The Memorbuch of Laubheim

The Jewish people’s insistence on passing down memory from one generation to the next is what has led many to describe it as a community of memory. Over generations Jewish communities in Eretz Israel and the Diaspora have developed different ways of preserving the past: from reading and studying the Bible (the history of God’s covenant with his chosen people), to following the commandment “Tell you sons” and “every man must see himself as if he came out of Egypt.” In addition to all these memory aids, the Jewish communities of Germany developed a tool called the Memorbuch, a “memorial book.” For the most part, the Memorbuch was a register that documented the deaths of members of the community so that they will not be forgotten.

The form of a communal record was extant from the Middle Ages, and it evolved over the centuries to include not only the names of the deceased and a short history of their lives and deeds, but also the great and terrible events in the life of the community and of the Jewish people, such as various riots and pogroms.

The communal book of Laubheim offers a unique innovation: alongside the names and deeds of the deceased members of the community are recorded also the names of great figures of the Jewish people, so that “May God remember the soul of our great leaders,” or even more importantly, in order that the members of the community will remember them. There are references to Rabbi Yehuda HaHasid (“the Pious”), who “taught the Torah to the Jewish people and enlightened the eyes of the Diaspora with his spiritual practices,” and promoted, among other acts, a movement to settle in the Holy Land. Mentioned as well is Rabbi Meir son of Rabbi Itzhak Shatz, who not content with his role as emissary for communal prayer, also composed many liturgical poems (piyyutim) that were added to the Jewish prayer book (siddur) and which remain familiar even today. However, the most famous figure of all cited in the communal Memorbuch is without doubt the greatest biblical commentator of all time, Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki) “who illumined the eyes of the Diaspora with his commentaries.”

The Laubheim community Memorbuch demonstrates in a novel and poignant way how the Jewish community in Germany transmitted the longing for the great leaders of the Jewish people and their respect for their legacy and textual traditions with which they bequeathed us.