Who was the first Ramschak?

The small Ramschak family from Prague has had more than its fair share of notoriety, and yet until now, no one has discovered the source of its unusual family name. Rabbi Eleaser Fleckeles-Ramschak (1754 Prague – 1826 Prague) was an author of several important rabbinic works, as well as a nine-generation handwritten family tree that has been the primary source for information on his paternal ancestors who used the Ramschak name. The two-page family tree was discovered after the rabbi’s death among papers owned by Leipzig Rabbi Nathan Porges (1848 Prostejov – 1924 Würzburg) by the eminent genealogist Prof. David Kaufmann (1852 Kojetin – 1899 Karlovy Vary). Kaufmann recognized the handwriting of Rabbi Fleckeles from the community record book of his home town of Kojetin in Moravia, where Fleckeles had served as rabbi from 1779-1783 before being appointed to a rabbinic position in Prague as assistant and later successor to Rabbi Ezechiel Landau (1713 Opatow – 1793 Prague).

Rabbi Fleckeles’ family tree, which was published by Kaufmann in 1893 (Kaufmann, Der Stammbaum des R. Eleasar Fleckeles: eine Ahenprobe Moritz Hartmanns, Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, Jahrg. 37 (N. F. 1), H. 8 (1893), pp. 378-392), claimed that his paternal lineage went as follows: Eleazar b. David b. Wolf b. Shalom b. Selig b. David b. Wolf b. David b. Wolf, where the last Wolf was alleged to be the son-in-law of the famous Jewish historian, mathematician and astronomer in Prague, David Gans (1541 Lippstadt – 1613 Prague) who collaborated with and assisted Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler.

The family tree of Rabbi Eleaser Fleckeles-Ramschak. Eleazar b. David b. Wolf b. Shalom b. Selig b. David b. Wolf b. David b. Wolf. Kaufmann, Der Stammbaum des R. Eleasar Fleckeles, Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, Jahrg. 37 (N. F. 1), H. 8 (1893), pp. 378-392)

In the early 1820s, the historian Marcus Fischer (1783 Prague – 1858 Prague), a grandson of Rabbi Meir Fischel-Bunzel (d. 1769 Prague), created an infamous forgery (known as the “Ramschak Chronicle”) purporting to be an ancient chronicle of the Prague Jewish community. Fischer filled three notebooks with Judeo-German, mostly German text in Hebrew script, that he claimed were transcribed or translated from an old Hebrew document in his possession. Fischer showed portions of his invention to various other Jewish historians in Prague, who then unwittingly incorporated them into their own works. This continued even after Fischer’s death, when his manuscript was obtained by the author David Podiebrad, secretary of the Prague chewra kadisha (burial society), who also added the “Ramschak” name to the chronicle, based on a reference in the work to information obtained from the fictitious chronicler’s deceased father-in-law Rabbi Moses Ramschak.

It took over 100 years for Fischer’s forgery to be publicly denounced in an article by Prof. Salomon Hugo Lieben (1881-1942), founder of the Jewish Museum of Prague, in “Die Ramschak Chronik,” Jahrbuch der Gesellschaft für Geschichte der Juden in der Cechoslovakischen Republik, vol. I, pp. 369-419 (1929). The extensive history of the forged Ramschak Chronicle was recently reviewed by Dr. Iveta Cermanová in “The Ramschak Chronicle: New Findings About the Genesis, Reception and Impacts of the Forgery,” Judaica Bohemiae 2/2017, pp. 33-67. Both Lieben and Cermanová agree that Fischer’s forgery should be seen in the context of its time, as it followed the publication of Václav Hanka’s famous forged Czech manuscripts, The Manuscripts of Dvùr Králové and Zelená Hora, purporting to be early Czech-language epic poems, predating even the earliest German-language epic, the Nibelungenlied of 1200. Apparently all factions of the Prague community were eager to establish their historical ties to the city at that time, so much so, that when actual historical sources were lacking, some felt the need to invent them.

Although the Ramschak Chronicle was a forgery, ancient chronicles of the Jewish community in Prague do in fact exist. An authentic one found in the collection of the Jewish Theological Seminary, A Hebrew Chronicle from Prague, c. 1615, with entries spanning from 1389 to 1611, was edited and published by Abraham David in 1993. And of course David Gans’ historical work Zemach David, first published in 1592, also contains numerous entries about the history of Jews in Bohemia.

Fischer’s reference to a Rabbi Ramschak in his forgery was most likely an attempt to add significance to his work by relating it to his esteemed contemporary, Rabbi Fleckeles, whose patriotic sermon Fischer translated into German and published in 1821. But who exactly were the Ramschaks? Was there actually a Rabbi Moses Ramschak? And is Rabbi Fleckeles’ genealogy of the Ramschak family correct?

