The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Learning your Letters in Medieval Cologne

Since 2007, excavations in the medieval Jewish quarter of the city of Cologne have been resumed. The findings and finds of the excavation provide a unique insight into Jewish everyday life in Cologne in the Middle Ages. During the excavation, more than 400 slate fragments with inscriptions as well as drawings were discovered, mostly dating from before 1349. This extraordinary corpus includes Hebrew writing exercises, showing abecedaries and single letter exercises. These slate fragments provide further insights into what was learned and how writing was learned. Since the slate fragments were disposable material, and therefore not intended for long-term storage, they allow a unique insight into the learning of writing and possibly reading. At the same time, these fragments can be seen as an indication of how broad the knowledge of writing skills were. Especially several calligraphic lettering exercises as well as layout design of manuscripts document a learning of the Hebrew script that goes beyond a simple learning of letters.