Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Shevat 5761 - January 31, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Research on Fragments of Ancient Jewish Tombstones in Wurtzburg
by S. Fried

In its latest edition, the Eit-Mol journal reported that fragments of Jewish tombstones from the time of the Crusades discovered fifteen years ago in Wurtzburg, Germany are currently being studied by a joint Israeli-German team.

In 1986, locals began demolition of a structure built at the end of the 14th century in Wurtzburg, prior to construction of a new building on the site. Passersby noticed Hebrew letters visible on the interior of the building. The matter was brought to the attention of Professor Carl Heinz Molar of the Department of Theology of the University of Wurtzburg.

Professor Molar discovered that the entire building had been built from stones which had previously served as Jewish tombstones. The stones had been re-cut and, as a result, the tombstones were not preserved intact. Nonetheless, one could easily read the inscriptions: since the stones had faced the building interior, they had not suffered the ravages of time and weather.

Molar recruited students to transfer the stones -- seventy tons worth -- to a warehouse outside the city. After negotiations, the Bavarian government declared that the Jewish community was the rightful owner of the tombstones. Many of the inscriptions contain Hebrew dates, the oldest being from the time of the Second Crusade. The cemetery was apparently founded so that those massacred during that period could be brought to Jewish burial. The latest Hebrew date corresponds to 1347, the period of the black plague, when the entire community died either from the plague or at the hands of rioters accusing the Jews of spreading the epidemic.

Researchers note that during that period, most tombstones in Christian cemeteries were made of wood, while Jews have always used stone tombstones on which they engraved the names of the deceased and dedications.

When the Jewish community was liquidated, non-Jews shattered the tombstones, using their stones to build a monastery. Hundreds of other tombstones are apparently located deeper underground and have yet to be unearthed.

This is the largest collection of Jewish tombstones ever found in Europe. The deciphering work has been proceeding slowly for many years, mainly at the hands of Professor Molar. In recent years, three Israeli researchers have joined him: Professor Shimon Shwartzfuchs, Rami Reiner and Dr. Edna Angel, who are involved in preparing scientific publication of their findings.

The tombstones present a picture of a prominent and diversified community. One of its members was named "Shlomo ben Avrohom Meor Hagolah." The tombstones indicate that the community had a rav, a cantor, a darshan, a beadle and a community leader. The name "Chavatzelet" is among the names of women mentioned. Many of the names are known from Torah literature, since Wurtzburg was an important Torah center at the time.


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