First, some explanations are in order. Rabbi Fleckeles apparently used both names Fleckeles and Ramschak. Already in the 1748 Prague Jewish census, conducted after the return of Jews to Prague following their 1745 expulsion by Empress Maria-Therese of Austria, the rabbi’s father’s family is listed under the name Flekels. See Lucie B. Petrusová and Alexandr Putík, Fase pražských židovských rodin z let [Sworn Declarations of Prague Jewish Families] 1748-1749 (1751), p. 36 (Jewish Museum of Prague 2012) (#115 Wolff Flekels, Lieferant, wife Esterl, unmarried children David, Nathan, Isaac, Schöndl, step-daughters Hendl and Ella). His grandfather Wolf is identified as Wolf Flenkel [sic] in the list of losses from the great fire of 1754. See Wenzel Zacek, “Nach dem Brande des Prager Ghetto im Jahre 1754” (After the Prague Gheoot Fire in 1754), Jahrbuch der Gesellschaft für Geschichte der Juden in der Cechoslovakischen Republik, vol. 6, p. 191 (1934).

His father David’s marriage permission from March 20, 1752 is under the name Dawid Flekeles. Yet in 1771, when the very young rabbi (age 16!) received permission to marry Ester Bondi, he is identified as Lazar Ramschak. And in the 1782 tax forms indexed by Leon Ruzicka the rabbi’s father is listed as David Wolf Ramschak and the rabbi is Laser Ramschak. In the 1794 Prague Jewish Census, the rabbi appears as Eleazar Flekls Ramschak, while his father is called David Flekels. And on the rabbi’s son Abraham Markus Flekeles’ Familianten record, where the strict quota for permissions to marry were recorded, his father is called Eleasar Ramschak Flekeles.

The rabbi’s grandfather Wolf appears in 1748 as Wolff Flekels, as previously mentioned, but in the Prague 1729 Jewish census he is Wolf Scholem Rahmschack with wife Frommel and sons Dawid and Nathan. When Wolf dies in 1772, his gravestone refers to him as the elderly Wolf son of Shalom Flekeles Ramschak, age 80.

We are very fortunate that the old cemetery in Prague has remained largely intact. In the 1880s, two historians,  Simon Hock (1815-1887) and  Rabbi Leopold Popper (1826-1885), compiled an index of the cemetery. Hock’s version was posthumously published by David Kaufmann in Die Familien Prags (1892) and has been the main source for historians ever since. However, Popper’s notebooks have become available more recently on the website of the Jewish Museum of Prague, and they often provide graves and details that are missing in the Hock-Kaufmann book. Both the Hock-Kaufmann book and the Popper notebooks are not easy to use without a knowledge of Hebrew, and even then it is difficult. The Hock-Kaufmann book is printed in Rashi script, which differs from today’s standard Hebrew. And the Popper notebooks have details in tiny, faint handwritten Hebrew script. Dates in both sources are in Hebrew, using the Hebrew calendar. (As a result, the years of death I use in this article may be off by a year, because the Hebrew year overlaps two years in the Gregorian calendar that we use.) Fortunately, I have been able to get unparalleled assistance in reading these sources from the indefatigable Nancy High in Boston, who has been researching her husband’s ancestry in Frankfurt and Prague for many decades, and has trainer herself to read these difficult sources.

Wolf’s father Shalom dies in 1704 and on his grave it says “Shalom son of Selig son of David Ramschak.” For many years, the trail of evidence has stopped there. There was no grave found for any Selig Ramschak or Selig Fleckeles, let alone a Selig son of David Ramschak or Fleckeles. It seems that Rabbi Fleckeles believed that Selig’s father David was the son Wolf son of David Fleckeles-Horowitz, the husband of Nissel, daughter of Rabbi YomTov Lipman Heller, who died in 1671-2 in Prague. The Jewish Encyclopedia of 1906 even added the death date of 1672 for the Rabbi’s alleged ancestor Wolf (no doubt based on Hock-Kaufmann) in its article on the Fleckeles family that included the paternal line of Rabbi Fleckeles, but there was no evidence for that either, and the date does not fit well if Wolf dies in 1672 and his great-grandson Shalom dies in 1704. (For more information on the Fleckeles-Horowitz family see my article Who Was Wolf Slawes? Correcting a Mistake Concerning the Family of Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller, Avotaynu, vol. 36, no. 1 (Spring 2020)) The grave for Shalom’s mother, Sarah, the daughter of Wolf Katz, who died 1710, also did not help determine exactly who her husband Selig was. It described her husband as the deceased Selig Ramschak. The same was true for the graves of Shalom’s siblings Rivke Kolin d. 1704, Freidl Neustädtl d. 1723 and Malka Setzer-Horwitz d. 1735.

