On the one hand, Elias Backhoffen got into hot water and had to pay a stiff fine. On the other hand, that’s the only reason people still remember him. One of the most unusual pieces of statuary is an odd, incongruous, and blasphemous structure erected upon the six hundred year old Charles Bridge spanning Prague’s Vltava River. This structure consists of an idolatrous giant crucifix that is, incredibly, adorned with the possuk from Yeshayahu, Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, picked out, mind you, in large, gilded Hebrew letters. How did this absurd incongruity come into existence? To take revenge against the Jews.
Local tour guides relate that a Prague Jew, Elias Backhoffen, was fined a thousand gold florins on March 20, 1694, for failing to remove his hat while passing the idolatrous image, and how the city used part of this fine to avenge his stand for Monotheism by adding the offensive Hebrew letters. In 1971, Ronald Brown, a New York Jew visiting Prague was shocked at the incongruity between the idolatrous statue and the sanctified verse Jews recite a number of times daily during davening, and he complained to Prague’s mayor, requesting that the letters be removed.
This was impossible, due to a National Heritage Law protecting ancient monuments, but the municipality did agree to affix a plaque that explains the circumstances behind the paradox.
The original Hebrew letters are now in a museum. After an unknown vandal ripped off some of the offending letters in January 2007 and threw them into the river, the city promptly replaced the original verses with an imitation. In fact, most of the statues lining the Charles Bridge are imitations due to tourists’ proclivity to chip pieces off them as souvenirs. And by the way, nowadays it is permitted to walk over the bridge without doffing your hat.