** The Heretic – read the Prologue

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 20, 2009

       “No. Don’t go out there,” she pleads.   “You stay inside,” he orders.  She shouts to her son. “Run! Get your father. Hurry!”

       She follows her father-in-law to the door, horrified by what she fears will happen.  The old man reaches the street just as the first of them come around the corner. He walks straight at them — they shrink back — the crowd has not yet gained the courage to attack one who is not afraid. They shout.       

       “Jewish pig! … Christ killer! … Devil worshipper!”      

       He raises his hands, and surprisingly, the crowd quiets.  “Why do you call me Jew?” he says softly. “I’m baptized just as you.”      

       “Liar! We know what you converso Jews do. You don’t work on Saturday, and you don’t eat pork. You just pretend to be Christian.”      

       “That’s not true. I gave up the Jewish religion long ago. I wet my head in your baptismal water and I’ve been a good Christian ever since.”      

       He smiles, laughs almost, knowing they are not convinced, that nothing he says will ever change their minds. But he is not afraid. He stands taller. He is eerily calm.  “You say I’m a Jew. Why? I don’t pray to the God of Israel. I go to church and take the sacraments. My son is not circumcised.”   

       He turns away. They follow. He spins to face them. It is time, after so many years. Time to be a Jew.  “Is this what you want?” he thunders.  Deliberately, he places his high crowned hat on his head. He tugs under his cloak and removes a long white scarf, the Jewish prayer shawl, the tallit. He holds it solemnly in front of him, aged eyes straining to see faded words. He prays silently, in Hebrew: “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us by Thy commandments, and has commanded us to wrap ourselves in tallit.”     

       He raises and twists the tallit. The pure white fabric unfolds, soars majestically and lands gently on his shoulders. He lifts it to cover his head. His face is hidden. He closes his eyes tightly. He is in another place.  He prays, she thinks, for the years he has lost, and perhaps also for the years ahead, though not for him: “O God of Israel Who desires repentance, allow me to repent for the foolishness of my baptism. O God of Israel Who forgives, forgive me for willfully discarding Your commandments. O God of Israel Who redeems His people, accept me, and allow me once again to walk in Your ways.”      

       He raises his voice, knowing the effect the strange sounding Hebrew words will have.  


“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God,the Lord is One.”        

       The crowd gasps. Swords are raised.       

       “Jesus of Nazareth is not God!” he shouts. “There is only one God, and He is the God of Israel!”      

       The first sword explodes against the side of his head, knocking his hat to the ground. A second shining blade slices into his shoulder.

       Bloodied, he does not fall. He says the Hebrew words slowly, powerfully. Blessed is the Name of His glorious Kingdom for all eternity.”       

       The bloody sword flashes again, and he smiles, the last act of his life.       

       Now they all find courage. They know how to stomp on a dead man. Clubs and stones obliterate his features. Stabs to his chest. His tunic dark red.      

       She hears the horses a split second before the mob looks up. Her husband runs into the square, six armed men behind him. The mob retreats, its anger spent. He wraps the body of his father in his cloak, cradles the corpse gently in his arms, walks slowly into the house.      

       The young boy bends to retrieve his grandfather’s bloody tallit from where it has fallen. 


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