Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library


The Synagogue at Worms and the Two Martyrs

The Synagogue at Worms is one of the oldest in the world; it is supposed to have been built at the time when the second temple was erected; it is in the rear of a court-yard, around which are stone benches. A door opens from this court, which leads to a small round space, also surrounded with stone benches, in the centre of which is a raised platform, where still remains the seat once occupied by the celebrated Rabbi Salomon Yarchi. From that platform he preached his admirable lessons of piety and goodness; his name is engraved on it, and no one is ever permitted to occupy the seat once filled by that venerated rabbi.

An א is carved on one of the stones. Those among his pupils that he did not deem prepared to listen to his learned discourses, were thus reminded that they must recommence their studies, even from the first letter of the alphabet.

In this Synagogue two lamps are always kept burning; under them is the following inscription: "The perpetual light of the two strangers." These lamps are in memory of two martyrs who sacrificed their own lives to ensure the safety of the Jewish community of Worms. The following is the legendary account of this circumstance: Religious procession through the streets of Worms were of common occurrence in the dark times of the middle ages; times when fanaticism had changed all the noble sentiments of humanity into fury and cruelty; when pity and mercy towards religious dissenters were unfelt, when the fundamental principles of all true religion were unknown.

One day the procession passed through the streets occupied by the Jews; crowds of persons swelled the throng; scarcely had it entered this quarter, when voices were heard proclaiming that the crucifix had been insulted; loud rang the cries for revenge; the guilty trespasser must be given up, that his blood might wipe out the indignity offered to the cross. Seven days were granted to the Jews for the discovery of the guilty person. If he were not delivered up at that time, the lives of all the Israelites at Worms were doomed to expiate his offence.

The seventh day (it was also the seventh day of the feast of Passover) came, and fear and agony filled the heart of every Israelite in Worms. On the morning of that day, when the beadle of the Synagogue went as usual to call the people to the house of prayer, he heard loud knocks at the gate, enclosing the Jews' quarters. It was always kept locked during any Jewish or Christian festival. The beadle asked who was there.

"Two Jews, who wish to be admitted," was the reply.

"Who are you, and from whence do you come? Know you not, that whoever enters within our gates this day exposes himself to the fury of an enraged populace? If aid come not from Heaven this day, we all are lost."

"We know it; we know the fearful fate that awaits you; it is to save you from it that we now plead for admittance."

The gates were opened, and the two strangers entered; their names, their residence, were a mystery that each alike refused to solve. A few hours passed by, and the infuriated populace, fired with thoughts of vengeance, rushed in among the Jews. Then the two strangers were seen advancing, and with voices that faltered not, thus addressed the excited multitude:

"Spare, oh, spare these people! Sully not your hands with the blood of innocent victims. Let our lives satisfy you. We alone are guilty of the alleged crime. On our heads let the weight of your displeasure fall!"

And thus nobly did they perish, though racked by the most cruel tortures. From that day forward, the two lamps that were lighted in their memory have never been extinguished; for ever will they burn, bright symbols of the divine flame that animated the hearts of the two pure men who sacrificed their lives for the safety of those who were strangers to them. Every year, on the seventh day of Passover, prayers for the righteous dead are offered in the Synagogue in memory of these devoted martyrs.

Note by the Editor. The above, which originally appeared in the Israelitish Annals of Dr. Jost, has been translated for us, by one of our correspondents, from Les Archives Israelites. The high antiquity of the Synagogue at Worms, as also that of several others in Germany, is, as will be easily understood, resting rather more on legendary than any actual historical authority. That several of our places of worship in Germany are very old admits of no doubt; probably the Jews arrived in that country immediately after the destruction of the second temple. We would, however, thank our European friends, if this should meet their view, to furnish us directly or through their own journals, some authentic accounts of the different principal Jewish congregations on the Continent of Europe.