Jewish Daily Life in Germany, 1618-1945

By Marion A. Kaplan | Go to book overview
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Religious and Communal Life

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a number of changes influenced the religious lives of Jews and Christians alike. The Reformation enhanced the sense of individuality, and the printing press made knowledge more accessible. Those historians who see Judaism either remaining static or moving uniformly toward the surrounding society fail to discern the complexities and inconsistencies that emerged within German Jewry. Although critics complained repeatedly that synagogue services revealed an atmosphere of religious indifference, enhanced notions of piety influenced both public and private dimensions of religious life. Some individuals—especially women—found new outlets to express their spirituality through personal prayer for themselves and their loved ones. By 1780, the meaning of being an observant Jew was not the same as it had been a century earlier.

Synagogue and Services

Religious services took place three times daily: mornings, afternoons, and evenings. In a number of communities, including Frankfurt, Fürth, and Prague, the Shammash, or sexton, called people to the synagogue by completing a round of Jewish houses. For the afternoon and evening services, he called out to people from the street, but in his morning round he used a stick to knock on the door to wake those still sleeping. On Sabbath mornings, he knocked by hand.1

Several of the larger communities, starting with Prague and followed by Fürth (1692), Frankfurt (1711), and Berlin (1714), constructed new synagogues during the seventeenth and especially the eighteenth centuries. Engravings of 70


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