Legends of Jewish Kraków


Legends of Jewish Kraków is a short book with a handful of stories inside– it is a delicious treat that brings me back to Poland. The titles are intriguing:

The Legend of Esterka and King Casimir

Of the two wicked butchers and the non-kosher meat

Of Simon the Miser, later called Saint

Of the Isaac Synagogue in Kraków

The man who wanted to be laid to rest next to Megale Amukot

The Rema and wedding on a Friday night

Of Szcachne, the Jewish boy saved from the Holocaust

“The man who wanted to…” is about a tramp who shows up asking to be buried next to this important Jewish scholar. He pays a rabbi and asks him for the favor, and the rabbi takes the money anticipating that the burial can be dealt with at a later date. However, things change when the tramp drops dead the next day in public and the rabbi has to bury him. He buries him ordinarily and is haunted by the tramp over the next days. He confesses to a colleague who calls together a tribunal to decide what should be done — since he paid, should the body be moved? It is determined the body need not be moved and if he was really noble there would have been a sign to indicate he should be buried next to the scholar. The next day, his remains and tombstone are both moved on their own, showing that he was a tzadik, or a great scholar. The footnote says after the conclusion of the story: Similarly to other Hasidic tales, the legend is about an unknown traveler who after his death shows himself to be a great tzadik, a righteous scholar whose ancient practices, penance, and sometimes even dance granted him special favors with God. Tzadiks delighted in mystery and incantations and usually traveled incognito.

There is a map at the back so you can see where these stories take place in Kraków and the book does a nice job of providing an intro to each story for context. I love finding books on a whim!

If you’re curious about some of the Jewish stories coming out of Poland, this is certainly a satisfying nibble.

3 comments on “Legends of Jewish Kraków”

  1. So interesting! Alison, I am always intrigued by the books that you come across.. Wondering if you have read Patti Smith’s “M Train” – I feel like you would connect with it- it is a memoir that she wrote, basically just following her mental and travel adventures… It was one of my favorite books in the last few years (I actually wonder if I wrote a review of it here, will have to check..). Anyway, thanks for always bringing new and unique stories to our attention..!

    Liked by 1 person

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