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Mainz, Germany

by Bernard Weinryb and Larissa Daemmig

Mainz (Mayence; Heb. מענץ, מגנץ, מגנצא) is a city on the Rhine in Germany.

The Medieval Settlements

Mainz is one of the oldest Jewish communities in Germany. It is presumed that Jews came to the city as merchants in the Roman era and may even have founded a settlement there. The date of the first medieval community is uncertain. A church council in Mainz declared in 906 that a man who killed a Jew out of malice must make amends like any other murderer, and presumably, there were some Jews in the city at the time.

The Kalonymus family of Lucca is believed to have moved to Mainz in 917, but the date is not completely reliable. Evidence of the existence of a Jewish community is indisputable only from the middle of the tenth century. Archbishop Frederick (937–54) threatened the Jews with forcible conversion or expulsion. They were, in fact, expelled by Emperor Henry II in 1012 after a priest had converted to Judaism. Soon after, however (according to Jewish sources, only a month), they were allowed to return and continued to play a lively part in the trade of the city, which was a commercial center on the Rhine and Main rivers. An organized community was in existence in the late tenth century (when Gershom b. Judah was teaching in Mainz; his son apostatized in 1012), although land for a cemetery was not acquired until the time of the expulsion (gravestones dating from the 11th–14th centuries, discovered in 1922 in the fortified inner city, came from this cemetery). Many Jews left the city in 1084 after they had been accused of causing a fire in which their quarter was also damaged; settling in Speyer, they founded the community there.

At the beginning of the First Crusade (1096), the Mainz parnas, Kalonymus b. Meshullam obtained an order from Emperor Henry IV protecting the Jews, but nonetheless, and in spite of an armed and spirited resistance, on May 27 more than 1,000 died – some at the hands of the Crusaders and many by suicide as an act of kiddush ha-Shem. Kalonymus escaped with a group to Ruedesheim but committed suicide the next morning during an attack led by Count Emicho.

The synagogue (first mentioned in 1093) and Jewish quarter were burned down on May 29. Twelfth-century Jews immortalized the Mainz martyrdom as an example of supreme akedah. The community slowly recuperated in the following years after Henry IV had permitted those forcibly converted to return to Judaism, decreeing that the Jews were also to enjoy the “king’s peace” (Landfrieden). During the Second Crusade (1146–47) it suffered several casualties. During the Third Crusade (1189–92) the Jews of Mainz were unharmed because of the resolute protection of Frederick I Barbarossa; large numbers temporarily went into hiding in Munzanberg (near Friedberg).

n 1259, Mainz Jews were ordered to wear the Jewish badge. In 1281 and 1283, numerous Jews fell victim to the blood libel; the synagogue was also burnt in these years. As a result of these repeated persecutions, some Jews of Mainz, along with those of other German cities, wished, in 1285, to immigrate to Erez Israel, under the leadership of Meir b. Baruch of Rothenburg; others escaped the boundaries of the empire.

During the Black Death (1349) almost the whole community perished; some of them in a battle against the mob, and the majority (6,000 persons) in the flames of their burning synagogue and quarter, set on fire by their own hands in kiddush ha-Shem.

In the next decade (following the charter of the German Empire known as the Golden Bull of 1356), Jews again began to settle in Mainz. The community did not attain its former standing, even though a considerable number of Jews settled (in 1385, they presented the council with 3,000 gulden “out of gratitude” for its protection during the anti-Jewish disturbances that had broken out in various places). With the gradual transfer, in the later Middle Ages, of Judenschutz (“guardianship over the Jews”) to the cities, their financial obligations grew heavier. The Jewry taxes, granted to the city in 1295 and renewed in 1366, became henceforth ever more burdensome.

In 1438, Mainz Jews left the city after a dispute with the council (they may, in fact, have been expelled); the synagogue and cemetery were confiscated, and the tombstones were utilized for building. In 1445, they were readmitted, only to be expelled in 1462; permitted to return in 1473, they were finally forced to leave the city ten years later. The synagogue was converted into a chapel.

The Community in the Middle Ages

Until the second half of the 12th century, the Jews conducted lively mercantile activities and, from a very early date, attended the Cologne fairs. Discoveries in the area of the oldest Jewish settlement in Mainz provide evidence of commercial connections with Greece and Italy. From this period onward, moneylending became of increased importance in Mainz, as in all German communities. Records of the 12th, and especially of the 13th century, often reveal that churches and monasteries owed money to Jews. In 1213, Pope Innocent III released all Christians in the Mainz province who were about to set out on a Crusade from paying interest on debts to Jews. Mainz Jewry also suffered when Emperor Wenceslaus annulled debts owed to Jews (1390).

