Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich   Letter 002   26-Sep-1997   Jewish prayer or Jewish curse?
Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich
"I therefore stand by my statement that there is a special prayer recited each week in synagogues throughout the world in memory of the Jews massacred by Bohdan Khmelnytsky in 1648-1649." Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich

September 26, 1997

Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich
29 Shchekavytska Street
Kiev 254071

Dear Rabbi Bleich:

In your letter to the editor of The Ukrainian Weekly (March 12, 1995, p. 7), you describe a Jewish prayer that is recited in synagogues every Saturday:

The prayer was of course written after the Crusades in the 13th century, as was pointed out, and, therefore, was traditionally recited only twice yearly near the anniversary of the massacres committed by the Crusaders.  It is only since the Khmelnytsky pogroms that it is recited weekly by all congregations following the Eastern European Jewish customs.  This explains why in communities following the German or Ashkenazic tradition this prayer is still recited only twice annually.  They were not affected by Khmelnytsky.

As a historical footnote it is interesting to observe that while the Hungarian (oberland) communities have always followed the German custom, after the Holocaust of World War II, they too adopted the custom of reciting this prayer weekly.  I therefore stand by my statement that there is a special prayer recited each week in synagogues throughout the world in memory of the Jews massacred by Bohdan Khmelnytsky in 1648-1649.

I wonder if you would mind answering the following questions, or responding to the following requests, concerning the above prayer:

(1) I wonder if you could provide me with a full English translation of the prayer in question, or at least direct me to a publication in which the prayer appears?

(2) I am particularly interested in whether this prayer makes explicit reference to either the Ukrainian people or nation, or whether it explicitly makes reference to the name "Khmelnytsky."  Would you be able to provide me with this information?

(3) If the prayer in question does mention the Ukrainian people or the name Khmelnytsky, then I wonder if you know of any other Jewish prayer which is similarly prominent and frequently repeated, and which similarly mentions some nationality other than Ukrainian, and which similarly identifies an individual of that other nationality by name.  This is relevant to the question of whether Jewish antipathy is distributed broadly over many peoples, or whether it is focused on Ukrainians.

(4) I wonder if you are aware of any Ukrainian Christian prayer which is commonly recited and which either mentions Jews by name in a spirit of resentment, or else cites the name of any particular Jew against whom Ukrainians harbor resentment?  I am not aware of any such prayer, although my knowledge of these things is limited, and possibly inferior to your own.  In fact, reflecting back over my own religious upbringing in the Ukrainian Catholic faith, I may summarize by saying that references to Jews or to any particular Jew are totally absent from all Ukrainian prayers, ceremonies, and rituals although obviously such references must occur in a benign context with respect to Biblical characters.  The answer to this question bears on the issue of whether the inculcation by rabbis of a Jewish antagonism toward Ukrainians is answered by any reciprocal inculcation by priests of a Ukrainian antagonism toward Jews.

(5) It strikes me as curious that after the Jewish Holocaust of World War II, the Hungarian (oberland) communities changed their prayers so as to include mention of Khmelnytsky rather than of Hitler or of Eichmann.  I wonder if you would care to comment on this choice?

(6) Are Jewish prayers ever edited to reflect recent events?  For example, might you yourself ever advocate that as Hitler and Eichmann posed clear cases of anti-Semitism while Khmelnytsky did not, and as they inflicted greater suffering on the Jewish people, and as that suffering was more recent, that Khmelnytsky should at long last be retired from the Jewish prayer in question and replaced by Hitler or Eichmann?

(7) I wonder if in Jewish inculcation of hatred toward Khmelnytsky, a dissenting voice is ever heard mentioning that Khmelnytsky was leading an enslaved people in a rebellion against Polish oppression, and that he only incidentally targeted Jews because Jews happened to be the instruments of that Polish oppression?  And I wonder if that dissenting voice ever mentions that Khmelnytsky directed the Ukrainian fight for freedom impartially against all who opposed Ukrainian freedom namely Poles, Catholic priests, Jews, and other Ukrainians who chose to ally themselves with the Poles?  And I wonder, finally, if any dissenting voice ever has the courage to mention in any discussion of Khmelnytsky that the immediate cause of his mounting the rebellion was that a Polish nobleman had confiscated Khmelnytsky's estate, murdered Khmelnytsky's son, and abducted Khmelnytsky's betrothed?

(8) I wonder if you ever pause to reflect how inappropriate and unwelcome is your recitation of the prayer in question?  On Ukrainian soil, you weekly recite a prayer which inculcates hatred toward Ukrainians and toward the leader of the one of the great rebellions of Ukrainians against slavery.  Imagine if on Israeli soil a Ukrainian priest were to weekly recite some prayer which inculcated hatred toward Jews and toward the leader of one of the great rebellions of Jews against slavery.

Yours truly,

Lubomyr Prytulak