20 September 2010

Germany: Worms' Jewish history

Worms, Germany has an ancient Jewish history, and was one of three major Jewish centers of learning and religion. Speyer, Worms and Mainz were known collectively as the ShUM.

OffbeatTravel.com offered a look at Worms, following a guided tour, by Neala Schwartzberg.

The community built its first synagogue in 1034, although the oldest known tombstone (Jacob Bahur) is dated 1076. The First Crusade followed in a few decades, and between the first and the second crusade, there was an episode of the plague - the Black Death - and accusations that Jews caused it. The Jewish quarter - the Judengasse - was often destroyed and rebuilt.

Not until 1801 were Jews free to live anywhere; by 1945, the community was completely destroyed, leaving only the cemetery.

For a sense of the often tragic history, start with the Judengasse. The charm of this popular and reconstructed area belies its sad history. But the willingness of the city to recreate and honor the memory of the community makes the area a place of hope as well as remembrance.

The cemetery was the final home of many Middle Age scholars, with one section named Valley of the Rabbis.

One well-known story concerns Rabbi Meir ben Baruch (the Maharam of Rothenburg) who was imprisoned by the Emperor at the end of the 13th century. He expected the Jews to pay the ransom to release the rabbi, but the Maharam would not permit it an died seven years later, still imprisoned. The Emperor refused to release the body for burial. Some 14 years later, Alexander ben Salomon Wimpfen paid the ransom with the condition that he be buried next to the rabbi. Today the two tombstones sit side by side.

Their are two levels to the cemetery. The oldest is from the 11th century to circa 1700; the newer section dates from 1700-1938, when it was filled, and a new cemetery was built outside the town.

Famed rabbinical scholar Rashi taught in Worms, and the building where he supposedly taught was named Rashi House. It later was a community center, dance and wedding hall and was damagted and collapsed during the war.

The Worms government wanted to remove it but the citizens wanted to reconstruct it and make it a museum. Today, it is the city archives and the Jewish museum, documenting the history of Jewish community in the city.

The synagogue has been rebuilt and rededicated although there are few Jews living there. It is owned by the Mainz Jewish community and is used for services. The building includes a men's and a smaller women's synagogue, a study room known as the Rashi Chapel, and a medieval mikveh dating from 1186.

There's more to the article with links to other sources of information about Worms.

Click here for more information: Jewish sites in Worms, Germany, Jewish Dresden: The Old (Cemetery) and the New (Synagogue), Exploring Jewish History and Future in Berlin, Germany, Jewish Museum in Berlin: Exploring Jewish History and Culture

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