Michael Freund has a piece of news for all of those people who love visiting Prague:
… I’m sure I am not the only Jewish visitor to express shock and outrage while walking along the otherwise charming Charles Bridge, which connects the two sides of Prague that straddle the Vlatava River. There, between tables manned by itinerant artists and locals hawking tourist goods, stands a statue of Jesus on the cross encircled by a Hebrew inscription from the book of Isaiah (chapter 6): "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts, the whole world is filled with His glory."
As a religious Jew, I immediately recognized this verse. It is a central part of Jewish liturgy and is recited daily in our prayers, as we emulate the heavenly angels who declare God’s holiness and attest to His sovereignty.
So what is it doing decorating such a statue in the middle of Prague?
The answer dates back to 1696, when Czech authorities accused a local Jew, Elias Backoffen, of "debasing the Holy Cross" and ordered him to pay for the purchase of gold-plated Hebrew letters, which were then installed on the statue of Jesus in a deliberate swipe at Jewish sensitivities.
The choice of verse was no accident. The authorities wanted to punish the Jews for their alleged insolence by compelling them to apply the verse to Jesus, as though they were acknowledging the Christian belief in the divinity of the Nazarene.
The statue, then, is more than just an eyesore. It is a slap in the face to Jewish belief and theology, and a tangible sign of the oppression and lack of freedom that characterized Jewish life throughout much of Europe’s shameful history. …
So to President Klaus, I declare: Tear down this statue!
Read the full story.
For what it’s worth, I think it makes more sense (morally and practically) to pursue another option mentioned by Freund:
In 2000, after a group of American rabbis protested, the Prague Municipality reportedly agreed to put up a plaque in Czech, Hebrew and English explaining the historical circumstances behind the statue. But on a recent visit to the site, I saw no such plaque.
So instead of "tear down this statue," I say… President Klaus, put up the plaque!
IMPORTANT UPDATE: JTA’s correspondent in Prague, Dinah Spitzer, informs us that there actually has been a plaque since 2000 that explains the troublesome history behind the inscription. But it has been placed in storage with other parts of the Charles Bridge as the structure undergoes renovations.