Images reprinted from ‘Die Grabsteine vom jüdischen Friedhof in Würzburg aus der Zeit von dem Schwarzen Tod (1147-1346)’ (Würzburg: Gesellschaft für fränkische Geschichte, 2011) with permission of the publisher, Gesellschaft für fränkische Geschichte
Images reprinted from ‘Die Grabsteine vom jüdischen Friedhof in Würzburg aus der Zeit von dem Schwarzen Tod (1147-1346)’ (Würzburg: Gesellschaft für fränkische Geschichte, 2011) with permission of the publisher, Gesellschaft für fränkische Geschichte
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Inscriptions From a Jewish Cemetery in Germany

Medieval stones offer a glimpse into the lives of 12th- to 13th-century Würzburg Jews, such as one who ‘served the Lord with his sweet voice,’ ‘Asher known as Bonfil,’ and ‘lady Rosa,’ who was ‘like a rose between thorns’

Simon Schwarzfuchs
December 08, 2020
Images reprinted from ‘Die Grabsteine vom jüdischen Friedhof in Würzburg aus der Zeit von dem Schwarzen Tod (1147-1346)’ (Würzburg: Gesellschaft für fränkische Geschichte, 2011) with permission of the publisher, Gesellschaft für fränkische Geschichte
Images reprinted from ‘Die Grabsteine vom jüdischen Friedhof in Würzburg aus der Zeit von dem Schwarzen Tod (1147-1346)’ (Würzburg: Gesellschaft für fränkische Geschichte, 2011) with permission of the publisher, Gesellschaft für fränkische Geschichte

According to the chronicle of Ephraim ben Jacob from Bonn on the sufferings of the Jews in Germany, a number of Crusaders taking part in the Second Crusade happened to travel through the city of Würzburg and surprised its Jewish community which had felt secure and had not fled to the local fortress. They eventually fell prey to the Crusaders who attacked them on the 22nd day of Adar 907, which corresponds to Monday, February 24, 1147. According to this report, 22 Jews suffered martyrdom. Their bodies remained uncared for, as the survivors had sought refuge in their neighbors’ homes and elsewhere. It is reported that “the next day the bishop ordered to gather [the bodies of] the righteous men who had been massacred on carts, [including] every good limb, thigh, shoulder, fingers and toes which had been purified by the holy oil. Whatever was found from their bodies and limbs he ordered to bury in his garden. Later on R. Hizkiah son of our Rabbi Elyaqim and Lady Judith his wife bought this garden of Eden from the Bishop and turned it into a cemetery, alas! Let the benevolent be blessed, because he made a gift.”

Siegfried von Querfurt, the reigning bishop of Würzburg (1147-1150), had allowed the conversion of one of his gardens, outside the walls of the city, to a permanent Jewish cemetery, but there can be no doubt that there already existed a small cemetery in Würzburg, which had served until then the needs of the local Jewish community. Although we know nothing about the early history of the Würzburg Jewish community, the sheer number of the Crusaders’ victims and the mention of the rabbi testify to its existence. One may well ask whether its cemetery was destroyed or desecrated during the massacre or was it too small to serve the Bishop’s purpose? We shall most probably never know the answer, but it is certain that the new cemetery would now serve the local community until its disappearance.

All the tombstones that have been preserved are sandstones, which were obviously extracted from nearby quarries. Was this the only material used? We know that at least in the valley of the Rhine wood was used for this purpose, on which the inscriptions were inscribed or painted. In view of the quality of this material, it is not surprising that many families should have preferred to replace these wooden inscriptions with a more permanent material, the sandstone funeral monument. We do not know either when stone Matsevot became the rule, but it is not nevertheless obvious that with the passing of time the view prevailed that the tomb of every deceased person should be entitled to a permanent and personal monument. It should also be mentioned in this regard that no infant tombstone has yet been discovered, which could be interpreted as an indication that there were none, or that infants were all buried in another part of the cemetery.

