The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

The Idea of ​​the Jerusalem Temple Sacrifice in the Practice of Kiddush-HaShem and the Commemoration of the Dead in Twelth- and Thirteenth-Century Ashkenaz

The persecutions of 1096 and 1147, during the first and the second crusades, inspired Jewish scholars of 12th-century Ashkenaz (Ephraim of Bonn, Ephraim of Regensburg, Elieser ben Nathan and others) to produce a number of literary texts, piyutim and chronicles. Seeking to commemorate the victims of the aforementioned persecutions, these authors brought literary descriptions into the foreground, descriptions which characterize the circumstances of martyrdom (Kiddush ha Shem) as active or passive self-sacrifice and, at times, even portray the victims as equivalent to the sacrifices in the temple of Jerusalem.

In my presentation, I demonstrate the extent to which interpreting the Ashkenazi martyrs as blood sacrifices in the tradition of the Jerusalem Temple changed the ideas about the afterlife held by the Jews in Ashkenaz as well their practices around the commemoration of the dead. The role of the martyrs, the spilling of their blood before God, gave them and their commemoration a special place in the context of the liturgy. Thus, the commemoration of these martyrs ultimately caused unique forms of general remembrance of the dead to emerge in medieval Ashkenaz.

The liturgical way of commemorating the dead is intended to draw God`s attention to both the person and deed of the martyr. Furthermore, soon after, a similar form of privileged remembrance of the dead was developed and practised for the community’s benefactors as well. This produced additional forms of commemoration of the dead within the Ashkenazi tradition: liturgical lists of martyrs and benefactors in Siddurim and Mahsorim. These developments culminated, in the 13th century, in the creation of memorial books (Memorbücher) that recorded these lists and function as special commemorative objects within and beyond the liturgy.