1700 years of Jewish life in Germany – Professor Elisabeth Hollender, an expert in Judaism and the spokesperson for the Minority Studies LOEWE cluster, talks about the contribution made by he

Fragment of a piece of slate with Hebrew writing, Cologne, 14th century
© Archäologische Zone Köln und Projekt „Mittelalterliche Schiefertafeln aus Köln“
Fragment of a piece of slate with Hebrew writing, Cologne, 14th century

Emperor Constantine enacted a law in 321 that made it possible for Jews to hold public office in Germany in Cologne. That is exactly 1700 years ago now and 2021 has been declared a year to celebrate Jewish life in Germany. The Frankfurt Seminary for Jewish Studies has been contributing to the research, which has made 2021 a year to inform people about Jewish life in the past and present in Germany, for a long time. The research scientist, expert on Judaism and spokesperson for the Minority Studies: Language and Identity LOEWE cluster, Professor Elisabeth Hollender, is also working in this field and is using the celebration year as an occasion to present her subject and her research results to the general public. An article on this subject was also published in the UniReport at the Goethe University of Frankfurt/Main, which appeared on 8 April 2021.

The Seminary for Jewish Studies mainly deals with the cultural history of European Judaism from the Middle Ages to modern times. One current project, which is being led by Professor Elisabeth Hollender, is studying a medieval, Jewish community in Cologne. Fragments of slate with Jewish writing have been discovered here during excavations and they provide unusual insights into the everyday life of the community members during the 14th century. Working with Prof. Ephraim Shoham-Steiner (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva), Hollender has analysed the oldest findings from the community in Cologne during the last few years and has therefore been able to reconstruct a Jewish community in the 11th century. In contrast with expectations, it did not base its decisions on authoritative Jewish texts, but on local traditions and requirements and was led by a group of leading businesspeople.   

This and other examples from research projects at the Seminary for Jewish Studies not only reveal the breadth of Jewish research in Frankfurt, but also the networking that is practised with other national and international players, both at universities and in museums. Frankfurt is one of the best-known sites for Jewish research in Europe; this is not only due to the Seminary for Jewish Studies and the Martin Buber Professorship for Jewish Religious Philosophy (the head of which is Prof. Dr Christian Wiese, the spokesperson for LOEWE Relpos), but primarily the collective focus on Judaism at the University Library. The fact that the congress to mark the 50th anniversary of the Seminary had to be cancelled in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic caused international regret. All those involved are therefore looking forward to the Congress of the European Association of Jewish Studies, which is due to take place in Frankfurt in 2023, with greater enthusiasm.