The medieval German and French tombstones known to us are all steles, in contradistinction to the models used in Spain or Oriental communities, where the stone rests horizontally and covers and protects the whole surface of the grave. As will be seen, in France and Germany, the funeral inscriptions are always engraved on a stone which will be erected next to the head of the deceased. It would seem that the fear of the bodies being dug out by animals was greater in the South of Europe than in the North. In later years we will encounter, in Northern cemeteries and notably in Prague, much larger funeral monuments, which cover the whole grave and were engraved on all their four sides and on their upper part. These monuments are usually intended for rabbis or important community leaders and it is quite likely that the purpose of this inflated appearance was to provide more and sufficient space for the laudatory inscriptions which were to tell all visitors the great merits of the deceased. The average and undistinguished deceased would remain satisfied with the traditional stele.

A number of double steles or Matsevot are to be found in the Würzburg cemetery. A double stele, in this context at least, is not composed of two distinct steles which have been reunited on a given tomb, but a unique stone divided in two parts by a kind of engraved twisted cord that separates the two inscriptions which are found on it. There are also tombstones on which there is only one single common inscription which commemorates in a shared text the memory of the two deceased persons. Whether they stood over two adjacent tombs or over a common one shared by the two deceased whose bodies, resting one above the other, are separated by the ritually prescribed partition, cannot be deducted from the size of the tombstone. Apart from the will of the families as expressed in the inscriptions, there is no generally accepted specific pattern which would require the families to organize in some cases a common burial of their dead. In one case two unrelated victims of a murder were put to rest together.

In most cases the buried persons do not belong to the same family. Except in the case of husband and wife, only persons of the same sex were buried together. It would seem that only the circumstances and very near proximity of the death dates incited the families to choose this form of burial. It is then obvious that the dead were buried in the chronological order of their death and that there was no specific policy which would have dealt with the securing of adjoining tombs for members of the same family, such as wife and husband.

One may well ask who was responsible for the preparation of the stones. It is more than probable that Christian handicraftsmen were entrusted with their making, as there is nothing exceptional in their appearance: a rectangular slab, one quarter or one third of it to be set in the ground in order to stabilize it, with or without a frame, the upper part of which being rectangular or rounded, with either one or two or three inside bows. Decoration was of course minimal. A rather small number of these tombstones have marks, possibly sculptor’s marks, but it has not been possible to identify them. There is nothing in them which would make us think that they were made by Jewish stone cutters. This is probably not the case with the very scarce decorative elements which are to be found on a few tombstones. Contrarily to the external frame or rim of the tombstone, including the rounded bows which complete the rim, which was probably produced by the Christian stone cutter who prepared it, these later decorative elements were very probably made by the same person who carved the Hebrew letters.

Whether the tombstone was intended to protect the body of the deceased from predators or not, it immediately became the support of an inscription. There is every reason to believe that the inscription, which is always in Hebrew, was done by Jewish stone cutters and carvers, although the possibility that Christian engravers could occasionally carve out Hebrew letters according to a pattern given to them cannot be excluded. But even if this was the case, the great majority of the tombstones engravers would still remain Jewish. Most of the inscriptions look quite professional, but there can be no doubt that not few were scratched on the tombstones by amateurs, probably family members who did not commend the necessary means which would have allowed them to tum to professionals. The more professional workers would scratch out thin horizontal lines on which would stand or from which would hang the Hebrew wording of the inscriptions. This technique did not differ from the one which was generally used by scribes in their handwritten copies of medieval manuscripts which they ruled in this way.

What was the purpose of the engraved tombstone? To warn passersby that a well-known person was buried there or to tell his merits to future generations?

Scratched-ruled Matsevot of this kind are numerous among the Würzburg stones. It has been suggested that this technique disappeared early and the accepted opinion is that the presence of these lines shows the antiquity of the inscription. This rule may be recognized in most cases, but there is no lack of exceptions: in Würzburg we will be confronted with a number of “ruled” stones which are dated from the middle or even the end of the thirteenth century. It would seem that the technique of scratching-ruling the stone was not given up: it was maintained by use of a different technique-paint, charcoal etc.—and these less permanent lines were eventually washed out by the engravers or by rain. A number of these artisans resisted nevertheless the new technique and went on scratching the stones just as they were used to do in former times.

