Traditions and Tales
»How very much do our teachers in Mainz, in Worms and in Speyer belong to the most learned of the scholars, to the saints of the Most High … from there the teachings go out to all of Israel … Since the days of their founding all the communities respect and follow them, on the Rhine and in all the land of Ashkenaz.«
Rabbi Isaak ben Mose, named Isaak Or Sarua, died ca. 1250
Scholarship: Rashi und ShUM
Rabbi Schlomo ben Jizchak, called Rashi, born around the year 1040 in Troyes, is, next to the scholars of Mainz, a central figure to the long-standing fame of the ShUM-cities. Around the year 1060 he studied first in Mainz and then at a Jewish school in Worms, at that time a highly respected place in the Jewish circles of Europe. In 1065 Rashi returned to Troyes, where he founded his own school around 1070. Rashi died in 1105 in Troyes.
What remained were his words. To this day, every edition of the Babylonian Talmud is printed with the commentary of Rashi. In addition, Rashi’s halakhish Contemplations (Responses) have also been passed on. In those he addressed social and economic relationships of Christians and Jews as well as controversial questions concerning everyday life, the economy, and communal co-existence within and without the community. Topics were, among others, money markets, pawnshops, real estate business, dietary laws, but also questions dealing with slavery or forced baptism.
Jerusalem on the Rhine: ShUM as reference point
The rabbinates in Speyer, Worms and Mainz were a central authority in religious, liturgical and legal issues. Their decisions, liturgies and halachic instructions were groundbreaking. This also illustrates ShUM’s peculiarity: in the midst of pluralistic Judaism shaped by discourses, ShUM was able to assert itself as a trend-setting center. It was unusual for communities to pass resolutions that applied in more than one community and here – the impact was even beyond ShUM. The regulations drawn up in the ShUM-cities were transformed into the Takkanot-ShUM in 1220 during a gathering in Mainz. These resolutions are the largest corpus of Jewish community records from medieval Ashkenaz; single, important provisions have been accepted by later scholars and in parts (eg the marriage law) they continue to be relevant to this day.
The rituals, songs, and rules are known and recognized even today in the Jewish world and are still discussed and compared with the writings of the Maimonides, among others. ShUM lives in Judaism to this day.
The Jewish poet David bar Meshullam from Speyer composed a prayer in the 12th century about the Pogroms from 1096. This prayer was read in the Synagogue in the German communities up through to the start of the 20th century on the eve of the highest Jewish Holiday, Yom Kippur.
Until the middle of the 13th century the ShUM-cities remained the central locations of middle-European Ashkenazic Judaism. After the pogroms and expulsions the communities lost much of their supra-regional significance; their reputations as places and spaces of remembrance and teaching, however, are to the present day unbroken.
Even after the catastrophes of the 14th century, ShUM was again able to establish itself as an essential center of scholarship. In Worms this tradition continued into the modern age, in Mainz it was revived.
Scholarship was a part of life in the synagogues, schools, and Jewish Quarters from ShUM and finds expression in the gravesites of these scholars in the cemeteries of ShUM. Additionally there is a significant narrative culture in the ShUM-cities. These legends and traditions show: There was a genuine Jewish local patriotism towards the ShUM-cities. ShUM means belonging to a great Jewish heritage.
ShUM is globally significant, because the commentaries and thoughts, laws and considerations continue to be relevant for the modern discussion on the Torah and Talmud, for ethical and legal questions.
ShUM is present in Europe and the world in manifold ways and is carried on from generation to generation. ShUM is global heritage.
Worms Machzor: from Worms to Jerusalem
Safely stored in the National Library of Israel, the Worms Machzor is one of the oldest known prayer books of the Ashkenazic Judaism and is exceptional evidence for Jewish book design and calligraphy as well as typography of the Middle Ages. The Worms Machzor, created in the 13th century and supplemented in the 14th century with liturgical songs, also contains the heretofore oldest known line in Yiddish. Composed in Yiddish, but written with Hebrew lettering, the blessing means that one who carries this Machzor into the synagogue is designated to have a good day.
The Machzor was for Worms an important testimony of the community history and was used for centuries. The two volumes were saved from destruction during the November Pogrom of 1938, probably because they were stored in a safe of the community and not, as between 1926 and 1934, on display in the Judaica Museum in the rooms of and adjacent to the synagogue. After a long struggle, in 1957 the Machzor was taken to Israel in the scope of the negotiations regarding Jewish cultural treasures without owners. The book is presented by the JNUL as significant documentation of Ashkenazic Judaism and as an expression of the spirit of ShUM.
Monuments: cemeteries, ritual baths, and pathways
In the ShUM-cities there are many exceedingly different structural relics und impressive monuments from the Middle ages and modern times. These include archaeological discoveries and safeguarding measures to protect them, renewed as well as partially reconstructed buildings and gravestones. Together the structures and stones form a monument of Jewish Life and the scholarship in ShUM in history and the present. The monuments reflect the traditions and also the violent ruptures. The situation today also shows the acceptance of the heritage throughout Germany and Europe and its relevance. The architectural monuments are thus unique here – and at the same time an expression of the world of learning that was paramount in ShUM.