New exhibit in Germany highlights the Rhine's medieval Jewish history

The exhibit, called "ShUM on the Rhine – From the Middle Ages to Modernity," leads visitors on a journey through centuries of Ashkenazi Jewish history that still influence Diaspora Jewry to this day.

The exhibit, which is open for five years, stands in a building known as the Rashi House (photo credit: SCHUM-STÄDTE E.V.)
The exhibit, which is open for five years, stands in a building known as the Rashi House
(photo credit: SCHUM-STÄDTE E.V.)
A new exhibit has opened at the Jewish Museum in the German city of Worms, detailing the rich Jewish history of the three major Jewish cities of the Rhineland region – Speyer, Worms and Mainz.
The exhibit, called “ShUM on the Rhine – From the Middle Ages to Modernity,” leads visitors on a journey through centuries of Ashkenazi Jewish history that still influences Diaspora Jewry to this day, and includes some of the earliest medieval documentation of Jewish life in Europe.
The exhibit takes its name from the Hebrew acronym for the three cities – Speyer is Shpira, Worms is Warmaisa and Mainz is Magenza.
“On September 13, 2020, the exhibition was opened, as scheduled, despite COVID-19 and a very small team. The team was dedicated in a way never seen and experienced before,” museum curator Susanne Urban told The Jerusalem Post.
“It was an exciting time and experience, and the topic – bringing ShUM into life and making its outstanding monuments and traditions visible – was great.”

The exhibit leads visitors on a journey through centuries of ShUM's Ashkenazi Jewish history (Credit:SchUM-Städte e.V.)The exhibit leads visitors on a journey through centuries of ShUM's Ashkenazi Jewish history (Credit:SchUM-Städte e.V.)
The three cities were a major medieval center of Diaspora Jewry, and many laws and legal rulings were made there including the Takkanot (enactments) ShUM, which were a set of decrees, some of which are still followed today, such as laws regarding marriage and death.
The exhibit is split into several thematic sections, including women, water and local architecture. It combines contemporary art with historical artifacts – donated by German Jews who left Worms for South America or those left behind when the Jewish community was decimated by the Nazis.
Certain highlights include a goblet belonging to the community’s chevra kadisha (burial society) which was made by goldsmith Christof Mendt of Frankenthal in 1609 and was used until 1938; a silver spice box from 1733 that bears a sign comparable to the coat of arms of the City of Worms; and stone columns which are the remains of the original synagogue of Worms, containing circulating writing referring to the year 1174/75, marking the start of the synagogue’s construction, two of which reference the Temple in Jerusalem. The synagogue was destroyed in WWII.

The exhibit is split into several thematic sections, including women, water, local architecture (Credit:SchUM-Städte e.V.)The exhibit is split into several thematic sections, including women, water, local architecture (Credit:SchUM-Städte e.V.)
Water plays a large role in the exhibit as well, due to the cities’ close proximity to the Rhine River and the importance water played in local Jewish life and commerce.
“Water is meant here as the connection between the ShUM communities through the River Rhine and the mikvaot (ritual baths), which were architectural role models,” Urban told the Post. “In addition, women were in these mikvaot much more than men, so we have: the communities, architecture and women.”
“We had roughly one year of research and diving into archives etc. and to get the most exciting object on loan – Joshua Abarbanel’s artwork ‘Golem,’” she told the Post.
The "Golem," created by Abarbanel, a US artist, is a stunning creation of a man made out of Hebrew letters, and is the main art piece at the center of the exhibit.
US artist Joshua Abarbanel's artwork 'Golem' on display (Credit:SchUM-Städte e.V.)US artist Joshua Abarbanel's artwork 'Golem' on display (Credit:SchUM-Städte e.V.)
The exhibit, which is open for five years, is located in a building known as the Rashi House, which stands on the location where the Jewish community building had stood since the 12th century – in constant use as a hospital, wedding hall and retirement home – until it was used as a transit location for the Jewish community by the Nazis in WWII. The medieval remains of the original walls can still be seen in the basement.
The ShUM sites are on a tentative list to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.