What was the purpose of the engraved tombstone? To warn passersby that a well-known person was buried there or to tell his merits to future generations? Whatever the case, it is clear that in the course of time the inscriptions will become longer and more detailed. The first Würzburg inscriptions being dated from the very end of the first half of the twelfth century, we will have to examine earlier German Hebrew inscriptions in order to ascertain whether there already existed an accepted specific German-Jewish tradition which regulated more or less the style and the content of the said inscriptions.

It must of course be kept in mind that earlier tombstones have been found in Italy and that these may well have influenced the new communities of the Rhine valley, where some, perhaps many, Italian Jewish settlers were to settle in somewhat later times. Some Italian Hebrew 6th- and 7th-century tombstone inscriptions have the following: “here he will rest,” “rest in peace,” and “may his soul be bound up with the bonds of the living.” The last prayer reflects ISamuel 25:29: “may the soul of my master be bound in the bond of life with the Lord, your God,” which was originally conferred upon the living King David. It obviously became a prayer for the dead in an early period, as we already find an adapted Greek version of the verse on one of the walls of the subterranean necropolis of Beth Shearim. It has been translated by the editors into the following: “and may his soul be bound up in immortal life.”There can be no doubt that it was understood as a strong affirmation that there would be a life after death and that it was the family’s duty to express its strong conviction that the deceased would be recognized as a person who justly deserved to enjoy it. The belief in eternity or rather in the existence of life after death had to be recalled on every Jewish tombstone.

On the first Rhine valley stones which have survived, the text is usually very short. Contrary to what seems to have been common use in early Italian tombstones and in Spanish tombstones from Leon there is no mention of the age reached by the deceased on his death. The case of Channah daughter of Judah in Mainz—she was 19 when she died—seems exceptional, as well as the length of her epitaph. The year is always given according to the era of the creation of the world. Next to the wish: “may his soul be bound in the bond of life!” Two other blessings are quite common: “may he/she rest under the tree of life,” or “may she rest in the garden of Eden,” We also find: “may rest in peace on his couch.” Although all these wishful statements maintain that death is not an end and that the souls of the deceased will rest in honor, in peace or in the garden of Eden, there is no mention of the abode where all the souls of the deceased will rest together (with the souls of all the just men and women who have passed away). Anyway, both themes are dominant: the bond of life and the rest of the dead. Curiously enough they are united in an early (1076-1077) Worms epitaph: “may his soul rest in the bond of life.”

In view of the preceding it will be possible to summarize the matter and to establish the fact that every medieval European epitaph will have the following components: name of the deceased, name of his father (not of his mother) family origin (Levi or Cohen), titles of the deceased and his father (rabbi, preacher etc.), date of the death or of the burial (generally the same), and a prayer for his peaceful rest and his ultimate resurrection. All these elements would require four or five lines on the inscription which could therefore remain small. It would seem that the interested families and communities soon felt the need to add further details which would tell the true merits and the good deeds of the deceased. The inscriptions will now become longer and the stones larger.

It should nevertheless be noted that a very small number of these Würzburg tombstones stray from the two generations family description: son or daughter and father, which is the accepted rule. Three or even four generations may be mentioned although rather seldom, on our Matsevot. On one tombstone, the deceased our mother Hanna is described as the widow of our Rabbi Jonathan daughter of our grandfather Jehiel the priest! Another tombstone reports on Baruch son of Eliezer son of Rabbi Samuel son of our Rabbi Baruch. The family wanted obviously to mention its learned origins.

There was no doubt a large measure of cultural interaction between various European Jewish centers during the last centuries of the Middle Ages, but we cannot but speculate how these changes were transmitted and how and why they eventually were accepted as binding in what will be generally known as Ashkenazic Jewry. Needless to say, the other parts of the tombstone inscription, the dates and the names in particular, were unaffected by this evolution and remained an indispensable part of the text of the Matsevah. The tombstone must of course mention the fact that it was set up because of the death of the person whose memory it commemorates. It is therefore remarkable that all tombstones avoid the direct mention of death: the Hebrew words for death appear very seldom on them and only with the support of a biblical verse. This inhibition is remarkable but it obviously reflects the contemporary mentality: some words could not be used.