There is no evidence in the Hock cemetery book or the Popper notebooks of any Rabbi Moses Ramschak, nor any reference to Ramschaks earlier than a Menachem Man son of Juda Wilstadt (from the Bacharach family) who died 1680 as the son-in-law of David Ramschak. Looking in Alexander Beider’s book Jewish Surnames from Prague (15th – 18th Centuries) published by Avotaynu in 1994, one finds the name Ramschak listed under “Acronymic Surnames” with the explanation “Rabbi Moses (or Meir, or Menachem) Schulklopfer.” The source for Beider was the historian Otto Muneles (1894-1967) in his article “Zur Namengebung der Juden in Böhmen” (On the Giving of Names to Jews in Bohemia), Judaica Bohemiae 2, page 8 (1966). The Schulklopfer (or Schulklopper) was a ceremonial title for an individual who was responsible for calling people to minyan, literally someone who knocked on doors with a mallet. A person known as Reb [Mr.] M. Schulklopper could be the source of the name Ramschak, as the name would be abbreviated R’M’Sh’K on a tombstone. If the name does derive from an acronym of a particular person, one possibility could be a R’ Moses (son of Henoch) Altschul “Schulklöpper,” who is identified in the last will of Mordechai Meisels (1528-1601). See Alexander Kisch, “Das Testament Mardochai Meysels: mitgethheilt und nach handschiftlichen Quellen beleuchtet,” Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, Jahrg. 37 (N. F.1), H. 1 (1893), pp. 25-40, H. 3 (1893), pp. 131-146, at page 132 Another possibility might be Moses (son of Enoch) Schick (d. 1665 Vienna), whose son Beer fled to Prague when the Jews were expelled from Vienna in 1670. Beer’s 1695 grave inscription reads “Beer son of Moshe Sh’K from Vienna.” In David Kaufmann’s Die letzte Vertreibung der Juden aus Wien und Niederösterreich (1889), p. 188, he refers to him as “Bär b. Mose aus der Familie Schak” (Beer son of Moses from the Schak family). Again, Beer’s father R’M’Sh’K looks like a possible source for the name Ramschak. But all of these theories turned out to be incorrect.

The breakthrough came in looking at another Ramschak family in Prague (which happened to be my ancestors, as I explain in the epilogue below). In the 1729 census there is an Abraham Ramschackh with wife Blümele and children Gedalia, David, Löb, Moyses Mayer and Rachel. He died in 1741 as Abraham son of Jeruchem Ramschak. His father Jeruchem died in 1720 as the son of the elderly David Ramschak. Jeruchem’s wife Sarah, the daughter of Simon Freund, died 1721. Jeruchem seemed certain to be a brother of Rabbi Fleckeles’ ancestor Selig, who was also the son of David Ramschak.

Fortunately, the name Jeruchem isn’t very common in Prague. The Municipal Archives in Prague has a collection of books called Liber Judeorum Album (Jewish White Book) in which are recorded important transactions such as loans and mortgages. These books have mostly been scanned and are available from the Municipal Archive website (under Municipal Chronicles, search “liber judeorum” or “zidovska kniha”). The books each have an index in the front where individuals are listed by first name. The letters I and J are combined, so I had to scan through lots of Isaacs, Israels, Jacobs, Josefs, Joachims, etc, looking for a Jeruchim.

Jeruchem Kappelmacher in index to Židovská kniha bílá 4822 (1704-1717) scan 24

I found one on scanned page 24, the fifth page of the index for letters I and J in Židovská kniha bílá 4822 1704-1717. The index had the name “Jeruchem Kappelmacher,” then some words in Czech around the names Blümele and Abraham Jeruchem Kappelmacher. The numbers accompanying the index entries are folio numbers, not page numbers, with each folio representing a few pages. I found the entry on the second page of folio 381, scan 814.

Jeruchem Kappelmacher in Folio 381 of Židovská kniha bílá 4822 (1704-1717) scan 814

These old books aren’t easy to read, but I could see that the entry referred to Jeruchem’s wife Sarel, and their son Abraham and his wife Blümele, the daughter of Nechamje Sales from Raudnitz. This all fit perfectly with the information I had from the grave index and census. So Jeruchem Ramschak was also known as Jeruchem Kappelmacher. The name Kappelmacher means a hat-maker, so maybe his profession was hat-maker.

