Explore German Jewish history by taking a deep dive into the world of recovered Genizot.
A Genizah is a repository for wornout Jewish ritual objects and sacred books and manuscripts that are no longer usable. They are often found hidden in the attic or walls of synagogues.
The most famous Genizah was found at the end of the 19th century during renovation work at the Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo — and many of its around 200,000 pages, fragments of pages, and other items can be explored online HERE.
Quite a few Genizot have been discovered in synagogue buildings in Germany in recent decades, particularly in southern and central Germany.
Compared to the Cairo holdings, the scope of the German genizot is relatively small. They were mostly installed during the 17th and 18th centuries, but they may also include older material. These testimonies of individual and collective Jewish religious practices in the communities range from written sources like handwritten or printed prayer books or their fragments and small notes for use in prayer to ritual objects such as Torah or Esther scrolls, tallitot (prayer shawls) and tefillin (phylacteries). Thus, Genizot can reasonably be regarded as the archives of ritual traces of Jewish communities. The value of genizot as first-hand Jewish sources cannot be overstated both in respect of continuity and change in Jewish ritual practices […] and of further research in other sub-areas of Jewish cultural history.
The contents of seven of the German Genizot have been researched and digitized and can be explored online on the web site of the University of Mainz.
Among them is the genizah of the synagogue of Freudental (between Heilbronn and Stuttgart), considered one of the more important Genizot discovered in Germany.
The full documentation of the Geneiza was recently completed — more than 800 items have been identified, listed in an inventory, and digitized — click here to access the contents, which are organized both by object and type.
The synagogue was built in 1770 and declared a monument in 1926 — but it was heavily damaged on Kristallnacht and used as storage for an industrial firm after the war. It was saved from destruction in 1981 when a local citizens’ group purchased it and restored it as a cultural center. The Genizah was discovered during the restoration work in the 1980s.
Dating back to the 17th century, the trove enables one to document the history and inner development of the community, from traditional practice into modernity. (The trove is also documented in a book by Andreas Lehnardt, “Die Genisa der ehemaligen Synagoge Freudental: Eine Dokumentation.” Freudentaler Blätter 11, Freudental 2019.)
Among other material, you can find a unique collection of Hebrew wall and pocket calendars and a number of beautiful colored Torah binders (Mappot), as well as many rare printed books and fragments of pages, in Hebrew, Yiddish, and German — they include pages from Passover Haggadot — plus a number of remarkable manuscripts, textiles, and other material.
The other genizot in the collection, also digitized and searchable on the same web site, are from: