Mainz’s Jewish Heritage is part of the outstanding and unique Jewish legacy of ShUM, an association of three cities along the Rhine River (Speyer, Worms and Mainz), which represented the cradle of Jewish life in Europe during the Middle Ages.
ShUM is the acronym formed out of the first letters of the medieval Hebrew names for the cities: Shpira, Wermaisa and Magenza.
Strategically situated at the confluence of the Rhine and Main Rivers, Jewish Mainz is home to one of the oldest kehillot in the world; the earliest record of Jewish life in Mainz can be dated back to the 10th century. However, many Jews fled in 1084 after being accused of causing a fire (which damaged their quarter as well), and they found refuge in Speyer, where they founded a new community.
The Jewish community in Mainz achieved fame through the work of its scholars, who made Magenza, along with Shpira and Wermaisa, a cultural centre of Judaism of unrivalled importance. Gerschom ben Jehuda, also referred to as Meor ha-Gola, “light of exile”, was one of the most influential scholars of the Western world around the turn of the millennium; his legal ordinances remained valid centuries after his death. Even today, a medieval memorial stone in the “Judensand”, the ancient Jewish cemetery, largely preserved, commemorates this outstanding personality.
Sadly, expulsion of the Jews has led time and again to destructions and reshapings of the »Judensand« and thus to serious loss of tombstones. In the 1860’s, during construction works in Mainz, important Jewish gravestones came to light. In 1926, these uncovered, exceptional gravestones were combined to form a »Memorial Cemetery« in order to give visibility to the site and to emphasize the significance of Mainz’s Jewish Heritage.
Along with the synagogues and ritual baths in Speyer and Worms, the Judensand in Mainz has played a central role in the application for UNESCO World Heritage Status for the ShUM communities.
As for other signs of Jewish life in Mainz, there are no longer any visible remains left of the late medieval Jewish Quarter. Too much has been destroyed; after the pogrom from 1096, with more than 1,000 murdered, and the resulting repeated attacks on the Jewish community, Jews were expelled from Mainz in 1438. Following the re-founding of the community in 1445, there was a temporary expulsion in 1462, and then the final expulsion in 1470/71. The synagogue was then used as an urban coal depot; then, after 1471, it was converted into a chapel. It was not until 100 years later that the Jews re-settled in Mainz. On Kristallnacht, in November 1938 in Mainz, the synagogues, prayer rooms, and the »Museum of Jewish antiquities« (opened in 1926) were destroyed, an example of the destruction that happened throughout Germany and Austria.
More than 70 years after, in 2010, the futuristic synagogue construction of architect Manuel Herz was officially opened. Tradition and modernity form a symbiosis in the form of this mesmerising building, in which Herz metaphorically took up both the ShUM-wisdom and the teachings of the Gerschom ben Jehuda.
Ancient and new forms of Jewish life are also at the heart of our Jewish Mainz Tour, and we’ll delve into the city’s history from the general perspective as well!
The first gem to be explored is surely the Dom, Mainz’s cathedral, an immense Romanesque building from the 12th century. In the Gutenberg Museum, you will learn all about the history of printing, which was invented in Mainz in 1438 by Johannes Gutenberg. His introduction of mechanical movable type printing to Europe started the Printing Revolution and is regarded as a milestone of the second millennium, ushering in the modern period of human history.
Don’t forget to have a look inside St-Stephan-Kirche! What makes it so special is actually a masterpiece created by a Russian-Jewish artist: in the final years of his life Marc Chagall created nine brilliant-blue, stained-glass windows for the church, which serve as a symbol of Jewish–Christian reconciliation.
From historic sightseeing to strolling along the Rhine and sampling local wines in a half-timbered Altstadt tavern, all the city’s nuances are part of our Mainz Jewish Tour!