Good for the Jews?

Prague's Jewish museum is split across six synagogues. One ticket is good for all six, but on a schedule set by the museum administrators: you will go to the Maisel Synagogue from 11:10 to 11:30, and then you will go to the Spanish Synagogue from 11:40 to 12:00 . . .

By this point -- our fourth Jewish museum -- one collection of ritual artifacts is starting to look very much like another. One can only look at so many shofars before one's eyes glaze over. Prague's collections are a little morbid, since one entire stop on the tour is devoted to artifacts from the Burial Society, whose job apparently sufficiently unpleasant that they felt compelled to commission lots of pictures of themselves to feel a little less grim.

The history exhibits are more interesting: the story of expulsions, confiscations, protections, and backchamber deals is more complex than I can keep track of. It strikes me that the European urban world was never a black-and-white one. If the petty nobility was anti-Semitic, then the emperor might be the protector of the Jews, entirely for the economic power of being their sole patron. No single person had the power to condemn or preserve them; their status depended on mastering their world's complex web of alliances, deals, and antagonisms.

This was the fear that produced the Golem legend. For what is that story but a parable of the frying-pan and the fire? Wish not for power, for power can destroy just as easily as it saves; content yourself with the difficult daily process of moderation and survival.