Christian First Crusade. In any number of studies, Robert Chazan has commented about the detailed realism of this particular document. I would only add by way of noting the stark and gruesome realism in this particular story. Including Mistress Rachel among others, Mainz Anonymous tells about real people, identified by name. The disturbing story of Mistress Rachel, “dashed into pieces with her children,” and her poor son Aaron, who runs, hides, and begs for his life, confounds conventional ideas about motherhood and martyrdom. The fierce and fearsome Mistress Rachel is not a typological or idealizing figure; the brutal scene is one of panic and utter terror.

[the image is a contemporary sculpture by Ian Rank-Broadley of Licoricia of Winchester, an important Jewish moneylender from England about whom you can read here.]

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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