Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Ashkenazi Jews of Speyer, Worms and Mainz, Germany: The ShUM towns

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                      
Speyer, Germany 

My daughter just took a boat cruise down the Rhine River with her husband and brought back a few brochures about our history.   The Jews of Worms were my biggest interest as that was a center for many of the rabbis, and the rabbi of Worms was an ancestor or ours.
Mainz, Germany on the Rhine, 
What the brochure leaves out is that Christianity was attacking Jews.  Starting in 640, then 721 and 873, Jews living in the Byzantine Empire were being forcibly converted to Christianity.
 By 1096, the German Crusade massacred Jews in European towns.  This happened after Bishop Rudiger made his offer to Jews. Radicalism took off in Christianity against Jews without the blessing of the Bishop below.                                                                          
Worms, Germany and its bridge on the left side on the Rhine River
Throughout the period, Jews were being expelled from countries that had invited them in.
 The Crusaders in Jerusalem followed discrimination of Jews  by massacring the Jews there in 1099.  Then England expulsed Jews in 1290 till 1655.  France expulsed Jews in 1306 and  annihilated a Jewish community in Toulouse in 1420.

Spain massacred 12,000 Jews in mob violence in Toledo in 1355. By 1492 in the Spanish Inquisition they expulsed 180,000 Jews.  50,000 converted to Christianity who were then allowed to remain in Spain.  They came to be later called the Marranos and now are called the Anusim, a Hebrew word.  Many are returning to Judaism.   Hungary expelled Jews in 1349 through 1360.  Jews were expelled from Lithuania in 1495.  Countries ran hot and cold towards Jews, depending on the fervor of the Christians and the needs of commerce.  For that, they really needed the Jews.
Jews of 13th Century in Germany
In the year 1084, Bishop Rudiger Hutzmann offered refuge to Jews who had to flee from Mainz.  That marked the beginning of a Jewish community in Speyer.  The Middle Ages centered on the Jews of Speyer.  Bishop Rudiger in 1084 said, "In my endeavours to transform the small town of Speyer into a cosmopolitan city, it was my belief that the presence of Jews would increase the prestige of our town thousandfold."  He then invited prosperous Jews to settle in Speyer.  In the 11th century, Jewish merchants and bankers came to Speyer from Italy and France.  He leased land to them and placed them under his protection and granted them extensive privileges.
He allowed them to elect a community leader and administer their own justice at a time when Christian citizens of medieval towns were still far from achieving any form of municipal self-administration.  Between the 11th and 13th centuries, students came to the Rhine for far and wide to study with the "wise men of Speyer,"

The most prominent scholars of Speyer have been the following: In the eleventh century: Kalonymus ben Moses, Jekuthiel ben Moses, Moses ben Jekuthiel, Judah ben Kalonymus, and David ben Meshullam.

Together, Speyer, Worms and Mainz were known as the "ShUM towns," the first letters of their Hebrew names.  They were the source and the center of Ashkenazic tradition and had a strong influence on the spiritual and intellectual life of Jews in all of Western Europe.

In the 14th century, the coexistence of Jews and Christians, which up to then were peaceful, was marred by increasing waves of anti-Jewish sentiment.  Envy and resentment caused discrimination, calumnies and persecutions.

Around the year 1500, the history of the medieval Jewish community of Speyer came to an end.
Rebuilding Synagogue in Speyer
The synagogue in Speyer was the focal pint of Jewish community life where Jews prayed, worshipped, assembled and celebrated as well as a place to teach and administer justice.  It had been there for more than 400 years.  The USA is not that old, only 239 years old.  This synagogue was consecrated in 1104 and destroyed by arson in 1195, but was rebuilt and then included a separate women's prayer hall.
Remains of Mikva looking down from a floor above
The Jewish community "dispersed" in the early 16th century, the site was taken over by the municipality and then used as an arsenal.)  They filled in the mikvah (an immersion pool of fresh running water) and the shaft to the pool was used as storage for gunpowder.

