The importance of Jewish Worms is due above all to him: Rabbi Salomon ben Isaak, called Rashi. This Jewish scholar and writer of a commentary on the Talmud is still today highly regarded in the Jewish world. Around the year 1060, he studied at the Jewish school (yeshiva) in Worms, which was at that time known throughout Europe. The Rashi House in Worms, named after him, houses the Jewish Museum (das Jüdische Museum ) and the city archives (Stadtarchiv). It is situated where the Jewish school (yeshiva) is said to have stood – in Hintere Judengasse and very close to the synagogue ( Synagoge).
Rashi’s teachers were Jakob ben Jakar from Mainz und the Worms scholar Isaak ben Eleasar haLevi. Rashi went back to Troyes in 1065, where he founded a Jewish school (yeshiva) with a large number of pupils.
His commentaries on the Bible and the Talmud show clarity, comprehensibility and vivid use of language. Every edition of the Babylonian Talmud is still today printed with a commentary by Rashi.
The sustained influence of Rashi in Worms has led to the creation of legends. The fame of Worms as a centre of Jewish culture is due largely to him. Rashi died in Troyes on 29th Tammuz (5th August) 1105.
Salomon ben Isaak (Rashi) grew up in Troyes and was probably born there in 1040, and when he came to Worms via Mainz to continue his studies here, the city’s considerable Jewish community had a flourishing yeshiva of remarkable importance. Just how attractive it had become is demonstrated by the names and places of origin of the scholars working here.
We know that Rashi studied under, among others, the prominent rabbis Jakob ben Jakar from Mainz, who also taught in Worms, and Isaak ben Eleasar ha-Levi, the dean (rosh yeshiva) of the Talmudic school in Worms, who died in 1070. One important factor is the unbroken tradition of Jewish community life in Worms in contrast to the violent end of medieval Jewish Mainz in the 15th century.
Rashi acquired in the Jewish schools (yeshivas) on the Rhine the training that formed the basis for his groundbreaking interpretations of the Talmud and the Bible, which were to prove so remarkably influential. His responsa and halachic decisions on controversial matters concerning everyday life, business, and living together in and beyond the bounds of a community have considerable value as sources for our understanding of Rashi’s time and of relations between Christians and Jews in social and economic matters. These decisions on legal aspects concern topics such as moneylending, pawnbroking, property deals, dietary laws, slaves and servants, enforced baptisms etc.
There is evidence that Rashi continued to communicate in writing with his teachers and with other scholars after he had left Worms and returned to Troyes, and thus he was certainly informed about important event in the development of the communities and their Talmudic schools. This certainly also applies to the disastrous consequences of the pogroms in 1096.
The date on the earliest record in the Jewish Cemetery in Worms (gravestone of Jakob ha-bachur, 1076/77) is just a few years after Rashi returned to his home in the Champagne region, and this date marks the beginning of the cemetery’s one-thousand-year-long history of Jewish burials on this site outside the city.
One factor that became particularly important for the Jewish community in Worms from the middle of the 11th century was its relationship to the monarchy. The Salian rulers, who took a great interest in Worms for economic-financial and political-strategic reasons, had close links to “their” Jews in Worms. These links are visible in particular in the important document (a so-called “diploma”) that Henry IV (Heinrich IV) issued in 1090. The numerous regulations in this document that applied to the Jews in Worms as his subjects included the right to change money, possession assurance and confirmation of their ownership of houses by the city wall.
The situation for the Jews as presented at the time this document was drawn up is very favourable, but then came the sudden catastrophe of the pogrom in 1096 in connection with the crusade, a pogrom that affected the Jewish community in Worms particularly severely.
The community fairly quickly regained economic importance in the course of the early 12th century, but this is overshadowed by the far-reaching consequences of the severe pogroms for the community’s self-image and long-term memory.
It was around the middle of the 17th century that a link between the synagogue in Worms and Rashi was first postulated. Juspa Shammes (1604–1678), a scribe and synagogue warden (shammes) who was well known for his writings, was the first to establish this connection.
In particular, the chapel-like annexe to the synagogue that was built in 1623 following a pogrom in 1615 and was big enough for the small yeshiva was given the additional name Rashi Chapel (see picture left). The first evidence of a presumed connection between Rashi as a teacher (the Rashi Chair, see picture above) and the annexe to the synagogue is documented for the year 1760.
A connection between the construction of buildings around the synagogue and Rashi remained a living tradition. This is demonstrated by the inscription that dates from the renovation of the so-called chapel in 1854.
In 1907, the city gave the newly-built gate in the former Jews’ quarter the name Rashi Gate (see picture left), a name that remained even after 1933.