Last update: 27.09.2011
Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz -
The Institute for Ashkenazi Heritage - is the leading institute
dedicated to the research, preservation and transmission of the
unique religious values, customs, and folklore of German Jewry, as
they existed prior to the Holocaust.
The history of German
(Ashkenazi) Jewry dates back to the destruction of the holy Temple in
Jerusalem. First in Roman Italy, later on in the Rhine Valley, these
Jews developed their own remarkable tradition. That tradition is the
cumulative product of two millennia of brilliant scholars and
dedicated community leaders. It remains today one of the priceless
spiritual legacies of our people.
Rabbi Isaac of Vienna
the 'Ohr Zarua' exclaimed nearly eight hundred years ago, "Do
you not know what towering geniuses and men of holiness are the
Rabbis of Mainz, Worms, and Speier? From them has the Torah gone
forth to all of Israel!" After Rabbenu Asher (the 'Rosh') was
forced to flee Germany for Spain, he wrote, "I keep to our
tradition as we received it from our ancestors of blessed memory, the
Sages of Ashkenaz. Their Torah was a legacy from their fathers from
the time of the Temple's destruction."
In later times, we find
leading Western and Eastern European Sages looking to the Masores
Ashkenaz, as maintained by German Jewry, as the authentic Ashkenazi
tradition. The 'Chavas Ya'ir', Rabbi Ya'ir Chaim Bacharach of Worms
(1638-1702) described the Minhagim of Ashkenaz as free of the
distortions and corruptions which inadvertently crept into other
traditions. The 'Korban Nasanel', Rabbi Nasanel Weil of Karlsruhe
(1687-1769), expressed the view that the customs of Germany were
built on foundations of solid gold far superior to the customs of
Eastern Europe. In one of his responsa, he writes, "All the
customs of Germany still apply in full force, for the great rabbis of
Ashkenaz, who laid down the Torah for Israel, established all our
accepted customs, which we, as the descendants of the Ashkenazim,
Eibeschuetz (1690-1767), though born and raised in Eastern Europe,
concurred: "The Torah was given over to the Sages of Ashkenaz. What
could we know of which they were not aware?" The 'Chasam
Sofer', Rabbi Moses Schreiber of Pressburg (1762-1839) a native of
Frankfurt and subsequently the leader of Hungarian Jewry, wrote, "all
the customs of Germany were established by our teachers, the
disciples of Rashi..."
The Jewish communities
of Germany were the source of spiritual life for generation after
generation of European Jewry. The communities of Germany flourished
for centuries, enriching the Jewish world, nourishing the precious
heritage of Sinai, and willingly giving their lives to sanctify
The Setting Sun
From the time of the
First Crusade, the Jews of Germany were continuously persecuted,
humiliated, and murdered by their Gentile neighbors. As a
consequence, there was a constant emigration of Jews from Germany to
Eastern Europe. These refugees constituted a large percentage of
Eastern European Jewry. It was they who provided Eastern European
Jewry with its distinctive language Juedisch-Deutsch (Yiddish) and
ethnic appellation - Ashkenazim. Unfortunately, the traditions of
Germany did not always fully survive the move to Eastern Europe.
The constant emigration
from Germany throughout the centuries thinned the ranks of the
remaining communities. By the 1930s there were only five hundred
thousand Jews living in Germany, compared to three and a half million
living in Poland alone.
Yet, their relatively
small numbers did not prevent the German Jews in the 17th
and 18th centuries from nurturing a flourishing Torah life
and maintaining Yeshivos in many communities. The famous Yeshivos of
Germany attracted young scholars from all over Europe, and did so
until the tides of the Enlightenment swept all away.
The influence of the
Enlightenment was first felt by the Jews of Western Europe. With
political emancipation and the opening of the ghettos, the Jews of
Western Europe were exposed for the first time to a non-Jewish
culture not without its own allure. Assimilation was the result.
With the mushrooming of
Western European culture, Germany and France became the world centers
of the Enlightenment. Philosophers, composers, poets, and scientists
abounded, and with them grew the universities. Freed from the
ghettos, granted civil rights at last, and suddenly confronted with a
dazzling Gentile world, the Jews of the west reeled in shock. Many
succumbed, whether all at once or gradually, and took the course of
In Eastern Europe the
dangers of Gentile culture were still scarcely noticeable. The
ambient Gentile culture was simply too primitive as to be worth
assimilating into. It was only much later that the Enlightenment and
the Socialist movements penetrated there.