I kept searching the books for Jeruchem. In another one, Kniha židovská bílá 2283 1685-1719 (1720) I found in the index a Jeruchem Markus Fleyscher Kappelmacher

Jeruchym Markus Fleyscher Kappelmacher in Kniha židovská bílá 2283 1685-1719 (1720) scan 11

At the bottom of he first page of folio 192, scan 422, I found the entry and could make out “Jeruchem Marcus Fleischer Kappelmacher, Prague Jew, and his father and mother, Dawid Marcus Fleischer, and Sarche.”

Jeruchem Marcus Fleischer Kappelmacher in Kniha židovská bílá 2283 1685-1719 (1720) scan 422

The name Fleischer was the key to solving the entire mystery. Fleischer or Fleischman is the German word for a butcher, which in Hebrew is the word “Katsev.” For some names, especially occupational names, tombstones in Prague used the Hebrew version of the occupation. A good example is the name Goldschmidt, which always appears in Hebrew as Zoref. Katsev works the same way, so in order to find graves for someone named Fleischer, you have to look under Katsev. Sure enough, there they all were. David son of Mordechai Simon Katsev died 1687, and on his grave inscription it says he was a grandson of David Gans, the author of Zemach David. Mordechai is a Hebrew version of Marcus, so this fit perfectly, and the reference to Gans matched the one in the genealogy of Rabbi Fleckeles. David’s wife Sarche the daughter of Mordechai Altschul died 1684 and her husband was also listed in the Popper notes as David son of Mordechai Simon Katsev.

Grave entry for Dawid son of Mordechai Schimon Kazew in the Notebooks of Rabbi Leopold Popper, Letter K, page 32.
Grave entry for Sarche the wife of Dawid Kazew in the Notebooks of Rabbi Leopold Popper, Letter K, page 36.

There were two more clinchers. In the Popper notes we found the elusive Selig with a lengthy entry that said Selig son of David son of Mordechai Simon Katsev and son-in-law of Wolf son of Shalom Katz. Selig died in 1663 and his name is preceded by “rach b’shanim” which means that he might have suffered an unnatural death at a young age. His father David was still alive. Selig and Jeruchem’s sister, Nechama, the wife of Menachem Man of Wilstadt was also there under the name Katsev in Hock’s book. She died in 1687.

Grave entry for Selig the son of Dawid Kazew in the Notebooks of Rabbi Leopold Popper, Letter K, page 36.

When you look at the name of David’s father Mordechai Simon Katsev you can see the origin of the Ramschak name. It is an acronym for R[eb] M[ordechai] S[imon] K[atsev], or R’M’Sh’K, the first Ramschak. Mordechai died in 1668, the son of the elderly Simel Katsev (Simel is just a nickname for Simon). Mordechai’s father may be Simel the son of Meir Katsev who died 1665. Mordechai’s wife Nechama the daughter of Jacob Kosteletz died already in 1635 and on her tombstone it also says grandson of David Gans, although it is unclear to me who is the grandson, her husband Mordechai or her father Jacob.

We’ve solved the question of where the Ramschak name came from, but further questions remain. How did Rabbi Eleaser’s line pick up the name Flekeles? And what exactly is the relationship to David Gans? On these we can only speculate. It seems likely that there is a tie to the old Flekeles-Horowitz family in Vienna and Prague. The names Shalom, Wolf and David appear there as well, which makes it possible that the Flekeles name came from Selig’s wife, the rabbi’s gg-grandmother Sarah Katz, who was the daughter of Wolf son of Shalom Katz. In the amazing collection of undelivered letters written in 1619 from the Jewish community of Prague to the community in Vienna that was discovered and published in 1911 by Alfred Landau and the incomparable Bernhard Wachstein as Jüdische Privatbriefe aus dem Jahre 1619, there are two letters sent by Blümel (written by her son Mordechai) to her brother Aron Schalom Schechhna Fleckels-Horowitz (d. 1623 Vienna). The Fleckeles-Horowitz family were Levites, but the paternal ancestors of Rabbi Fleckeles are not Levites, so the connection could be through a sister, perhaps Blümel and her son Mordechai in Prague.

Epilogue: My connection to the Ramschak family.

My grandmother Pauline Schönberg (Nachod) was born in Prague and it is through her that I am related to many of the old Prague families. Pauline’s mother was Karoline Nachod (Jontof-Hutter), who was the daughter of Jacob Jontof-Hutter. On Jacob’s Familianten record his parents are identified as Isak Jontof-Hutter and Gella. On the Familianten record of Jacob’s brother Joachim, the parents are Isaak and Gella [daughter of] Dawid Tritsch. Additionally, on September 9, 1786 Eisig Löb Jontof-Huter and Gella had a son named Lemel Hirsch.