Was the tombstone intended not only to protect the body of the deceased and to preserve his memory or to enable also the surviving family to mark the anniversary of his death? In the latter case the mention of the year would have been irrelevant and it would have been sufficient to note the day and month of the death. The remembrance of the year did not serve any such purpose, but the fact remains that the tombstones kept track of it as a rule.

414 tombstones of the 1455, that is about 28% of recovered tombstones of the medieval Würzburg cemetery, are dated. The epigraphic-paleographic study of the others made it possible to distribute 930, that is 63% of the mutilated and now undated tombstones, of them in periods of twenty years. 131 (8%) could not be dated at all. The era used in these dates is always the era of creation. A number of dates are given according to the Gematria system, which combines the numerical value of the different letters of one or more words in order to indicate the date or rather the year of death. It is this abundance of dates or presumed dates which makes it possible to understand the history and continuous growth of the Würzburg cemetery during the two hundred years of its existence.

It is an established fact that the new cemetery did not come into existence before 1147 and it would therefore be rather surprising to find among its tombstones one which is dated from an anterior year. Nevertheless one of them bears the date’ [March]eshvan 4900’, which corresponds to the Gregorian date October 4, 1139 to November 1, 1139. This is rather surprising, but one has to remember that practically each Würzburg tombstone was recut for secondary use in the new Pleich building. The two last letters of the date were scratched out and it is very likely that a third letter disappeared during this process. This was very probably the letter Yod, the numerical value of which is ten. The year would then be 1149 and the full date October 12, 1149 to November 9, 1149. On the other hand one cannot discard altogether the possibility, unlikely as it may be, that this stone it was brought from the old Würzburg cemetery to its new resting place. Two other stones have also the problematic date from the year 4900. Another stone, which also reads from the year 4900, is obviously incomplete (the decade and year are missing) and belongs to the same year. On another stone, the date is complete: the year 4908 corresponds to the year 1147-1148. These are the only stones dating from the first part of the twelfth century. Nothing exceptional can be said about them.

The fourth Würzburg tombstone is very different: it is probably one of the most important funeral monuments originating in the local cemetery. It commemorates the decease of Channah the daughter of Rabbi Joel Halevi, and his wife Momona, who was herself the daughter of the celebrated Eliezer ben Natan, the Raavan of Mainz. This rather imposing stone relates Würzburg to the important Jewish settlements of the Rhineland. It also shows that its extended text and eloquent eulogy which will influence on later tombstones were already known in the middle of the twelfth century, although one may surmise that their use was limited to the descendants of well-known families and deceased persons of exceptional merit. On another stone dated 1166 we will meet the first known officer of the local community, the Gabbai Meir hen Abraham Hakohen.

The dated twelfth century tombstones which have been discovered in the Würzburg collection are not very numerous; 13 in all. Another group of 28 tombstones has been dated from the years 1147-1220, but it is very unlikely that many among them should belong to the 12th century. Their limited number is somewhat surprising, but it should be kept in mind that the local community was still slowly recovering from the blow it had suffered at the Crusaders’ hands. Its demographic upsurge was still to come. We must also emphasize that we have no solid information on the burial policy followed by the cemetery authorities and the extent of the grounds, which were already put in use. Würzburg was not yet a great community.

The number of dated tombstones will not grow during the first twenty years of the twelfth century: nine in all. The year of decease is indicated on all of them; the month on four and the day of the month on one only. These stones were obviously mutilated and this fact prevents us from drawing any conclusion from the absence of these precisions. As already mentioned before, we also have undated 28 tombstones, which can be reasonably attributed on epigraphical grounds to the years 1148-1220. Apart from a number of names, they convey very little information. Still one of these stones could well be that of Yitzhak ben Hizkiah, the son of the founder of the Würzburg cemetery.

The number of dated tombstones will definitely grow during the next twenty years (1221-1240), when there will be 46 of them. Among them will be the first complete one, which will offer a short and very usual eulogy: six lines with 16 words or abbreviations! The next one dated 1222-1223 will remind us of the reigning conditions of the period: it commemorates the “son of the martyrs,” but gives no details on their fate and the date of their martyrdom. Another is the tombstone of an illustrious and completely unknown scholar, who bears a name which he has in common with some of the greatest talmudic scholars of the Middle Ages: Shlomoh ben Abraham. He is designated as “the Light of the Exile,” but it would seem that this glorious title, once reserved for the great Rabenu Gershom of (Mainz or Metz), had lost much of its importance by the time of Shlomoh’s death (1234).