German Jewry did consolidate and strengthen itself against
assimilation, it was now to the Yeshivos of Eastern Europe that
German Jewish boys went to seek advanced Torah learning. In fact,
between the two world wars the German Yeshivos began to flower again,
but soon afterwards the Holocaust wiped them out entirely. Even in
those final generations however Germany Torah Jewry was characterized
by heroes of the spirit who guarded their ancestral heritage
zealously and with joy.
In the Holocaust a third
of German Jews were slaughtered. While two-thirds of German Jewry
escaped with their lives, the communities nurtured over millennia
were destroyed. their dispersion throughout many other countries
resulted in their becoming a small minority in their new homes. This
minority status fostered the rapid disappearance of the specific
German-Jewish identity, way of life and customs.
A few communities
reestablished themselves on foreign soil after the War, foremost
among them K'hal Adath Jeshurun in Washington Heights, N. Y. In
these communities the traditions of German Jewry were lovingly
preserved. However, the younger generation, by and large, have not
maintained their parents' traditions, mostly due to a lack of
appreciation of the spiritual basis which formed Minhag Ashkenaz.
Only a very small percentage of the second and third-generation is
particularly knowledgeable about the cultural/religious heritage of
With the destruction
caused by the Holocaust, all of the above came to an abrupt halt. As
in all acts of cultural genocide, it has taken years to even realize
how much has been lost. Given the aging of the survivors of that
period, there is a narrow window remaining to collect material that
was part of a daily consciousness for many, until 1938 in Germany.
Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz
German Jews established
communities throughout the world, in the years immediately following
the destruction of European Jewry. Most of these communities were not
successful in maintaining their unique identity for longer than two
generations and have not been able to secure their continuation. The
younger generation has been drawn to other communities, mainly due to
the lack of appreciation for, and knowledge of, the rich spiritual
and cultural heritage of their ancestors.
Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz
will enable the present generation to familiarize itself with this
heritage and appreciate it, and to return to practice this heritage,
if they are inclined to do so.
If anything is to be
passed on to coming generations the people must be inspired to follow
their heritage. They must be made aware of its solid halachic
foundations and encouraged to maintain its practice. Furthermore,
the manuscripts of German Jewry's great Torah scholars need to be
preserved and printed, along with their major works of Jewish
thought. German Jewry's prayer melodies must be collected and
released to the public. Biographies of Germany's leading Torah
figures need to be written, and its customs must be gathered and
The many and varied
projects of the Institute serve one sole purpose - researching and
revitalizing the spiritual treasures of German Jewry which have been
neglected for many years.
The Institute for German
Jewish Heritage is active in researching, preserving, and
transmitting to the new generations the unique religious lifestyle,
customs, and folklore of German Jewry as existed until its
destruction during the Holocaust. This activity includes publishing
leaflets, pamphlets, and books, and running this Internet site.
Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz
(The Institute for German Jewish Heritage) was founded over fifteen
years ago expressly for these purposes
activities center around religious traditions that were fostered in
Germany, and in the communities of France, Switzerland, France,
Denmark and Holland that were under the influence of the common
tradition developed in Germany during the Middle Ages.
By collecting, organizing
and publishing materials about the totality of the German-Jewish life
experience prior to World War II, we hope to accomplish two things.
We wish to be able to provide material about a vibrant way of life so
that those interested in reaffirming their heritage in their own
lives can do so. Additionally, we wish to act as a resource for
academics working in the areas of Jewish cultural history, liturgy,
and Responsa literature.
A Comprehensive Ashkenaz Library
Information is the
fundamental requirement for researching our Ashkenazi heritage. The
material gathered on large Card indexes by Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz
has already proven a rich treasure of information for Torah scholars,
researchers, and ordinary Jews interested in the customs of German
archives contain thousands of documents related to the recent and
past history of German Jewry. Our library already holds some ten
thousand books and is growing.
The Machon's archives
contain thousands of documents related to the past history of German
Jewry, both present and past. These documents will be catalogued so
that they can be more easily accessed for research purposes.
Powered by eFox