An incident of the Franco-Prussian War
that has become famous through copies of a picture which adorns
the walls of hundreds of Jewish homes in this city is probably
being re-enacted today on the battlefields of Europe. This
picture portrays the Jewish soldiers of the German army holding
religious services before Metz, in 1870, while the Prussians
were advancing on Paris.
Among a half million soldiers engaged in the gigantic European
military struggle will lay aside their weapons of war today to
observe Rosh Hashana, or the New Year's Day, the first of the
great autumn holidays.
The picture of the Day of the Day
of Atonement services in the Franco-Prussian War has been so
widely circulated that it is familiar to every Jew. It shows the
Jewish soldiers gathered around a huge altar, saying the prayers
prescribed for the occasion. Many of them are wearing over their
uniforms the talith, a shawl, used in the synagogue by all
orthodox Jews. In the background are shown cannon, sending forth
their missiles of destruction into the ranks of the enemy. Over
the picture is the inscription, in German: "Have we not all one
Father? Were we not all created by the same God?"
Today, amid the roar and the
rumble of cannon, perhaps while shot and shell are whistling
through the air, the high holiday, sacred in every one of the
Hebrew faith, will be observed. The position of the armies, with
their battle lines stretched over many miles, will make it
impossible to hold one big religious ceremony, but doubtless
there will be scores of small services held along the fighting
It is expected, in view of the
conciliatory attitude taken in the Russian Government toward the
Jews since the outbreak of the war, that permission will be
granted these men to rest for a brief spell from the bloody
business of war to worship God according to the dictates of
their religion. The Russian military authorities appear
appreciative of the loyal support of the Jews, and for the first
time in the history of Russia, Jews have been granted
commissions as officers. Following the battles at Lemberg many
Hebrews were commended for their gallantry and several hundred
were appointed officers. These men, now engaged in the campaigns
against Austria and Germany, will no doubt be the leading
spirits in the holding of the religious ceremonies.
In the armies of Austria, France
and England there are many thousands of Jews. The English
soldiers at home have been granted a furlough to spend Rosh
Hashana and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) with their
families. Special provisions have been made for the soldiers in
the field to observe these holidays.
The French are likewise said to
be appreciative of the services rendered by the Jews. Hundreds
have lost their lives, and a recent report from Paris stated
that the Chief Rabbi of Lyons, M. A. Bloch, a volunteer helper,
was killed by the enemy near Saint Die. Major Alfred Dreyfus is
among the French Hebrews now fighting for their country.
The Chief Rabbi of England has
issued an appeal to Jews of the Kingdom to respond to the call
to arms. "Once more we will prove that the old Maccabean spirit
is still alive in us," he says. "We will offer our lives to
defend Great Britain's ideals of justice and humanity. In even
larger number will we continue to join the army of our King. Be
strong and of good courage. The God or righteousness is with us.
He will guard our going out and our coming in."
The Day of Atonement follows ten
days after the beginning of the New Year. It is customary for
Jews to fast on this day, and the majority of the soldiers in
the European armies will do without food for 24 hours, despite
the physical strain that they are now being forced to undergo.