The Jewish Augsburg Collection

January 20, 2010

It is an accepted and stable opinion that from the long history of Jews in Augsburg only few traces are left, for example antique oil lamps, remains or let’s say fragments of medieval tombstones, long ago renamed old streets and places, already overbuilt former synagogues or cemetery plots, crumbling grave marker inscriptions at neglected graveyards, numbers of so called ritual objects elaborate, but unused, locked up in glass cases of different museums, entries in old age and middle age tax payer lists as well as the knowledge in what house and street which doctor or lawyer lived, that the half of their families were murdered and the other half fortunately emigrated. Especially the latter allows many a kind of reference to the essence of Judaism. All of this in Augsburg is not different from other places in Germany or Central Europe. Now and then there are changing exhibitions to explain basic knowledge at the level of paperback books, some sad and somber classic concerts, temporally brightened by jolly Klezmer concerts, frequently presented by Gentiles, who for what reason ever believe that this kind of Southeast European wedding music would have ever been a domestic one in Swabia.

Be that as it may, Judaism first and foremost means a life in accordance with the laws and regulations of Talmud and Torah, no more and no less. Everything else that makes under different circumstances Jews, Jewry and Judaism derives from that very source. If we remember and reflect on this fact, we can conclude that the record of the Augsburg Jewry in this respect is a very rich one. Some of the most powerful and influential medieval rabbis of Europe lived and worked in the city. Many of their written work was delivered to posterity: these include hundreds of responses by the Maharam, the influential Book of customs by the Maharil, textbooks like the Question & Answers by the Mahariv, an Augsburg Passover haggadah and an Augsburg prayer book from the 1530s, and so on up to the hilariously good reading of Isaac ben Menachem Etthausen from Pfersee, the Pfersee Talmud script which is regarded as the oldest surviving handwriting in the world or the countless learned articles by the renowned specialist in Middle Eastern and oriental studies and librarian Samuel Landauer (1846-1937), who was the first who translated some of Saadia Gaon’s Arabic works. Most of the treasures of the Augsburg Jewry today are completely unknown although other than crumbling stones many of it still remains intact and preserved.

Our focus therefore will be to introduce, translate and publish this rich heritage of Augsburg and Swabian Jews in the future: The written legacy of the Augsburg Jewry.