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137. Seal of Ephraim Son of Jacob/Gumpert

No. 137, seal of Ephraim son of Jacob/Gumpert attached to document from Münster, March 15, 1378 (reduced in size).

Dimensions: approximately 18 mm. Impression.

Location: North Rhine-Westphalia State Archives of Münster, Herford Prince Abbey Doc. 422.

Bibliography: Ilgen, 1900, Table 255, No. 25; Philippi, 1914, Pl. 6, No. 53.

This small and most curious seal, listed in the German records as belonging to Gumpert the Jew of Herford, is appended to a document dated March 15, 1378. It is one of the few which we know that shows the human face and thus seems to break the Second Commandment as interpreted by Ashkenazi Jews at that time. The field is occupied by the bust full-face, but it is in such worn condition that the features are barely perceptible. We can see the man is wearing a Jew’s hat and what seems to be heavy sidelocks. Between a double border of dotted lines the Hebrew legend clearly indicates the name, with the last letters less clear. The rather unusual contraction, of course, means that Ephraim’s father was still alive when the seal was made.

It is difficult to understand the relation of the Hebrew name on the seal to that in the German document. This document begins “Gumpert de Jude,” also written “Humprach” in the text following. Gumpert or Humprach is the only person mentioned in the usual role of sealer, and there is no indication that anyone else is sealing. Rabbi Bernhard Brilling, of Münster, was kind enough to solve this riddle by citing the 1931 Berlin edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica, which states: “from the old German ‘Gundbert’ the designation [or, more correctly, name] Gomperz (Gumpert, Gumpertz) often appears as a nickname as early as the fourteenth century for the Hebrew names Ephraim and Mordechai” (7:518). Thus, Ephraim son of Jacob simply called himself Gumpert when doing business with the Christian community.

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