Mordechai Meisel (Miška Marek Majzel; 1528-1601) was the most prominent Jewish philanthropist of his time and a Primator (leader) of Prague Jewry. Though the sources of his initial fortune are unknown, he was eventually responsible for financing large transactions in support of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612) during the Turkish wars of the late sixteenth century. Among his many charitable projects, Meisel funded the expansion of the Prague Jewish cemetery, the paving of the Prague Ghetto’s roads, and the construction of a hospital, beit tohorah (where the deceased were prepared for burial), mikveh (ritual bath), and kloyz (study house) in the city. To this day, the synagogue he dedicated in 1592 (subsequently rebuilt) bears his name.
When Meisel died childless, he willed his estate to his two nephews and bequeathed the synagogue to the Prague Jewish community, but the emperor declared the will void and had all his property, including the synagogue, confiscated. A series of long, drawn-out trials ensued with the aim of reclaiming what was seized. The present document confers a power of attorney upon Primator Isräel Bondj (Bondi; d. 1716), elders Moÿses Koÿnes (Ulma; d. 1691) and Mendl Fanta, and treasurer Abraham Mendl Lichtenstadt to negotiate on behalf of the Prague Jewish community, which represented the Meisel estate in its lawsuit against the royal fiscus. This Vollmacht was signed by twenty-one elders and officers of the community and bears the community’s official seal (type III in Putík’s typology, going back at least to 1633): a medieval Jewish hat (sometimes referred to erroneously as a Swedish hat) circumscribed by a Star of David and surrounded by the inscriptions “Sigillu[m] Antiquæ Communitatis Pragensiu[m] Iudæoru[m]” (Seal of the Ancient Jewish Community of Prague) in Latin letters and “Magen david” (Star of David) in Hebrew characters.
The names of the twenty-one signatories are as follows: Jakob Poppers, Lieberman Lichtenstadt (Katzenellenbogen), Ahron Schlackenwerth, Selig Josel Liebchowitz (Libochowitz; d. 1717), Salomon Zalman Bondÿ (Bondi; d. 1736), Hayyim (Joachim) Lichtenstadt, Moÿses Siskind (Süßkind) Bunzl (d. after 1729), Liebman Porgeß (Lipmann Porges), Jacob Strakonitz, Sender Schirmer (Schürmer), Jacob Jerusalmi (Jerusalem), Sanwel Schable, Gerschon Katz (Sacerdoti), Abraham Perls, Jonas Jayteles (Jeiteles; d. before 1729), Benjamin Wolf Frankel, Jakob Levita, Ahron ben Jacob Katz Reiterles (d. 1713), Jacob Raudnitz (?), Benjamin Utitz, and Joseph Bak Buchdrucker.
Alexandr Putík, “The Origin of the Symbols of the Prague Jewish Town: The Banner of the Old-New Synagogue, David’s Shield and the ‘Swedish’ Hat,” Judaica Bohemiae 29,1-2 (1993): 4-37.
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