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.

Rabbiner von Augsburg: der Maharil

July 14, 2009

Rabbi Jakob ben Mosche Ha-Levi wurde 1365 geboren und war in Mainz Schüler seines Vaters Rabbi Mosche Molin, der in zumindest in der Zeit zwischen 1364 und 1368 Rabbiner in Augsburg war und dort in den städtischen Steuerlisten als “Meister Molin” verzeichnet ist. Es ist deshalb plausibel anzunehmen, dass sein Sohn nicht wie allgemein vermutet in Mainz, sondern in Augsburg geboren wurde. Rabbi Jakob lernte auch bei Rabbi Schalom ben Jitzchak in Wien Neustadt und war selbst in den Jahren 1412-1414 wie bereits sein Vater als Rabbiner in Augsburg, wo er als “Rabbi Jakob” verzeichnet ist.

Bekannt ist er unter dem Akronym maharil, was abgekürzt steht für “morenu haraw raw jakow levi” (unser Lehrer der verehrte Rabbiner Jakob Levi”) und für sein Hauptwerk “Sefer Minhagim” (Buch der Bräuche), das gelegentlich nach ihm auch “Sefer ha Maharil” genannt wurde, welches eine wesentliche und oft zitierte Grundlage für den Kommentar “HaMapa” von Mosche Isserles zum “Schulchan Aruch” des Josef Caro bildete. Der Maharil gilt als einer der herausragendsten jüdischen Gelehrten des ausgehenden Mittelalters und wurde auch als Chazan (Vorsänger) berühmt. Eine Anzahl heute noch gebräuchlicher Melodien aus dem Gottesdienst geht auf ihn zurück. Allgemein volkstümlich geworden ist sein Beharren, die bestehenden Ordnungen in Mainz unverändert zu lassen: “Mainz bleibt Mainz“.

Der bedeutendste der zahlreichen Schüler des Maharil war Rabbi Jakob ben Jehuda Weil (MaHaRiW), der ihm nachfolgte und Augsburgs letzter bedeutender Rabbiner war.

Rabbi Mosche ben Jakow Ha-Levi Molin, der MaHaRIL

Rabbi Mosche ben Jakow Ha-Levi Molin, der MaHaRIL


Rabbi Moshe ben Jacob Ha-Levi was born in 1365, and was a student of his father Rabbi Moshe Molin in Mainz (Mayence), who at least between 1364 to 1368 was rabbi in Augsburg where he is listed in the municipal tax book as a “Meister Molin”. It therefore is plausible to assume that his son was not born in Mainz, as commonly assumed, but rather in Augsburg. Rabbi Jacob also learned with Rabbi Shalom ben Yitzchak in Vienna Neustadt. In the years 1412-1414 as his father he was Rabbi of Augsburg, where he is noticed as “Rabbi Jacob” in the tax payer list.  
He is known by the acronym MaHaRIL, which is abbreviated for “raw morenu haraw Yakov levi” (our dear teacher Rabbi Jacob Levi) and his main work “Sefer Minhagim” (Book of Customs), which is occasionally referred to him as “Sefer ha Maharil”, which is an essential and often-cited basis for the comment “HaMapa” by Moshe Isserles to the “Shulchan Aruch” of Joseph Caro. The Maharil is regarded as one of the greatest Jewish scholars of the late Middle Ages and also was considered as a famous Chazan (precentor). A number of still common melodies go back to him.

The most important of the many disciples of the Maharil was Rabbi Jacob ben Yehuda Weil (MaHaRiW), who himself follow him to be the last significant rabbi of Augsburg.