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July 28, 2021 12:42 pm

In First, UNESCO Grants World Heritage Status to ‘Jerusalem on the Rhine,’ Jewish Cultural Sites in Germany

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

View into the building of the Speyer mikvah, which was built in 1120 in the Romanesque architectural style, and is considered the oldest known mikvah of this kind. Photo: Frank Rumpenhorst / dpa via ReutersConnect

UNESCO added to its list of world heritage sites Jewish cultural centers in Germany for their role as the cradles of European Jewish culture and scholarship in the Middle Ages.

The cultural body of the UN recognized on Monday the German cities Mainz, Speyer and Worms, also known as the ShUM sites — the acronym made up of the first letters of their medieval Hebrew city names — as world heritage assets.

The three cities form part of what was once also referred to as “Jerusalem on the Rhine,” and were highly influential in their contributions to Jewish language, religious studies and religious architectural style.

“The move marks the first ever UNESCO recognition of Jewish cultural heritage in Germany,” the European Jewish Congress remarked.

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Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “What a wonderful gift in this anniversary year, in which we are remembering 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany.”

Among the Jewish preserved sites are the Speyer Jewry-Court, including the structures of the synagogue and women’s shul, the archaeological vestiges of the yeshiva, the courtyard and the still intact underground mikveh (ritual bath), which has retained its high architectural and building quality, UNESCO said. The Worms synagogue compound consists of a post-war reconstruction of the 12th century synagogue and 13th century women’s shul. The sites also include the old Jewish cemetery in Worms and the old Jewish cemetery in Mainz.

“For Jewish life in Germany and Europe, the ShUM cities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz are of decisive importance. They are the origin of a long and significant history, from the Middle Ages to the present. The traditions rooted in the ShUM communities are still valid today and have an influence on Jewish life worldwide,” said Aron Schuster, Director of the Central Welfare Office of Jews in Germany. “Outstanding personalities, such as Rashi and Rabbi Gershom, have had a decisive influence on Ashkenazi  Judaism from today’s Rhineland-Palatinate.

“With the recognition of the ShUM cities as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it is possible to preserve the past of this globally unique heritage, bring it into the present and learn from it for the future,” Schuster added.

The World Heritage Committee added 13 cultural sites to UNESCO’s World Heritage List and one extension to an existing cultural site in Mexico.

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