Another stone dated March-April 1236 commemorates the death of Nachma[n] who was killed in unknown circumstances. It is not impossible that he died a martyr’s death. And there is the unexpected death of a young bridegroom: he had married on the first of November 1239 and died two days later. With the increasing number of tombstones, we will now have a number of tombstones dated from the same year; 1224, 1228, 1230, 1231, 1232, 1234, 1235, 1236 1237, 1239-1240. There can be no doubt: the Würzburg Jewish community had greatly increased during these years. The sharp increase during the Jewish year 5000 (1239-1240) is nevertheless surprising and should require an explanation that still escapes us.

The undated tombstones of the same period (1221-1240) are more numerous, as no less than 107 could be numbered. Among them is the tombstone of a certain David, who “had been killed.” Another tombstone could well be that of the sister of the revered rabbi Joel ben Isaac Halevi, the Raviah.

During the next twenty years (1241-1260), we will find 104 dated tombstones, somewhat less than during the precedent period. Two are dated 1241. In 1242 we will find only one dated tombstone: curiously enough, the date appears on it completely at the end. In 1243, we will have eight dated tombstones stones. On one of them appears, contrarily to common practice, the name of the mother of the deceased. Another one covered with one inscription the double killing of two victims of “the sons of Esau [the Christians] who had attacked and killed them.” Another stone refers to a death due to a tragic accident, with no further details. In 1244, there will be four dated stones. The first one reports the assassination of the deceased.

There is only one tombstone for the year 1245. In 1246 there will be three dated tombstones. Strangely, the first one, which seems complete, reports the year and the month of death, but not the day! There will be a slight increase the following year, in 1247, when we will have six dated stones, and seven in 1248. One of these tells us when the new Würzburg synagogue was inaugurated: between September 19, 1248 and September 9, 1249. On two other tombstones, there will be a clear mention of the resurrection of the dead! The next stone alludes, it would seem, to a mysterious incident, which calls for vengeance.

These three stones are from the year 1249. Nineteen tombstones are dated from 1250. The first one commemorates a female convert to Judaism. Her name is unfortunately missing. One stone has the abbreviation H”N, which corresponds to Hokhmat ha-Nistar, “the hidden science,” and designates an adherent to Jewish mysticism. This may well be one of the oldest mentions of this abbreviation. It should also be mentioned that this the only tombstone inscription to begin with the word “with love”! Another stone informs us that Aaron ben Joshua was killed, but gives no details.

No less than 301 undated tombstones originated in Würzburg during the same period (1241-1260). Among them a number of stones on which the name or the origin of the deceased was added either above the usual inscription or on its side such as Bonphil[ia], Shlomoh or Zarfati (the Frenchman). There is only one tombstone in the Würzburg cemetery that has a reference to a zodiacal sign: Pisces. Another informs us that the deceased was brought to burial, very probably from some other place, and another stone bewails the death of a woman who passed away a few days after giving birth. A certain Elazar is described as the son of the martyr Nachmani, but there are no details which could help to identify him.

For the next period (1261-1280) we will have 106 dated tombstones and 235 undated. It is worthwhile remarking that within a short period (1265-1267) we will find no less than three tombstones which will commemorate three persons who had been killed: one in Wertheim who was probably a member of the community of Würzburg (he was buried there), another one named Noah ben Ephraim (from the end of 1267) and finally Nachmani ben Ishai who was brought to his grave soon afterwards. This was obviously a period of unrest, a fact which is confirmed by another stone which tells about the martyr’s death of Nathronai ben Shimon, who perished “on the day of the persecution” (1266-1267). Nothing is known about this event. Another stone tells us about the decease of a certain Rachel who died “in the way of the Creator”, an understandable but still unique expression in the Würzburg cemetery.

Among the undated stones of this period is that of the Darshan, the Preacher, (his name is missing) son of the Hasid, the righteous, Meir, who ascended to heaven in a storm, which could be explained as a stunning death either sudden or due to unnatural causes. Another tombstone deserves attention: the grandson of the deceased erected this stone and wrote in a personal way, which is highly unusual in Würzburg: “This is the monument of my grandfather, the elderly Rabbi Moses.”

