The Jewish community of Worms, which came into being shortly after that of Mainz before the end of the 10th century, counts among the oldest in Ashkenaz. In 1034, its members erected the first synagogue building, and the foundation of the community's cemetery dates back to almost the same time. Situated right outside the south-western part of the first city wall, the cemetery contains gravestones of which the oldest still legible date from the years 1058/59 and 1076/77.
The second half of the 11th century saw the first flowering of the Jewish community in Worms, a time characterized by such outstanding leaders and scholars as Rabbenu Yizhak haLevi, a teacher of RaShI. However, after the Crusade massacres of 1096 the community recovered but gradually. The second major era of cultural ascendency of medieval Worms then takes place during the 12th and above all during the 13th century, from which period about 280 gravestones have survived. The community loses its far-reaching significance in the aftermath of the Black Death Pogroms of 1348/49, and it would take several decades for it to regain its former greatness. Nevertheless, it is the continuity and persistence amid the hardships encountered in its history that make the Jewish community of Worms stand out and which contribute to its undiminished prestige.
This continuity is illustrated best by the Worms burial ground itself, the older, lower part of which still contains some 1,300 headstones. The upper section, the rampart of the second city wall, which was used for burials from 1689 onwards, holds around 1,200 gravestones. The youngest of these were added as late as the early 20th century. Our survey and documentation of this oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe still extant were initiated by Professor Michael Brocke, authorized by the Jewish Community of Mainz-Worms, supported by Dr. Bert Sommer for documentary photography and later on also supported by the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege-GDKE Rheinland-Pfalz. Furthermore, the city of Worms, and especially the Altertumsverein Worms e.V., generously support the project, as do private donors from all over Germany and companies from Rheinland-Pfalz itself.
The present task is to catalogue all remains from the Middle Ages, i.e. from the traceable beginnings (4819 = 1058/59) to the end of the period, commonly referred to as the year 1519 (date of the expulsion of the Jewish citizens of Regensburg).
Owing to the present focus on the five hundred years in between these two dates, the 'epidat' database so far contains - with few exceptions - information on gravestones from the High and Late Middle Ages only. And with good reason: the state of Rheinland-Pfalz is currently hoping for the legacy of the medieval SHUM Cities of Speyer (also on 'epidat'), Worms and Mainz to be added to UNESCO's World Heritage list. Continuation of research work is also intended for headstones dating from beyond the early 16th century. However, the collecting of further subsidies has proven indispensable.
Annette Sommer, research assistant at Steinheim Institute, and Michael Brocke, who are responsible for both the reading of the headstones as well as the ensuing edition, translation and commentary, carry out the research. Also contributing to the project are Dan Bondy (reading of close-up scans) and members of the GDKE Rheinland-Pfalz coordinated by Dr. Pia Heberer (namely Leonie Silberer, Stefanie Fuchs, Tina Fuchs-Maul, Wilfried Keil and Laura Augustin), who are entrusted with both photography and the description, measuring and assessment of damage of the gravestones concerned. By carrying out 3-D close-up scans of headstones heavily weathered the project is furthermore supported by Dr. Susanne Krömker and her team at the Institut für Wissenschaftliches Rechnen of Heidelberg University. We would like to thank all sponsors and everyone cooperating.
Please send your comments and suggestions to: som[at]steinheim-institut.org.
M. Brocke & A. Sommer
Digitale Edition - Jüdischer Friedhof Worms (~1140-1852 / 1619 Einträge)