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 Ashkenas.”

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

In the year 1146 the Rabbinical authorities in Speyer, Worms, and Mainz were bestowed with the highest authority in religious-cultural and legal issues by the Rabbinate assembly in Troyes. Their decisions, liturgies, and halakhic instructions were thereafter binding. The regulations were prepared in the ShUM-cities and written down in 1220 at a gathering in Mainz at Takkanot-ShUM. This, too, illustrates clearly the special feature of ShUM: in the midst of the pluralistic Judaism, marked by discourse, ShUM could assert itself as a substantial center of scholarship.

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 the west-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. ShUM is present in Europe and the world in highly different ways and is carried on from generation to generation. 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.

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.

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 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 testimony in Yiddish. Composed in Yiddish, but written with Hebrew lettering, the lines mean that anyone who carries this Machzor into the synagogue will have a good day.

The Machzor was used in Worms until 1938. The holy book was saved during the Novemberpogrom 1938 from destruction. The motif of this rescue operation is not clear. 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.