In 1689, Speyer was destroyed in the Palatine War of Succession and the former synagogue also went to ruin.  By 1999, the city of Speyer acquired properties in the area of the former Jewish quarter where archaeologists excavated and examined the ruins so the Tourist Office opened the area to visitor in 2001.  By 2010, artifacts kept in the Historical Museum of the Palatinate and State Office were returned to the area of their original use.   What survived were the 2 double-arched windows originally part of the west wall of the medieval synagogue.  They were found nearly intact and at their original location.  They were removed and stored in the Museum in 1899.  Traces of fire bear witness to the windows' nearly 800 years of use.
Today's Jewish Cemetery in Speyer, Germany
Of interest is the cemetery.  The Worms cemetery is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe and has retained its original medieval character.  The earliest gravestone dates back to 1076/77.  The place was set aside for the Jews of Speyer by Bishop Rudiger in 1084 and is nearer today's train station.  Christians took over the properties and used the gravestones as building material in both private and public buildings.  Nearly 50 gravestones dated between 1112 and 1443 have been found, none of them at their original location.
Worms, Germany Jewish Cemetery 
1. Isaac ben "Menache)m, 1112.  died on the 6th of Av in 1044.  May salvation come to his resting place and may he rest with the just.  The 6th of Av 1044 is the 2nd of August 1112.   The stone had been used as a step, built into a flight of stairs.

2. Genennchen and Moses, 1380.  Genennchen was the daughter of Israel the Levite who was buried here on the 3rd day of the week, the 1st day of Kislev in the year 5141.  May her soul be part of the bundle of life in the Garden of Eden, Amen, Amen, Sela.  Moses and Genennchen were brother and sister.  She died on October 30, and Moses on December 5th in the year of 1380.  They were buried in a double grave with a common gravestone.

3. Baruch, 1365.  He was the perfect hero, son of Elieser, who passed away with a good name on the night of the 3rd day of the week, the 15th day of the 1st Adar in the year (5)125.  The scholar, Rav Baruch ben Elieser, died on 11 March 1365.  After he had escaped the plague pogrom of the year 1349 (the time of wrath), he took in and fed his persecuted co-religionists.

4. Gravestone of Blume, 1365.  She was the daughter of Jacob the scholar who was buried here on the 3rd day of the week, the 15th day of Tevet in the year (5)126 of the 6th millennium.  May her soul be in the Garden of Eden, Amen, Sela.   Her name is carved in the stone as an ornament.  Speyer's deed as a town was dated 25 December 1358 and mentions Blume as an unmarried or widowed woman.  She died on 30 December 1365 .  There were spelling errors found.  Christian craftsmen made gravestones by copying from models and the strange letters written from right to left must not have been easy for them to decipher.

5. Gravestone of Yachent, 1371.  She was the daughter of Rabbi Joseph, who passed away on the 1st day of the week, the 13th of Tevet in the year 5132.  May her soul be part of the bundle of life together with other charitable women in the Garden of Eden, Amen, Amen, Sela.  she died on December 21 1371.   She was revered, elderly and worthy.

6. Gravestone of Senior, 1368.  This was the young Senior, son of Abraham who passed away on the 4th day of the week, the 24th day of Marcheshvan in the year 5129.  May his soul be in the Garden of Eden.  He was unmarried and died on November 8, 1368.  His grave was desecrated less than 50 years later.

In the 15th century, the Christians drove the Jews from the town of Speyer and destroyed their cemetery. Senior's gravestone was cut to size and used as building material for the Salt Tower Bridge, a medieval bridge built to span the Speyer River.  The bridge was town down in 1908 and recovered with other Jewish gravestones of the same period.
In May 1096 during the 1st Crusade, fanatical crusaders attacked the Jews along the Rhine.  In Speyer, most of the victims found protection in the bishop's palace.  100 years later, after the failure of the 3rd Crusade, there was a 2nd pogrom.  In 1195 the Christians accused their Jewish neighbors of having committed a ritual murder and to punish them, they raped, robbed and killed them.
Emperor Henry VI then demanded compensation from the culprits for lost tax revenue.  The Jewish communities of the ShUM towns never recovered from the plague pogrom of 1349.  Mistreatment, discrimination and excessive taxation steadily increased.

By the 15th century, after the Jews of Speyer had been hit by exclusions from certain professions and by residential restrictions that robbed them of the basis for their livelihood in the town, the Jewish community of Speyer had vanished.

German translated by Nicole Gentz.
Resource; Museum SchPIRA, Wand-und Objekttexte
Judenhof, the edieval synagogue, The ShPIRA museum
Added:  9/8/15


  1. so much here in your article to take in......

    have read about jews in wurtemberg germany recently and found this:
    Jewish History in Württemberg
    Jews were not allowed to live and work permanently in Württemberg from 1498 to 1805. In 1828 for the fírst time a Jewish law was passed. Accordingly two Jewish centers arose in Ludwigsburg and in Stuttgart. However, the rights were revoked in 1848. Jews were finally fully recognized in 1861 and received equal rights in 1864. === Source: Wikipedia - Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland - Württemberg

    and this link has some interesting reading;

  2. Thanks, Andre. That's almost like England where Jews were kicked out in 1290 and couldn't return until 1655. I take it that the Crusades brought this on.