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Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Ancient Jewish gravestones found in Germany

A later Jewish gravestone from Mainz

Jewish gravestones from as early as the 12th century were found in southwest Germany.

Some 20 Jewish gravestones were found during excavations for planned housing construction next to the wall of the old Jewish cemetery in the community of Mainz. The stones are among the oldest ever found in the Rheinland-Pfalz region, experts said.

Construction plans have been halted pending a decision from the Berlin-based Orthodox Rabbinical Council. If the site is determined to be a graveyard and not just a repository for stones, it may affect building plans.

The president of the Jewish community, Stella Schindler-Siegreich, said an investigation of objects found at the site will be conducted to determine whether bodies had been buried there. An on-site meeting held recently included representatives of the Jewish community, the city, the rabbinical conference, landmarks preservationists and construction foreman.

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.

Mr Bagel: Mainz is a city on the Rhine, it had a large Jewish population that had worn the brunt of the first Crusade, and also suffered initially during the second crusade. There is a long history of Jewish presence in Mainz until the advent of the Nazis.

The Jewish Community in Mainz is one of the oldest in Europe, its tradition long and venerable. Its beginnings reach back to the 10th century when Rabbis such as Gershom ben Jehuda (960 – 1028 or 1040) taught in Mainz. He founded a Talmud academy which was to become a widely renowned centre of Jewish scholarship and heritage. Scholars such as the arguably most famous of commentators on the Bible and the Talmud, Shlomo bar Isaak, known as Rashi, (1040-1105), studied and taught in Mainz. It was due to their work that MAGENZA, the Hebrew name for Mainz, became a synonymous with Jewish learning and academic life.

Except for brief disruptions, Jewish families have lived in Mainz for at least one thousand years. Their history, both splendid and painful, has been documented extensively.

On the History of the Jewish Community of Mainz
Before November 1938, the Jewish Community in Mainz had two august places of worship: the Moorish-style synagogue built in 1879 and the classicist-style synagogue built in 1912. Additionally, there was a “Stibl”, a smaller place of worship for immigrants from Eastern Jewish communities, located at Margaretengasse. The first synagogue had been erected on the basis of plans provided by the still omnipresent master builder of Mainz, Eduard Kreyßig. It was located on Flachsmarkstrasse, and served as the place of worship for the orthodox members of the community. The second synagogue was an impressive, domed structure erected on Hindenburgstrasse; this was the place of worship of the liberal members of the community. The services were accompanied by organ music.

None of the earlier existing synagogues in Mainz survived the Shoah.

Donate to the rebuilding of a Synagogue in Mainz

More about the Jewish history of Mainz (Magendza):
The Magic Land of Magenza, Jewish Life and Times in Medieval Mainz
The Jewish Community of Mainz [in German]
Foundation Magenza

JPost: Ancient Jewish gravestones found in Germany
JTA: Ancient gravestones found in Germany

Foundation Magenza