The Fifth Servant

The Fifth Servant

Book - 2010
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In 1592, as the Catholic Church and the Protestants battle for control of the soul of Europe, Prague is a relatively safe harbor in the religious storm. Ruled by Emperor Rudolph II, the city is a refuge for Jews who live within the gated walls of its ghetto. But their lives are jeopardized when a young Christian girl is found with her throat slashed in a Jewish shop on the eve of Passover. Charged with blood libel, the shopkeeper and his family are arrested. All that stands in the way of a rabid Christian mob is a clever Talmudic scholar, newly arrived from Poland, named Benyamin Ben-Akiva. Pleading the shopkeeper's innocence to the city's sheriff, Benyamin is given three days to bring the true killer to justice. Who would most profit from the girl's murder -- and from having the entire ghetto sealed off? Is the killer a Christian indebted to the girl's apothecary father? Or a messianic Jew bent on the destruction of his people to precipitate the Messiah's coming? The desperate search for answers is complicated by the arrival of a new Holy Inquisitor determined to root out witchcraft and heresy, and reclaim the fractious Bohemian territory for Rome. With time running out, Benyamin must dare the impossible -- and commit the unthinkable -- to save the Jews of Prague, and his own life.
Publisher: New York : William Morrow, [2010]
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2010
ISBN: 9780061725371
Branch Call Number: F
Characteristics: xii, 387 pages : map ; 24 cm
Alternative Title: 5th servant


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Jun 06, 2014

I am fascinated by the medieval Jewish community. What they were accused of, and how they survived is a marvel, when almost no one liked them and they were accused of everything bad that ever happened in the areas they lived.

I think this story did a fantastic job of describing the lives of those in the Prague Jewish ghetto. It also creates a very believable atmosphere for the city, both in and out of the ghetto, when the Jewish are accused of killing a Christian girl. The author obviously did a vast amount of research and it shows in the quality of historical fact in the book.

Jul 26, 2011

This story is an historical Jewish crime drama. I don't think that I've read a story with that descriptor before! The story is very dense with many different characters, some do not seem all that important to the telling of the story. It took a while to get into the flow of the novel. I read this as an e pub book. I think an actual book may have been better as I could have looked up all the Jewish words and phrasing more easily in the glosery. Once I did get into the story I liked it. I felt like I was there with the main characters. I really enjoy learning about other times, history, other cultures. The characters are extremely well developed and the dialogue is very authentic. Here are two quotes from conversations with the main Characters.
“The Talmud encourages us to look at every side of an issue, every detail, no matter how trivial, because the work of finding a satisfactory answer is never done.”
“But how do you enforce a rabbinic opinion if it's not enshrined in law?”
“We don't.”
“Then what do you do?”
“We learn to live with conflicting opinions.”

“The Rabbi Isserles sounds like a very practical and wise man. A real... uh.. what's the word? A hasid?”
“You probably mean a tsadek.”
“What's the difference?”
“A hasid is a pious man who always keeps to the letter of the law, and a tsadek is righteous man who finds meaning in the gaps between the letters of the law.”


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