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The communities (kehillot) Jews established in the Middle Rhine cities of Mainz, Worms und Speyer from the 10th century onwards are among the earliest documented in Central and Eastern Europe. Together, they formed a unique cluster that significantly influenced the culture, religion and administration of justice in the Ashkenazi diaspora.
The intensity of their interrelations is also reflected in the acronym used to refer to them: the ShUM communities (kehillot ShUM), coined on the basis of the initial letters of Speyer, Worms and Mainz in Hebrew. The joint legal statutes of the three reaffirming them at another assembly in 1223, have survived to this day.
The kehillot ShUM played a major role in establishing the specific principles underpinning Jewish life north of the Alps by adapting key aspects of Jewish cultural traditions from Babylon, the Holy Land, the western Mediterranean area and northern France – some of them stretching back to Antiquity – to the specific conditions of their living environment north of the Alps. Indeed, their influence even extended to how such principles were physically handed down from generation to generation. This novel development of Jewish ways of life and traditions, partially coloured by the Jews' close contact with a Christian environment, became characteristic of Ashkenazi Judaism, which in the modern era assumed lasting importance in the New World and in the state of Israel. For many of the legal decisions and traditions, rites and customs (minhagim) passed down by scholars in the Rhine region remain binding for Orthodox Jews to this very day.
The significance and diversity of the unique architectural and cultural heritage of the ShUM communities, dating back to the 11th century, are of universal value: the synagogues and ritual baths (mikvahot) in Speyer and Worms attest to new, trend-setting architectural forms. The Jewish cemetery in Mainz is home to the oldest known gravestones north of the Alps. The memorial cemetery opened there in 1926 is the only example of a monumental cemetery on its original, authentic site. Meanwhile, the sheer age, size and relatively intact condition of the cemetery in Worms make it unique in the world, as does its constant use for almost 1,000 years and the distinguished status of the prominent Jews buried there, making it an important place of remembrance for Jews worldwide. In addition, many other significant physical reminders, mainly archaeological artefacts, are to be found in the three cities' museums.
Despite the material damage inflicted mainly by waves of persecution and forced expulsions, the overall Jewish legacy left by these different kinds of testimony to the past forms an ensemble that is unique in the world for the cultural heritage of Judaism, which ranks alongside Christianity as one of the bedrocks of European culture.

Mainz, Jüdischer Friedhof

20 photos
Created 21-Jan-24
Modified 21-Jan-24
Mainz, Jüdischer Friedhof

Speyer, Judenhof

27 photos
Created 12-Dec-23
Modified 12-Dec-23
Speyer, Judenhof

Worms, Friedhof Heiliger Sand

9 photos
Created 12-Dec-23
Modified 12-Dec-23
Worms, Friedhof Heiliger Sand

Worms, Synagogengarten

4 photos
Created 16-Dec-23
Modified 16-Dec-23
Worms, Synagogengarten