Frankfurt’s now-destroyed Jew’s Alley, or Judengasse, was the city’s Jewish ghetto from 1462 until 1796, a crowded home to Germany’s largest Jewish community. A new book from Vallentine-Mitchell Publishers “The Frankfurt Judengasse” further explores the ghetto’s lore, presenting research from a 2004 academic conference co-sponsored by Frankfurt’s Goethe University, The Frankfurt Jewish Museum, the Judengasse Museum and Jerusalem’s Leo Baeck Institute.
Heinrich Heine’s novel “The Rabbi of Bacharach” describes a medieval Judengasse whose residents are “pressed together like sardines and thereby crippled in body and soul.” Heine describes an apostate Spanish Jew named Don Isaak Abarbanel who revisits the Judengasse merely to taste Jewish dishes like “carp with brown raisin sauce” and “steamed mutton with garlic and horseradish.”
Equally appetizing are the idyllic paintings of domestic scenes in the Judengasse by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, Heine’s contemporary. With undue optimism, Oppenheim sought to demonstrate how even “before civic equality, during the period of their oppression, the Jews had already possessed the values of the new middle class.”