This Day in Jewish History / Rabbi Hayim Reizes of Lemberg Is Burned at the Stake

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On May 13, 1728, Rabbi Hayim Reizes, of Lwow, Poland (Yiddish: Lemberg; today Lviv, Ukraine), was tortured, killed and then burned at the stake after being convicted, along with his brother Yehoshua, of luring a Jewish convert to Christianity to renounce his faith and return to Judaism.

Hayim ben Yitzhak Reizes and Yehoshua ben Yitzhak Reizes, born in 1687 and 1697, respectively, were leaders of the Jewish community in Lemberg. Hayim was a dayan (rabbinical judge) and a delegate to the regional Jewish council; Yehoshua headed the town's yeshiva.

Early in 1728, it became known that a Jewish apostate, Jan Filipowicz, had abandoned his newfound Christianity. Both abandoning the faith and encouraging someone else to do so were capital crimes, and the local bishop ordered an investigation of Filipowicz’s case. A number of prominent Jews fled the city rather than submit to interrogation, but the Reizes brothers were arrested. Even though they were both tortured, they denied having had any contact with the recidivist Filipowicz, who was not even from Lemberg. Nonetheless, they and two other Jews, one of them a rabbi, were accused of kidnapping and imprisoning Filipowicz to make him return to Judaism. They supposedly also planned to smuggle him out of the country.

Hayim and Yehoshua were placed in a lineup, and Filipowicz was ordered to identify the men who had allegedly tampered with his faith.

According to the Hebrew-language records of the Lemberg burial society (as cited by Jacob Rader Marcus in the source book “The Jew in the Medieval World”), Filipowicz, who had also been tortured by the Catholic clergy during his interrogation, walked by Hayim and Yehoshua without pointing to them. At that point, Hayim called out to the bishop: “See, my lord, I am indeed innocent of this sin, and I have been suspected without cause.” Immediately Filipowicz announced that it was indeed they who had lured him astray: “Thou art the man, and your brother, too!”

The brothers were convicted and sentenced to death. A Christian source says their sentence called for “their tongues … to be torn out of their throats, and while still living, they are to be quartered and then burnt.” Yehoshua is said to have hanged himself while imprisoned (another source says he slit his throat), with his body then dragged through the streets before being burned.

Hayim remained in prison for 41 days and was executed on the eve of the festival of Shavuot. For a full three days before that, however, a Jesuit priest named Zoltowski tried to convince him to convert, offering to have his punishment revoked if he would take the cross. According to a Jesuit source, the priest “was unable to extract anything from [Rabbi Reizes’] obstinate chest.” He was then quartered, with his body burned at the stake. The Jewish community of Lemberg purchased the ashes of Hayim and Yehoshua and buried them in the local cemetery.

But that wasn’t all. Because Hayim Reizes was a wealthy man, the court ordered that both his and his younger brother’s property be confiscated and sold, with the proceeds used to help fortify the city walls and pay for a stone sculpture of Jesus on the Cross. As for Jan Filipowicz, he underwent re-baptism, after which he was beheaded and burned.

A Jew being burned at the stakeCredit:

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