For the next twenty-year period (1281-1300), we will have 341 tombstones, 114 dated and 227 undated. One, which is quite mutilated, bewails the decease of a Parnas in 1281-1282, but his name is·missing. The eulogy on another stone concludes with the wish: “may his memory be for eternal life in the garden of Eden”! On three consecutive inscriptions, all from 1287, the name of the city of origin of the deceased is stated: Strasburg, Hammelburg and Nüren[berg]. The names of the first and third appear on top of the inscription, but the second one is mentioned in the text of the inscription itself. The first one gives also the name of the deceased. As for Hammelburg, this could well be the first mention of a Jewish presence in this city. We will also find two double tombstones, which is dated 1290, is not complete, has two parallel inscriptions: left for a man and right for a woman. They were probably man and wife but this cannot be proven in view of the condition of the stone.

One stone will occur the only birthday date to be found in the Würzburg cemetery: the day of Purim! The name of the newborn girl was, of course, Esther. The interplay of Hebrew with the vernacular appears on a tombstone: the eulogy begins with the verse “like a rose between the thorns” (Song of Songs 2:2) followed by the name of the deceased: Rosa.

Surprisingly enough, we have very few fourteenth century tombstones in Würzburg, dated or not. One would have thought that the stones which were erected during the last 48 years of the community and its cemetery would have a better chance to be preserved in view of their relatively recent origin. Their absence confirms that the tombstones standing in some parts of the cemetery were not used at the time for the construction of the building where so many have been found. This could be confirmed by the fact that a number of the 14th-century epigraphic material were discovered in other parts of the town.

During the first half of the fourteenth century we will have a total of 38 tombstones, 21 dated and 17 undated. Among the dated ones, two will reflect the ·constant security problems of medieval Jewish communities: one which mentions the martyred father of the deceased (end of 1306) and another, which informs that “here is buried ‘the assassinated’ Jekutiel son of the martyr Joseph.” This rather narrow and elongated tombstone was probably originally a part of a double tombstone from which it was separated later on. One was set up on the tomb of a twice orphaned—father and mother—woman (1314-1315). Another is a double stone which covers the twin graves of two sisters who passed away within three days, the first one on Tuesday the 18th of Adar 5087 (March 10, 1327) and her sister on the following Sabbath (March 13, 1327). The last dated Würzburg tombstone was found in the city wall: the deceased had been buried in the local cemetery on the last day of the 5137 Hanukkah holiday (December 17, 1346). The last and youngest tombstone of the Pleich commemorates the death of Kalonymous ben Joseph, who passed away in the year 5098 (1137-1138). Among the undated tombstones, one mentions the immediately hoped for eternal life expected for the deceased and the other one of “the world to come in the garden of Eden.”

There is still another category of undated tombstones, which is quite different from the undated tombstones which have been dealt with until now: the greatly mutilated tombstones, mostly small and very small fragments, with a few Hebrew characters, which it has impossible to date, even in a most approximate way. This was the case of no less than 131 fragments. One may well ask why they were included in this edition in view of their little, or lack of, scientific value. This was done for the sake of completeness and in the hope that future discoveries may enhance their value and make an eventual interpretation possible.

As for the so-called undated tombstones, where it has been possible to relate to twenty-year periods, it is obvious that they provide us with an important onomastic material, which is of great interest. They represent a large part of the Würzburg Jewish population before their massacre and expulsion in the year 1348.

There are no tombstones for 105 of the 203 years during which the Würzburg cemetery served the local community (1147-1349). The missing years are to be found at the beginning and at the end: 51 until 1200 and 37 between 1301 and 1349. Twelve years are missing between the years 1201 and 1200, 2 between 1221 and 1240, none between 1241 and 1280, and three only between 1281 and 1300. Dated tombstones exist during 98 years only. It is clear that any calculation based on the number of Jewish burials must be made on the basis of the 1221-1300 period, which seems more representative.

