Saturday, 19 November 2011

Jews of Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1868

This report is from 1868 when Bulgaria was still part of the Ottoman Empire, ten years before independence.

Many 19th Century Protestant missionaries appear to have been interesting characters and keen observers. Mr G. Neumann is not one of these. He is a dreary tactless fanatic untroubled by self-doubt. I have the impression that even the missionary society was sick of him.

“Sophia [Sofia] was, in olden times, the capital of Bulgaria, and is still a considerable, but very miserably built town, with six hundred Jewish families; the greatest part, however, very poor, degraded, very ignorant, and strongly bigoted and fanatical. Hundreds of them are not able to read their prayers in the prayer book; the whole of their devotion in the synagogue consists of saying and repeating, Amen, when the precentor says Amen. They possess three synagogues, a school-house, with eight large rooms, each crowded with poor and dirty boys – the poor girls excluded even from this miserable education.”

“I visited a wealthy Jewish family, where I met a select party of more than twenty men and women; the latter richly adorned with Oriental head dresses of gold, jewels and pearls. I secured the good-will of the lady of the house by complying with her expressed desire to talk a little German to her younger son, who had recently returned from Vienna. I was offered confections and whiskey. They wondered I refused the latter.”

After politely discussing the Jewish, Spanish and Hebrew newspapers their killjoy guest launched into an evangelical diatribe. Neumann reports that: “They were evidently taken by surprise, hearing me so boldly bringing before them the doctrine of a suffering and atoning Messiah.” One can surmise what the hosts actually thought. “It being now dinner time, the visitors rose to leave”. I bet! Neumann had a copy of the Bible in Judeo-Spanish.

Reported in The Jewish Herald (and Record of Christian Effort for the Spiritual Good of God’s Ancient People), 1 September 1868

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