Until the Black Death, Jews were allowed to possess land in the city and were recognized as owners of houses. Mainz Jews were probably permitted to reside outside the Jewish quarter, for the protective wall, customary in other cities, was missing. A Judengasse is mentioned in 1218 and, at the end of the century, 54 Jewish houses are recorded. The Jewish community was led by a so-called Judenbischof, nominated by the archbishop, and by not less than four elders (Vorsteher) who together constituted the Judenrat (“Jews’ council”) from 1286 until the end of the 14th century. The supreme non-Jewish juridical authority was the archbishop (from 1209). A yeshivah was founded in the tenth century by the Kalonymides and became central under R. Gershom b. Judah and his pupils and contemporaries, Judah ha-Kohen, Jacob b. Yakar, Isaac ha-Levi, and Isaac b. Judah. Gershom’s takkanot (“regulations”), which were applicable to the Rhenish cities, were acknowledged by all the other German communities and even by other European ones, thereby achieving the force of law, a fact which enhanced the reputation of Mainz.

The chronicle of Solomon b. Samson, recounting the kiddush ha-Shem of 1096, regards Mainz as the main, most ancient, and most famous Jewish community on the Rhine and praises its learning and pious way of life.

From the early 12th century on, Speyer, Worms, and Mainz (in Jewish sources named שו״ם (shum), an abbreviation made up of the first letter of their names) were recognized as the leading Jewish communities in Germany. Synodal assemblies were held in Mainz (1150, 1223, 1250), in which primarily representatives of the three leading communities took part; their resolutions, the takkanot Shum, were acknowledged by the rest of the communities of Germany. The Mainz rabbi, Jacob b. Moses Moellin (1356–1427; known as Maharil) promulgated takkanot (chiefly concerned with ritual matters) aimed at the German and primarily the Rhenish communities. His collection of minhagim (compiled by his pupil Zalman of St. Goar), which rely mainly on Mainz traditions, are connected with all German and some non-German communities and were used to a large extent in the Shulkhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim. Outstanding among the many notable scholars and personalities in medieval Mainz are, in addition to those already mentioned, Nathan b. Machir b. Judah (c. 1100); Eliezer b. Nathan (c. 1150); Meshullam b. Kalonymus (c. 1150); Judah b. Kalonymus b. Moses (c. 1175); and Baruch b. Samuel (1200).

Resettlement and the Modern Community

In the early modern era, only a few Jews lived in Mainz. In 1513, the archbishop designated Weisenau, near Mainz, as the seat of the rabbinate for the diocese of Mainz, presumably because few resided in the city itself. These few were expelled in 1579, but a new community was reconstituted in 1583, reinforced by emigration from Frankfurt (1614), Worms (1615), and Hanau. A rabbi was subsequently engaged, and a synagogue was built (1639; see also Landesjudenschaft).

During the French occupation (1644–48), the Jews suffered and were subsequently subjected to ever-harsher restrictions. The permitted number of Jewish families was limited to 20 and, later 10 (1671). They could inhabit one special street only (ghetto).

Influenced by the Toleranzpatent (1784) of Joseph II, the archbishop-elector improved the legal position of the Jews and allowed them to open their own schools and attend general ones. After the revolutionary French occupation of Mainz (1792), the Leibzoll (“body tax”) was abolished, and on September 12, the gates of the ghetto were torn down.

Until the end of the occupation (1814), the Jews of Mainz were French citizens (they sent delegates to the Sanhedrin in Paris). The Napoleonic edict of May 17, 1808, remained in force until 1848. After the German war of liberation (1813–15), Mainz passed to Hesse-Darmstadt. Full civil rights, promised in June 1816, were not granted.

In the mid-19th century, the community split when R. Joseph Aub introduced ritual reforms in the newly built synagogue (1853). The Orthodox founded the Israelitische Religionsgesellschaft, with its own synagogue, and engaged Marcus Lehmann as rabbi; he founded a Jewish school (a high school with instruction in foreign languages) in 1859. Until the Prussian law of 1876 regulating secession from religious communities, the Orthodox remained within the community and seceded only later.

