26 September 2007

Germany: 12th century Jewish gravestones found

JTA notes that about 20 ancient Jewish gravestones - some as early as the 12th century - have been found in Mainz, Germany, during excavations for housing construction next to the city's old Jewish cemetery wall.

Experts said the stones are among the oldest ever found in the Rheinland-Pfalz region. Construction plans were halted pending a decision from the Berlin-based Orthodox Rabbinical Council. If the site is a graveyard - not simply a stone repository - it may impact construction plans.

Mainz Jewish community president Stella Schindler-Siegreich said an investigation will determine whether bodies had been buried there. A recent meeting at the site brought together representatives of the Jewish community, city, rabbinical groups, landmark preservationists and construction people.

Jewish studies expert Andreas Lehnardt of Mainz told a German news agency that the find was a "sensation" and some of the stones included the names of famous learned rabbis.

For more information on Mainz, called Magenza in Hebrew, go to the site titled, "The Magic Land of Magenza, Jewish Life and Times in Medieval Mainz" here, which offers many links for those interested in more information on Mainz, including documents, history, tours and inquiries.

Mainz on the Rhine's large Jewish population suffered from both the first and second Crusades; many survivors left and moved to Poland and Russia. The city is one of the oldest European Jewish communities, their history is well documented and Jews have lived there for at least 1,000 years.

Among famous individuals who lived and taught in the city were Rabbi Gershom ben Yehuda (960-1028/1040), who founded a 10th century yeshiva there, and Rashi (Shlomo bar Isaak, 1040-1105), who studied and taught there.
According to the city history, its first Jews came with the Romans, but most relocated there from the south of France, Sicily, southern Italy and other southern regions. They travelled along the Rhone and the Rhine. Important rabbis descending from Moses ben Kalonymus brought the Italian-Palastinian liturgic tradition.

Prior to 1938, there were two famous synagogues, the Moorish-style built in 1879 (Orthodox) and a classic-style building (Liberal) from 1912. There was also a syngogue for Eastern European immigrants.

Every few years, former Jewish Mainz residents living abroad are welcomed back to as honored guests. A book, "Magendza II," documents those who return. Commemorative ceremonies are held every November 9-10 by the Mainz Municipal Government and the Mainz Jewish Community.

Currently, some 900 Jews, mostly Eastern European, reside in Mainz; more than 60,000 Jews lived there pre-war. There is a Jewish hospital, Jewish community center and kosher food.

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