On the other hand we remain confronted with the disturbing fact that no tombstone inscription relating to the victims of the 1298 massacres of the Würzburg Jews has been found, although a detailed and very long list of the local victims has been preserved. According to this list, about 900 Jews met their death in Würzburg at the hands of Rintfleisch and his henchmen on Wednesday, the 13th of Av of the year 5058 (July 23, 1298), including about a hundred Jews from other localities who’ had had hoped to find a refuge in the city. According to one source, the Jews were burnt to death and it is not unlikely that their remains should have been buried in a common grave, which was situated in another part of the cemetery. This would explain the absence of relevant tombstones.

The total of the recovered tombstones, mutilated or not, belonging to the years 1221-1300, is 1097. There are extant 1,455 tombstones or fragments of tombstone for the whole period of activity of the cemetery (1147-1349), with an average of 7.26 burials a year. If we deduct the years for which no tombstones have been found (203-105=98), without taking into account the tombstones for which no date could be suggested, the yearly average will increase significantly to a little more than 15. According to these data, it is quite possible that at least 3,000 dead were buried in the local cemetery during its two century long existence, even without taking in account the 900 victims of the 1298 persecution and the graves of the infants, of which nothing has remained despite the considerable infantile mortality of the period. We do not know whether all of them were entitled to a tombstone inscribed or not and cannot exclude the possibility that not every grave was identified by a tombstone, which could explain that a relatively small number of tombstones has been recovered. Nothing has remained in Würzburg of the wooden signs, provisional or permanent, which are known to have been in use elsewhere.

Not unsurprisingly the Würzburg tombstones reveal a rich onomastic material. As already shown many tombstones are mutilated and more than once the names have disappeared in part or completely. On the other hand, it should be kept in mind that the number of masculine names is far greater than the number of their feminine counterparts, the name of the deceased being always preceded by that of his or her father. The name of the mother appears very seldom. On a few occasions we may also find, as will be shown later, the name of the grandfather.

As could be expected, there is a great difference between the male and female names. Among males biblical names were usually preferred. The following appear at least twenty times: Joseph (including Joseph: 59), Samuel (58), Jacob (51), Isaac (47), Abraham (45), Moses (39), Eliezer (31), Kalonymous (30), Solomon (27), Elazar (26), Mordecai (22) and Judah Elyakim (both 20). The following appear between ten and twenty times : Asher and Jehiel (both 18), Samson (17), David and Simon (both 16), Nathan (15), Meir (14), Alexander and Menahem (both 14), Joel and Elijah (both 12), Israel, Baruch, Nehemiah (all of them 11), Joel, Jekutuel (including Kutiel) and Simha (10 each). Ephraim and Pesach will be mentioned both 9 times. It must nevertheless be kept in mind that not a few identifications of mutilated names remain highly conjectural.

The names of the mothers are practically never mentioned. There are thirteen names of biblical origin: Hannah which is used only 21 times, Sarah and Rachel 18, and Rebecca 12. There are ten Esther, nine Bat Sheva, five Miriam, four Judith, two Zeruyah, two Iskah, two Zipporah, two Leah, two Schifra, and two somewhat surprising Havazelet. Three other names, which are obviously Bible influenced, should be added to this list: Yekarah (once), Nehama (once) and Simha (eight occurrences). Biblical names, which are so common among men were definitely less popular among women.

Many of the other names are definitely of German origin. There are many variations of the adjective gut: Guthlin (8 occurrences), Gutha (6), Guthil (possibly 8) and Githel (possibly five). Gothrath (4 occurrences), or it could well be the feminine translation of the masculine name de Yoetz, the counselor: it should then be read Guthrath. Geila could be a prefiguration of the name Keila, which is commonly found in German speaking countries. Genen is quite probably the original form of the name Genendel, which will be well-known later on. Jutha (5 occurrences) is a first name that was well accepted in Germanic countries.

