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May 4: Jews and the Hussite Wars

May 3, 2016

250px-Jan_Hus_2Jan Hus, a Bohemian priest and religious reformer who inspired fifteen-year war of defense (1419-34) against crusaders sent by the Catholic Church, was declared a heretic on this date in 1415. Hus was a key predecessor to the Protestant Reformation and was burned at the stake for it later that year. The Hussites were viewed as a “Judaizing sect” by Church authorities because of their embrace of the Old Testament, their rejection of religious saints and icons, and their criticisms of the Church hierarchy and corruption. “There were no direct attacks by the Hussites on the Jews,” writes the Jewish Virtual Library, “although they incidentally became victims of the Hussites, as after the capture of Chomutov (Komotau) in 1421, where Jews were burned at the stake together with the Catholics... and in Prague (in 1422) [where] the Jewish quarter was plundered along with the Old City. However, these attacks were incidental to attacks on Catholics.” Many Jews were sympathetic to the Hussites, and were accused of supplying arms to them; “on that account [they] suffered massacres and expulsions at the hands of the Catholics ...” In 1999, Pope John Paul II visited the Czech Republic and apologized for the Church’s persecution and execution of Jan Hus and his followers.

“[T]he Hussites initiated an important change in the attitude toward the Jews through the interpretations of one of their leaders, Matthias of Janov (d. 1394), of figures like Antichrist as being Catholic and not Jewish, as was maintained by medieval Christianity.” —Jewish Virtual Library