ROTHENBURG OB DER TAUBER, city in Bavaria, Germany. Individual Jews are mentioned there in 1180. A community is first recorded in 1241, when it paid the small sum of 10 silver marks in taxes. In the mid-13th century *Meir ben Baruch, the acknowledged scholarly authority of his era, settled in Rothenburg, attracting pupils by the score; the town thus became a center of Jewish religious life and the Rothenburg community grew. During the *Rindfleisch persecutions (1298), the community was almost totally annihilated. On June 25, 57 were murdered; on July 18, 32 were massacred and
A new community was established after a short time. A source of 1346 mentions an old synagogue, therefore a new synagogue must have been built. In 1323 Emperor Louis III of Bavaria assessed the taxes of the community at 200 Haller pounds; in 1342 he levied one gulden from each Jew in Rothenburg (see *Opferpfennig) and obliged the city elders to swear that they would freely admit and protect the Jews, his subjects. During the *Black Death persecutions (1349), the community was annihilated, and afterward the burghers celebrated August 27 annually in commemoration of the city's salvation from "poisoning by the Jews." In 1352, *Charles IV pardoned the burghers for the extermination of the community and allowed the city to admit Jews. The new community, established under the protection and jurisdiction of the city, suffered heavily from the annulment of debts in 1385 and 1390. A short and partial banishment was decreed in 1397, caused by inflammatory sermons on Good Friday, but the Jews were readmitted to the town seven years later. The 15th-century community was probably not allowed to keep a cemetery, for no tombstones of this period have survived. In 1414 an onerous imperial tax was exacted from the Jewish community; some members attempted to flee, and all were put under arrest until it was arranged that the tax would be paid by 21 members of the community. The burghers of Rothenburg successfully resisted, in 1422, the bishop of Wuerzburg's demand that they imprison the Jews and expropriate their property, turning over to the bishop the debts they owed to the Jews. The city opposed any attempt to deprive it of its jurisdiction over the Jewish community, and the economic benefits it derived from them, but the bishop seems to have been successful in imposing a distinctive *badge on the Jews. Jews wishing to remain in Rothenburg were obliged to present annual declarations to the city, stating their names, occupations, and willingness to pay taxes and obey the laws; the city reciprocated by granting legal protection to individual Jews.
In the early 16th century expulsions of Jews from cities in southern Germany became common. The Rothenburg community in 1517 requested the protection of Emperor *Maximilian I against Claus Wolgemut, a robber baron who applied pressure on the city to extort money from the Jewish inhabitants or expel them. The expulsion, which took place three years later, was meticulously planned by the city council, which was advised by Caspar Mart, legal counselor of the empire, to exploit the death of Maximilian in 1519 by taking immediate steps. The preacher Johannes Teuschlein (an early exponent of the Reformation) agitated, with the approval of the council, for the expulsion of the Jews as a reformatory, "cleansing" measure. The council employed a lawyer to help the Jews liquidate their businesses; the last six Jews left on Feb. 2, 1520. Requests by the nobility for a stay of expulsion on behalf of their Jewish associates were not heeded. The expellees were obliged to state, in writing, that they had not been forced to leave and had no outstanding demands. Throughout these proceedings the word "expulsion" was avoided in official correspondence and replaced by Beurlauben ("leave of absence," "dismissal"); the illusion that the Jews had left voluntarily was maintained. Attempts by the refugees to return failed. In 1659 Jews were allowed to attend the city's fairs but not to display their wares in public.
A Jewish community was not reestablished until 1875, totaling 86 persons (1.32% of the total population) in 1880. Their number declined from 100 in 1910 to 44 in 1933, when the community possessed a cemetery and mikveh. No Jews returned to Rothenburg after World War II. The medieval Jewish wedding hall was rebuilt.
H. Breslau, in: ZGJD, 3 (1889), 301–36; 4 (1890), 1–17; A. Schnizlein, in: MGWJ, 61 (1917), 263–84; M. Grunwald, ibid., 72 (1928), 204–12; M. Schuetz, Eine Reichsstadt wehrtsich. Rothenburg ob der Tauber im Kampfe gegen das Judentum (1938); Germ Jud, 1 (1963), 311–2; 2 (1968), 707–8.