What could be the German counterpart of the Hebraized Magte? Magde? The same question can be asked concerning Meitin. Siegmund Salfeld in his Memorbuch would have us recognize in Momona and Mimona a ‘Maimonidean’ origin, but this does not seem very likely. Mina (three occurrences) or Minah (10) are quite prevalent. Notha remains a problem. Tserlin (two occurrences) could well be the better known Zerlin. Rechlin should be understood as a German abbreviation of Rachel. Tsarit is very probably an abbreviation of Sarah. Ruhril(?) remains unexplained. Blume is a flower. Taube with an ‘alef’, not a ‘hey’ is certainly Taube, the dove. Oga or Ogja are in common use during the Middle Ages. Richtza is widespread during the Middle Ages among German Jews and Christians. Pirtza already found in the eleventh century. The intriguing Hatzivat—she came from Strasburg. And Heynlin resist attempts to explain its origin.

Another series of women’s names is definitely of French origin, which does not mean that those women who used them or their parents came automatically from France. These names were “naturalized and Germanized” in the course of time. Probably soon after the expulsion from France when the hope of a return to the ancestral home waned away. They provide nevertheless an important source of information on the origins and the migrations of large parts of French Jewry. The feminine first names Bona (the good one) and Beila/e (the pretty one) appear each eight times. Belet looks like a derivative of Belle. Bonphilia (perhaps Bonaphilia, three times) was used in France during the thirteenth century, and is even found on an undated Dijon tombstone. Dolze (Douce) is found once. Yusta is Juste (five occurrences). The masculine form Yushta, perhaps incomplete, is already found in France during the 11th century. Yentil, which is Gentille or Gentle (as in gentleman) remains the most common feminine vernacular first name (28 occurrences, including Yentir in two inscriptions).

The mere reading of these name lists makes it clear that no sacral signification was attached to Jewish female names, as these were seldom used in ceremonial occasions. There was therefore no obligation to avoid Gentile first names for Jewish girls. The opposite was true with Jewish masculine names and it is therefore not surprising that biblical or traditional Hebrew names should have been nearly exclusively used by Jewish men.

The question must nevertheless be asked: Were Jewish men satisfied with their Hebrew names or did they also use other gentile names? We will find on one occasion that use was made of a second Gentile name. One stone has “Asher known as.” The missing second name was luckily repeated on the rim of the tombstone: Bonfil. On another we read “the prominent R. Meir known as,” but the surname, very probably of Gentile origin, is unfortunately missing. We may nevertheless infer on the basis of these two inscriptions, that some, perhaps many Würzburg Jews also used a Gentile name. It is also worthwhile noting that they were not unaware of the possible correspondence between a non­-Jewish name and its Hebrew origin, as shown on a tombstone which reads: “like a rose between thorns was the lady Rosa.”

Even more surprising than the lack of a greater number of geographical localizations is the complete absence on the Würzburg Matsevot of any reference to the worldly occupations indulged in by the deceased. It would seem that it is a characteristic of the period, as confirmed by a similar absence in other Jewish medieval cemeteries. Nowhere are the profession or trade of the deceased named. The only exceptions are those which have to do with the religious life of the Jewish community, such as Rabbi, Darshan or Pamas.

Curiously enough there is no direct reference to a Hazzan, a cantor, although two persons are lauded for having served the Lord with their sweet voice. We have three scribes. The first one is the son of a “punctator,” and died in 1266. This would confirm that the scribe busied himself with the letters and the “punctator” with the vowels. These were then two different professions. The second one, who passed away in 1288, is lauded for having worked close to Ezra the scribe. The biblical Ezra ha-Sofer is of course the model followed by all later scribes.

Among the many compliments and eulogies that can be found on the tombstones, there is very little specific information concerning the life and career of the deceased. The inscriptions show a great measure of filial fidelity and their message was intended to convey to the hearts of later generations all the feelings that had been felt by the family members who had dealt with the burial of their deceased relative and erected the stela, which now stood over his or her grave.

Adapted for publication from Simon Schwarzfuchs, “The Tombstones from the Würzburg Cemetery: A detailed Survey,” in Karlheinz Müller, Simon Schwarzfuchs, Abraham (Rami) Reiner, and Edna Engel, eds., “Die Grabsteine vom jüdischen Friedhof in Würzburg aus der Zeit von dem Schwarzen Tod (1147-1346)” (Würzburg: Gesellschaft für fränkische Geschichte, 2011) with permission of the publisher, Gesellschaft für fränkische Geschichte.

Simon Schwarzfuchs is Professor Emeritus of Jewish History at Bar Ilan University.