Eysakh Jonteff obtained permission to marry Gelle Tritsch on October 7, 1773. In the 1792 Prague census, Isack Löw Hutter, Hutfärber (hat colorer), is in house 166. In the 1794 Prague census, he appears as Isak Jonteff, Altehuthändler (old hat dealer) with wife “Ewa” and children Joachim, Jakob and Sara (but not Lemel Hirsch). Ewa the wife of Isak Huter dies August 22, 1798, age 40 [?], in house 123 (in the index she is called Sara). There is no earlier death record for Gella or any wife of Isak Jontof-Hutter, who remarried in 1799. Gella is a Jewish name and it was mandatory for Jews to adopt German names after the Tolerance Edict of Joseph II in 1782. So it appears that Gella adopted the name Ewa (or Sara). Unfortunately it is quite common for names, especially women’s names, to be inconsistent in the records of this time period. And the ages listed in the death records are also notoriously unreliable.

Identifying Gella’s father David Tritsch, who is named only on her son Joachim’s Familianten record, was not easy. There is a David son of Enoch Tritsch who died February 12, 1788, age 54, house 223. In the 1792 census his widow is called Ester Dawid Trietscht, house 223. When she dies on May 24, 1797, in the death records she is called Rebeka the widow of Dawid Tritsch, house 223, age 49. But in the two cemetery indices for the Wolschan Cemetery in Prague, she is called Chayle, daughter of Hersch Scheberles and wife of David Tritsch. (Here is yet another example of the inconsistency of women’s names.) In the index of marriage permissions we find David Goldschmidt getting permission to marry Cheyle Scheberles on November 4, 1765. The Goldschmidt name is explained by the 1748 census, in which we find David orphan son of Enoch Tritsch living in the home of the widow Gella Goldschmid (Petrusova, supra, #1090). Forget about that older Gella Goldschmid now as we focus again on the younger Gella Tritsch who married Isak Jontof-Hutter.

If Gella Tritsch married around 1773, she cannot be the child of David and Chayle who marry in 1765. She must be a child of a different David Tritsch (or from an earlier marriage of David son of Enoch Tritsch). In the 1792 census we find evidence of our likely suspect, a Marcus [son of] Dawid Tritsch (or Ramesach [sic]), Handlerjude (trader) in house 214. As Mayer Dawid Ramrack he married Resel Prosek in 1784, age 26, so he is born around 1758. One of the witnesses to his marriage is Eysak Löw Hüttmacher, who should be his brother-in-law, Gella’s husband. In the 1794 census Marcus appears underneath the name of his father Dawid Ramrak, widower. In fact, his father David Tritsch Ramrak died May 8, 1793, age 75, in house 213. In Czech, the letter r with a hacek sounds like sh, so Ramrak is the same name as Ramschak or Ramesach.

The only David Tritsch in the 1748 census is the David son of Enoch Tritsch discussed earlier. But there is also only one David Ramschak living with his wife Patsche and no children. (Remember that Rabbi Fleckeles’ father David is listed under Flekels in the 1748 census.) Patchele Ramschak dies in 1772 so her husband was a widower after then. This couple must be the parents of Marcus and Gelle. The logic is again as follows: there are only two David Tritsch (David son of Enoch Tritsch and David Tritsch Ramschak). Gella cannot be the daughter of David Enoch Tritsch, for whom there is no earlier marriage permission, so she must be the daughter of David Tritsch Ramschak. Of course, this is not fool-proof. I have not found a marriage permission for David Tritsch Ramschak either, but he is already married in 1748. The name Tritsch (or Triesch) comes from the town of Trešt’  in Bohemia. There is also a young David son of Feit Beer Tritsch from Trešt’, age 25, who marries Ester Wahle in Prague on March 29, 1789. It is possible that Gella’s father David simply came from Trešt’. But the more likely scenario, as confusing as it may be, is that she is the daughter of David Tritsch Ramschak who died 1793 at age 75.

David Ramschak is listed as the son of Abraham son of Jeruchem Ramschak in the 1729 Prague census. If his age at death is correct, he would be born around 1718, and so he could be the unnamed son born that year to Abraham Ramschak, as recorded in the Prague mohel book held by the Jewish Theological Seminary (as told to me by Dr. Alexandr Putik). Unfortunately, this particular mohel book only lists the name of the father and not the child. In any case, David’s grandfather Jeruchem, discussed above, also known as Jeruchem Marcus Fleischer Kappelmacher son of David Marcus Fleischer and Sarche, was the key to discovering the source of the Ramschak name. He would be my 7g-grandfather.

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