In modern times, too, several scholars originated from Mainz, notably Michael Creizenach; Isaac Bernays; Joseph Derenburg; and Ludwig Bamberger. Among the former communal institutions were the Israelite Home for the Sick and Disabled, the Jewish Sistership Organization for the Care of Jewish Antiquities, and the talmud torah. The Israelitische Religionsgesellschaft possessed a school (eight classes and 68 pupils) and a library and supplied religious instruction to 30 children. The communal budget totaled 220,000 marks in 1931. Twelve communities from the surrounding district were administered by the Mainz rabbinate.

In the 19th century, the Jewish population of Mainz increased, but its percentage of the general population remained steady: 1,620 Jews in 1828 (5.3% of the total population); 2,665 in 1861 (5.8%); 2,998 in 1871 (5.8%). From then on, both numbers and ratio declined to 3,104 (3.7%) in 1900, 2,738 (2.5%) in 1925, and 2,730 (1.8%) in 1933.

Holocaust and Contemporary Periods

On November 9/10, 1938Kristallnacht – the main synagogue (including the museum and library) was looted and burnt down. The Orthodox and Polish synagogues suffered similar treatment. On May 17, 1939, only 1,452 Jews remained, 70% of whom were 40 years or over. A steady flow of emigrants was partly balanced by an influx of refugees from the countryside.

In March and September 1942, the majority of the community was deported to Poland and Theresienstadt. On February 10, 1943, the final liquidation of the community, which had been moved to the hospital, took place.

After the war, a new community was organized, which numbered 80 persons in 1948 and 122 in 1970 (with an average age of 53). In 1989, the Jewish community numbered 140, and about 1,000 in 2005. The increase is explained by the immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union. In 2005, a second (liberal) Jewish congregation was founded with about 70 members. It is a member of the Union of Progressive Jews in Germany. The congregation wished to use the restored synagogue in Mainz-Weisenau, which was inaugurated in 1996, as a cultural and educational center on Jewish history and tradition for the citizens of Mainz. It also planned to build a new synagogue.


Aronius, Regesten; K.A. Schaab, Diplomatische Geschichte der Juden in Mainz (1855); M. Wiener, Regesten (1862); Germ Jud, 1 (1963), 174–223; 2 (1968), 512–21; Salfeld, Martyrol, index; idem, Bilder aus der Vergangenheit der juedischen Gemeinde in Mainz (1903); idem, in: Festschrift… A. Berliner (1903); idem, in: Festschrift… Hermann Cohen (1912), 347–76; idem, in: Festschrift…Martin Philippson (1916), 135–67; E. Carlebach, Die rechtlichen und sozialen Verhaeltnisse der juedischen Gemeinden Speyer, Worms und Mainz (1901); L. Rothschild, Die Judengemeinden zu Mainz, Speyer und Worms von 13491438 (1904); Finkelstein, Middle Ages, index, S.V. Mayence; S. Levi, Beitraege zur Geschichte der aeltesten juedischen Grabsteine in Mainz (1926); idem, in: Menorah (Vienna-Frankfurt), 5 (1927), 705–16; idem, in: ZGJD, 5 (1934), 187ff.; idem et al. (eds.), Magenza (1927); Mitteilungsblatt des Landesverbandes der israelitischen Religionsgemeinden Hessens, 5, no. 3 (1930), 9–10; 6, no. 1 (1931), 7; no. 12, 1; 7, no. 1 (1932), 4; J.S. Mencel, Beitraege zur Geschichte der Juden in Mainz im XV. Jahrhundert (1933); A.M. Habermann (ed.), Gezerot Ashkenaz ve-Zarefat (1946); Baron, Social2, 4 (1957), 65–75; E.L. Rapp, in: Jahrbuch der Vereinigung "Freunde der Universitaet Mainz" (1958; 1959; 1962); K. Schilling (ed.), Monumenta Judaica, 2 (1963), index; A.M. Klein (ed.), Tagebuch einer juedischen Gemeinde 194143 (1968). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: E. Rapp, Chronik der Mainzer Juden: Die Mainzer Grabdenkmalstaette (1977); F. Schuetz (ed.), Juden in Mainz (19793); R. Doerrlamm, Magenza. Die Geschichte des juedischen Mainz (1995); F. Schuetz, "Die Geschichte des Mainzer Judenviertels," in: M. Matheus (ed.), Juden in Deutschland (Mainzer Vortraege, vol. 1) (1995), 33–60; M. Drobner, Zur Entwicklung der Mainzer Juedischen Gemeinde im Kontext gesamtgesellschaftlicher Prozesse des 19. Jahrhunderts (Europaeische Hochschulschriften, Reihe 19, Volkskunde, Ethnologie, vol. 52) (2000). Website:

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.