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ROTHENBURG, BAVARIA

101. Seal for the Jews in Rothenburg

+ S + iudeorum + in + rotenburg

Dimensions: 27 mm. Cast (from original impression).

Location: City Museum of Rothenburg.

This elegant seal has Gothic minuscule letters whose style derives from the late fourteenth or fifteenth century, rimmed between two solid lines. On a heraldic shield at the center is a large R, standing for Rothenburg. Small crosses separate the words. The impression, in excellent condition, was made over eighty years ago directly from an original stamping at Rothenburg. Though this original stamping, and the matrix, are lost, the cast is at the museum of the city. This is not a Jewish community seal but rather one created by Christian authorities to validate Jewish documents. Unfortunately, no document bearing this seal is known.

Rothenburg is situated on the Tauber River about forty miles west of Nuremburg in Bavaria. Like the larger centers of Augsburg and Regensburg, it had become a free imperial city by the end of the twelfth century and remained so until 1803.* Like those cities, its greatest prosperity was in the late fourteenth century and the early decades of the fifteenth, a period in which the small Jewish community also flourished. The most famous rabbi of thirteenth-century Germany, Meir ben Baruch, though born at Worms, spent a good part of his active career at Rothenburg and became known as Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg.

The Jews of Rothenburg have a melancholy history. During the Rindfleisch persecutions of 1298, almost the entire population was murdered. In 1349, at the height of the frenzy of the Black Death, the butchery repeated itself. In 1520, after several temporary expulsions, the Jews were banned from residing in the city despite the protests of the local nobility. This ban persisted for some three hundred and fifty years.

Most of the documents from the Rothenburg archives involving Jews come from the decades before and after 1400, when trade, and consequently moneylending, flourished. Despite its relatively close proximity to the larger cities of Bavaria, Rothenburg was nominally within the territory of the duchy of Franconia (northwestern Bavaria), and it is apparent that a different legal system operated there. Requests for admission into the city from Jews (which form a significant number of the documents extant) called for an application bearing their signature in Hebrew. This request was presented to the municipal council, and, if approved, the Jews received a permit with the seal of the municipality appended. These documents therefore show signatures in Hebrew below the text but no Jewish seals. Furthermore, the standard formula employed made no reference to seals, very odd in a German-speaking area. L. Schnurrer, the Rothenburg city archivist, has kindly supplied a typical example of the formula used instead of sealing, in this case from a document dated November 25, 1390: “And I sign this letter with my own hand, according to Jewish custom, in Jewish [Hebrew] script.” Since such a signature became as legally binding as a seal, and the municipal seal sufficed on permits (which permits were in fact a kind of passport, with a specific termination date), the exact function of No. 101 is somewhat of a puzzle. It must have been used for financial matters but there are no documents to which it was affixed.


*Strangely enough, these hodgepodge remnants of the medieval period were not integrated into larger territorial units by the Germans themselves but by Napoleon during his conquests.

*Strangely enough, these hodgepodge remnants of the medieval period were not integrated into larger territorial units by the Germans themselves but by Napoleon during his conquests.

Rothenburg is situated on the Tauber River about forty miles west of Nuremburg in Bavaria. Like the larger centers of Augsburg and Regensburg, it had become a free imperial city by the end of the twelfth century and remained so until 1803.* Like those cities, its greatest prosperity was in the late fourteenth century and the early decades of the fifteenth, a period in which the small Jewish community also flourished. The most famous rabbi of thirteenth-century Germany, Meir ben Baruch, though born at Worms, spent a good part of his active career at Rothenburg and became known as Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg.

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Ingolstadt, Bavaria

Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Pages
203-204
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
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