A fairy tale town on Germany’s picturesque Romantic Road, Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s Jewish heritage is a dive into one of the most significant centres of Torah studies from medieval Europe.
Jews had already settled in Rothenburg by the beginning of the 12th century, and soon the town became the focal point for Jewish life in Bavaria. Jews lived in a special quarter of the town, the "Judengasse" (“Jews’ Lane”), and had a synagogue and a cemetery.
With our Jewish Tour of Rothenburg, we will dive into the medieval world of cobblestones and timbered houses, of which the Jewish community was a significant part.
At that time, Meir ben Baruch (1220-1293), better known as the Maharam of Rothenburg, one of the major Talmud scholars of the Middle Ages, was the rabbi of the city and head of the local yeshiva, a school of Talmudic studies that attracted scholars from all over Europe. In the 1280s he intended to immigrate to Eretz Israel, followed by a large group of Jews. However, Kaiser Rudolf, the first of the Habsburg dynasty, was troubled by the meagre income from taxes on the Jews, and ordered the Maharam’s arrest. In 1286, the Maharam was brought to a fortress in Alsace, where he died seven years later. Only after 14 years was permission granted to bury Meir of Rothenburg in Worms, his hometown.
As in many other towns, Jewish history in Rothenburg breaks down into a number of discrete periods. Sometimes Jews were tolerated to a greater or lesser extent, but at other times, they were mercilessly persecuted. In 1520, Jews were forbidden from entering the town. Those who lived there were forced to flee.
It was only 350 years later, in 1870, that families of Jewish descent settled in Rothenburg again. Anti-Semitism surfaced again soon afterwards, at the beginning of the 20th century, encouraged by the incitement and propaganda of the National Socialists. All citizens of Jewish descent had already been expelled from Rothenburg before the pogrom of November 1938. Within just a few years, Rothenburg’s Jewish community had entirely disappeared.
Explore the traces of and historical pointers to centuries of Jewish history in the town, with our Jewish Rothenburg ob der Tauber Tour!
We’ll stroll through Kapellenplatz, medieval centre of everyday Jewish life, where the synagogue, community hall and businesses provided for daily needs. A bronze plaque at Kapellenplatz No. 5 commemorates the place where the Maharam founded his Yeshiva, where he taught for over forty years. The community hall on the corner of Judengasse / White Tower, known as the “Jewish Dance House” is a reminder of the Jewish community. The house at no. 10 of the Judengasse, the only surviving late medieval Jewish street in Europe, still contains a Jewish ritual bath, called a mikvah.
A visit to the Rothenburg Museum, with its unique Judaica Collection and medieval Jewish gravestones from the 13th and 14th centuries, is essential.
In the midst of a web of cobbled lanes, higgledy-piggledy houses and towered walls, Rothenburg ob der Tauben’s Jewish Heritage intertwines with gems like the Jakobskirche, hosting Rothenburg's most treasured reliquary, a rock crystal capsule said to contain three drops of Christ's blood, and the Reichsstadtmuseum, a former Dominican convent with a spinning barrel, where women would leave babies they couldn’t afford to keep.
Join us on a journey into Middle Ages Germany with our Rothenburg ob der Tauber Jewish Tour!