Sunday, April 07, 2013

The Child Ghosts of Prague

Above is one of a series of brief animated shorts entitled Legendy Staré Prahy. This one is called "O neviňátkách z židovského hřbitova"; I don't speak Czech, but the story can be identified with a miracle-working tale associated with the Judah Loew ben Bezalel, a renowned 16th-century rabbi whose name came to be linked, long after his death, with the legend of the Golem.

In the original tale, the Jewish population of Prague has been visited with a terrible plague, leading to the deaths of many of its children. Convinced that this affliction must be a divine punishment of some sort, Rabbi Loew dispatches a young pupil to the Jewish Cemetery to steal a shroud from one of the young ghosts who emerge at midnight to play among the headstones. When the ghost comes to the synagogue to retrieve the shroud, Rabbi Loew demands that the child first reveal what has brought God's wrath upon the community. The child identifies two adulterous couples whose sins have been concealed from view, and once they are confronted and punished the curse is broken. (The film version seems to single out one woman, but perhaps the narration makes this clearer.)

A version of the above legend can be found in The Jews of Bohemia and Moravia: A Historical Reader, edited by Wilma Iggers; a very similar one is included in V. V. Tomek's Jewish Stories of Prague. More shorts in the series can be found at the Legendy Staré Prahy website; there is also a companion English-language page with one of the shorts in translation.

Update: There is now an English-language version of the above video.


Tororo said...

This post immediately brought to me memories of Leo Perutz's novel By Night Under the Stone Bridge: one chapter in this book tells this story. A fine novel; did you read it?

Chris said...

No, but thank you for reminding me of Leo Perutz. I read The Marquis of Bolibar years and years ago and loved it, but I think that's the only book of his I got around to reading.

Chris said...

I just caught up with By Night Under the Stone Bridge. I loved it, and read it twice!