ShUM-Cities – The cradle of jewish learning


The Jewish centres in the three cathedral cities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz on the northern Upper Rhine have been known by the Hebrew acronym ShUM, which is derived from the cities’ Hebrew names Shpira, Vermayza and Magentza, since the Middle Ages. These cities laid the foundations for the formation of a new Jewish culture to the north of the Alps, the culture of the Ashkenazic Jews. What set them apart was the extraordinary significance of the Rhenish scholars, the unique bond between the communities and the radiance exuded by the texts, buildings and works of art created there, which continues to this day.

Apart from the Mainz scholars, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi, is the central figure behind the lasting renown of the ShUM cities. He started studying in 1060 in the Jewish school in Mainz, then highly regarded by Jews in Europe, before moving to Worms. His words are still relevant today and every copy of the Babylonian Talmud is printed with a commentary by Rashi. The Jewish Museum at Hinteren Judengasse 6 in Worms is named after him. It stands on the Medieval foundations and cellar vaults of what was once the dance hall, wedding hall and school for the Jewish community.

The Jewish culture is reflected in remarkable buildings and museums in all three cities. The ‘Heiliger Sand’ and ‘Judensand’ Jewish cemeteries in Worms and Mainz respectively are the oldest preserved examples of their kind in Europe. The ‘Heiliger Sand’ cemetery, which was founded with the first synagogue in Worms in around 1034, is definitely worth a visit. There are more than 2,000 graves, including monuments to leading rabbis, which attract many Jewish visitors from all over the world. The oldest Jewish gravestones north of the Alps can be found in Mainz, which was home to the most important Jewish community in Central Europe until the 11th century.

The mikveh ritual baths in Speyer, Palatinate

Entrance area to the mikveh ritual baths in the Jewish quarter in Speyer, Palatinate

In Speyer, the buildings handed down from the Medieval Jewish community focus on the ‘Jewish quarter’ complex in Kleine Pfaffengasse, including the remains of the synagogue, the oldest known monumental Mikveh (ritual baths) and the SchPIRA Museum. This is where the Jewish community settled in the late 11th century with the support of Rüdiger Huzman, the Bishop of Speyer. A men’s synagogue was built in the Jewish quarter, with a women’s prayer house added later. The ruins of the synagogue are the largest medieval place of worship still standing in Central Europe. The Jewish ritual bath (Mikveh) was first mentioned in 1126 and has remained preserved and largely unchanged over the centuries. It is one of the oldest remaining of its kind and of real significance in terms of cultural history. Steps lead 10 metres down into a deep barrel vault with a square bathing well. This was the scene for the ritual cleansing set out in Jewish law.

Exhibits in the Jewish SchPIRA Museum in Speyer, Palatinate

Exhibits in the Jewish SchPIRA Museum in Speyer, Palatinate

The SchPIRA Museum features archaeological exhibits and information boards to give visitors an insight into the cultural and ritual lives of the Speyer Jews at the synagogue, the ritual baths and the cemetery. It includes gravestones, architectural elements and floor tiles from the synagogue, plus coins from the ‘Lingenfeld Treasure’. The media room shows films in various languages on the mikveh and the Jewish quarter, and there is an interactive media station.

The community centres and cemeteries in the ShUM cities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz are still unique testaments to Ashkenazi Judaism with an extraordinarily universal value. They were included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in July 2021 and thus designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

More excursion tips for culture lovers in the SHUM cities:


More information about the ShUM cities

Find out all about Jewish heritage and the ShUM sites in Speyer, Worms and Mainz at the SchUM-Städte e.V.

Museum Schpira

Speyer Kleine Pfaffengasse 20/21 Tel.: 0049 6232 291971 In the adjacent museum, the original architectural decoration of the synagogue and ritual bath are…

Neue Synagoge

Mainz In 1912 the main synagogue was built at the intersection of Hindenburgstrasse and Josefstrasse, which was looted and set on fire during the pogrom…

Synagoge

Worms Worms, Hebrew Warmaisa, was a flourishing Jewish community since the 11th century. The centre of the former Jewish quarter was and is the synagogue…