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Erfurt, Germany

Erfurt is a city in Thuringia, Germany. Jews are first mentioned there in the 12th century. At first under the protection of the king, by the second half of the 12th century, they had passed to the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Mainz, who composed an oath formula for them in German. In 1209, the king also relinquished his right to collect taxes from the Jews, which in 1212 was explicitly granted to the archbishop. In 1221, anti-Jewish riots broke out in Erfurt: the synagogue was burned down, and a number of Jews were murdered while some threw themselves into the flames. Among the martyrs were the paytan and cantor Samuel b. Kalonymus. Nevertheless, the Jewish community of Erfurt continued to exist and even to expand.

After some time, a new synagogue was built, and well-known rabbis chose Erfurt as their seat. Between 1286 and 1293, Asher b. Jehiel probably lived there, and at about the same time, Kalonymus b. Eliezer ha-Nakdan composed his Masorah Ketannah, still preserved in manuscript in Erfurt.

During the Middle Ages, the Jews of Erfurt followed the Saxony prayer rite. The community’s Book of Ritual is preserved at Jews’ College, London (Ms. 104, 4). At the beginning of the 14th century, protection over the Jews passed to the municipality; this, however, was unable to save them from massacre during the Black Death: at the beginning of March 1349 over 100 Jews were murdered by the populace, and many set fire to their homes and perished in the flames. Those who survived were driven from the city. Among the martyrs was Alexander Suslin ha-Kohen, author of Sefer ha-Aguddah. Israel b. Joel Susslin mentions the Erfurt martyrs in an elegy (Sefer ha-Dema’ot, 2, 126–7). The city council again permitted Jews to settle within the city walls and build a new synagogue in 1357.

During the following century, the Erfurt community became one of the largest and most important in Germany, with some of the most celebrated rabbis officiating there. Meir b. Baruch ha-Levi served there for some time; a disciple of his was Hillel of Erfurt. In the middle of the 15th century, Jacob b. Judah Weil taught there. During this period, Erfurt Jews played an important role in banking in Thuringia.

In 1391 the king canceled all the debts owed by Christians to the Erfurt Jews and handed them over to the municipality for 2,000 gulden; the municipality claimed this sum from the Jews but promised them to return part of the debts. Subsequently, the Jews had to pay a special tax to the king’s treasury. In 1418, they were compelled to declare the amount of their property on oath in the synagogue, and the king collected new taxes from them on this basis. In 1451 and 1452, Nicolas of Cusa and John of Capistrano visited Erfurt. Their anti-Jewish sermons greatly agitated the populace, and in 1453 the city council withdrew protection from the Jews, who subsequently left Erfurt.

Around 1820, the Prussian authorities used the tombstones in the Jewish cemetery for the fortification of the city. At that time, Jews again began to settle in Erfurt, numbering some 144 in 1840 when a new synagogue was dedicated. The communal archives from 1855 to 1936 have been transferred to the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People in Jerusalem.

The community numbered 546 in 1880 (1.03% of the total population); 795 in 1910 (0.72%), and 831 in 1933 (0.6%). After the advent of the Nazis, the majority left Erfurt, 263 remaining in 1939. The synagogue was burned down on November 9, 1938. The community was compelled to pay for the benzene used for igniting the synagogue and for clearing the ruins. The men were detained in the local school, where they were mistreated, and subsequently deported to Buchenwald. Of the 188 Jews remaining in Erfurt in September 1941, 152 were deported to the East in four transports between May 1942 and January 1944.

A few Jews returned to Erfurt after the war, and there were 40 in 1951. A new synagogue was opened in 1952, and the community numbered 120 in 1961. As a result of the immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union, the number of community members rose to 550 in 2003. One of the famous manuscripts of the Tosefta was found in Erfurt, after which it is named (S. Leibman, intr. Tosefta bi-Feshuto).

The medieval Jewish town center of Erfurt was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in September 2023.


A. Jaraczewsky, Geschichte der Juden in Erfurt (1868); Wiener, in: MGWJ, 17 (1868), 313–17, 352–59, 385–95; Th. Kronner, Festschrift zur Einweihung der neuen Synagoge in Erfurt (1884); Suessmann, in: MGADJ, 5 (1914), 1–126; Germ Jud, 1 (1963), 97–102; 2 (1968), 215–25; PKG; Baron, 9 (1965), 223–26. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: E. Menzel, in: Beitraege zur Geschichte juedischen Lebens in Thueringen (1996), 117–132; O. Zucht, Die Geschichte der Juden in Erfurt … (2001).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
UNESCO names Erfurt medieval Jewish area World Heritage Site, DW, (September 18, 2023).