11 April 2009

Germany: A visit to Worms

With a 900-year history, Worms was a major medieval Jewish community.

It endured the tragedy of the Crusades in 1096, parts of the synagogue were destroyed and rebuilt in 1175. In 1349, the community was blamed for the plague, and the synagogue was attacked twice in the 1600s.

Above left is the mikveh entrance.

The Alte Schul (Old Synagogue) was built in 1034. Between 1957-1961, the synagogue was rebuilt, funded by the German government.

Although Rabbi Shlomo ben Yizchak (Rashi) lived there from 1060-1065, and its Jewish population reached more than 1,000 souls, by 1942, the synagogue and the ghetto were destroyed and not one Jew remained. The Judenfriedof cemetery, the oldest European cemetery, is still a major attraction. The oldest surviving tombstone is Jacob Bahur, buried in 1076.

Rashi House is adjacent to and behind the synagogue and is named after the scholar, Rashi. It is believed to be the site of the medieval yeshiva. The basement and parts of the ground floor date from the mid-14th century. Since the late medieval days the structure was used as a dance and wedding hall and as a hospital.

Since 1982, it has housed the Jewish museum and the municipal archives. Exhibits provide a glimpse into the history, religion and daily life of the community and utilize models, medieval documents and photographs.

Among the documents is a facsimile of the oldest parchment deed in the municipal archive saying that “Jews and other inhabitants of Worms” were exempt from excise duties by order of King Henry IV in 1074.

The Oregonian published this story on a visit to Worms, and also includes travel information.

Mid-1940s define the divided history of Jewry in the quaint town Worms, Germany, is a quaint town of about 86,000 people that my husband, David, and I walked in less than a day. The clear, crisp October day we spent there also was a sobering one, from a Jewish perspective.

This medieval city is home to one of only three Imperial Cathedrals along the Rhine River.

Adorning one of its facades are two stone statues. One, "Church," depicts a woman with coiffed long hair, head held high, cupping a chalice in her left hand and peering directly at another stone image.

That second image also is of a woman. Known as "Synagogue," her eyes are blindfolded, her head is downturned and her shoulders slouch. Her posture and forced blindness are symbolic of her rejection of the Church and all it represents.

Bookending the famous Worms Cathedral on one side of town is the narrow, cobblestoned former Jewish ghetto and, on the other, the Judenfriedof, the spacious 900-year-old Jewish cemetery, the oldest preserved Jewish burial place in all of Europe.
Some 30,000 annual tourists visit the synagogue, the adjacent Rashi House museum and the cemetery:

If you are planning to visit, the article offers tips on hotels, restaurants and links to tourist sites, such as Worms Tourism.

1 comment:

  1. Liz James2:24 AM

    My ancestor Rabbi Meir Ben-Baruch the Maharam of Rothenburg was born in Worms in 1215, died 1293 and was buried in 1307 in Worms.
    We visited Worms last year and hired a guide to take us through the magnificent cemetery. After that we went to the Synagogue and were once again taken around and shown the entries for Meir Ben Baruch's burial.
    Liz James
    Melbourne Australia