More than 800 years ago there lived a very great man in the city of
Mainz. His name was Rabbi Amnon. Rabbi Amnon was a great
scholar and a very pious man. He was loved and respected by the
Jews and non-Jews alike, and his name was known far and wide.
Even the Duke of Hessen, the ruler of the land, admired and
respected Rabbi Amnon for his wisdom, scholarship and piety.
Many times the Duke invited him to his palace and consulted him
on all matters of State.
Rabbi Amnon never accepted any reward for his services to the
Duke or to the State. From time to time, however, Rabbi Amnon would
ask the Duke to ease the position of the Jews in his land, to abolish
some of the decrees and restrictions which existed against the Jews
at that time, and generally to enable them to live in peace and
security. This was the only favor that Rabbi Amnon ever requested
from the Duke, and the Duke never turned down his request. Thus
Rabbi Amnon and his brethren lived happily for many years.
Now, the other statesmen of the Duke grew envious of Rabbi
Amnon. Most envious of them all was the Duke's secretary, who
could not bear to see the honor and respect which Rabbi Amnon
enjoyed from his master, which was rapidly developing into a great
friendship between the Duke and the Rabbi. The secretary began to
seek ways and means to discredit Rabbi Amnon in the eyes of the
One day the secretary said to the Duke:
"Sire, why should you not persuade Rabbi Amnon to become a
Christian, like ourselves? I am sure that considering the honor and
many favors he has enjoyed at your generous hand, he will gladly
abandon his faith and accept ours."
The Duke thought it was not a bad idea. When Rabbi Amnon came to
his palace the next day, he said to him:
"My good friend, Rabbi Amnon, I know you have been loyal to me for
many years. Now I wish to ask you a personal favor. Abandon your
faith, and become a good Christian like myself. If you do, I shall make
you the greatest man in the whole of my state; you shall have honor
and riches like no other man, and next to me you shall be the most
powerful man in my state..."
Rabbi Amnon grew very pale. For a moment he could find no words to
reply to the Duke, but after a while he said:
"O illustrious Monarch! For many years I have served you faithfully, and
my being a Jew in no way lessened my loyalty to you or to your State.
On the contrary, my faith bids me to be loyal and faithful to the land of
my sojourn. I am ready and willing to sacrifice everything I possess,
even my very life, for you as well as for the State. There is one thing,
however, that I can never part with - that is my faith. I am bound by an
unbreakable covenant to my faith, the faith of my forefathers. Do you
want me to betray my people, my God? Would you want a man to serve
you that has no respect for his religion, for the bonds and ties he holds
most sacred? If I betray my God, could you ever trust me never to
betray you? Surely, the Duke cannot mean it. The Duke is jesting!"
"No, no..." the Duke said, though he sounded a little uncertain, for
inwardly the Duke was impressed with Rabbi Amnon's reply.
Rabbi Amnon hoped that the matter was settled, but when he arrived at
the palace the next day, the Duke repeated his request. Rabbi Amnon
became very unhappy, and began to avoid visiting the palace, unless
it was absolutely necessary.
One day the Duke, impatient at Rabbi Amnon's obstinacy, put it very
bluntly to him: He must either become a Christian at once or take the
Pressed to give his answer immediately, Rabbi Amnon finally begged
the Duke to allow him 3 days in which to consider the matter. This the
Duke granted him.
No sooner did Rabbi Amnon leave the Duke, than he realized his grave
sin. "Dear God," he thought, "what have I done? Am I lacking in faith
and courage that I requested three days for consideration? Can there be
any but one answer? How could I show such weakness even for one
moment?! O gracious God, forgive me..."
Rabbi Amnon arrived home broken hearted. He secluded himself in
his room and spent the next three days in prayer and supplication,
begging God's forgiveness for the weakness of heart he had shown
even for one moment.
When Rabbi Amnon did not arrive at the palace on the third day,
the Duke became very angry, and ordered his men to bring Rabbi
Amnon in chains.
The Duke hardly recognized Rabbi Amnon, so much had the venerable
man changed in the course of the last three days. However, the duke
quickly brushed aside whatever feeling of sympathy he might have felt
for his erstwhile friend, and said to him sternly:
"How dare you disregard my command! Why did you not appear before
me in time to give me your answer? For your sake I trust you have
decided to do as I tell you. It will be bad for you otherwise..."
Although Rabbi Amnon was now a broken man physically, his spirit
was stronger than ever.
"Sire," Rabbi Amnon answered him fearlessly, "there can be but
one answer: I shall remain a loyal Jew as long as I breathe!"
The Duke was beside himself with wrath. "It is now more than the
question of your becoming a Christian. You have disobeyed me by
not coming voluntarily to give me your answer. For this you must be
"Sire," Rabbi Amnon said, "by requesting three days for
consideration I have sinned gravely against my God."
These brave words enraged the Duke even more. 'For sinning against
your God, " the Duke said angrily, "let Him avenge Himself. I shall
punish you for disobeying MY orders. Your legs sinned against me,
for they refused to come to me; therefore your legs shall be cut off!"
With very faint signs of life the legless body of Rabbi Amnon was sent
back to his home, to his grief stricken family. It was the day before
Rosh Hashanah (New Years day).
The news about Rabbi Amnon's dreadful fate spread throughout the
whole city. Every one was horrified and distressed. It was a very tragic Day
of Judgment for the Jews of Mainz, who assembled in Shulll the following
Despite his terrible suffering Rabbi Amnon remembered that it was
Rosh Hashanah, and he requested to be taken to Shull. At his request
he was placed in front of the holy Ark.
All the worshippers, men, women and children wept terribly seeing
their beloved Rabbi in such agony, and never were any more heart
rending prayers offered than on that day of Rosh Hashanah.
When the "chazan" began to recite the Musaph prayer, Rabbi Amnon
motioned that there be made an interval while he offered a special
prayer to God. Silence fell upon all the worshippers, and Rabbi Amnon
began to say "Unesaneh tokef". The congregation repeated every
word and their hearts went out to God in prayer. Then they most
solemnly recited the prayer of "Oleinu", and when the words "He is our
God, and no other" were reached, Rabbi Amnon cried them out with his
last remaining strength, and passed away.
The prayer "Unesaneh Tokef" - the most solemn prayer of Rosh
Hashanah and Yom Kippur, is recited in every Jewish community in
the world, and the courage of Rabbi Amnon, the undying author of
this prayer, serves as an inspiration to us all.