| Forschung, SPF Religion. Gesellschaft. Weltbeziehung., Max-Weber-Kolleg

Riddle about Erfurt's treasure

According to medieval sources, small silver keys were worn by Jewish women on Shabbat. Such a key is also contained in the unique medieval treasure found in Erfurt in 1998, which was once buried by a Jewish merchant. It is one of the most unusual objects found, and its presence could shed new light on the history of the treasure. What functions did such keys have? Were they a pure piece of jewellery or did they fulfil a ritual function? In which geographical contexts can they be found?

Old synagogue Erfurt
Old synagogue Erfurt

Dr. Merav Schnitzer, a research fellow at the Goldstein-Goren-Diaspora Research Centre at Tel Aviv University, is currently a Judaist in Residence in Erfurt. She would like to use her research stay at the Research Centre "Dynamics of Ritual Practices in Judaism in Pluralistic Contexts from Antiquity to the Present" at the University of Erfurt to investigate this particular gem on site. She hopes to gain new insights into the type in general and the function and significance of silver keys in the Jewish context. Merav Schnitzer presented the initial results of her research to date in a public workshop discussion with PD Dr. Claudia D. Bergmann (University of Erfurt) and Dr. Maria Stürzebecher (Department of Culture and Urban Development) in the Old Synagogue this week.

It can be seen in a showcase in the Old Synagogue: a several centimetre square key made of silver. She had always wondered why it was made of silver, explains Maria Stürzebecher, the city of Erfurt's commissioner for Unesco World Heritage. Because the metal is actually much too soft to regularly open an iron lock with the key. Merav Schnitzer was now able to bring light into the darkness: While examining a similar key from the medieval treasure of Colmar, she found out that this key had been silver-plated, because only then was it allowed to be taken out of the house on Holy Shabbat - as a piece of jewellery. This meant that Jewish women in the Middle Ages could take the so important house key with them when they went to the synagogue. The researcher from Tel Aviv now suspects that this was also the reason for the silver plating of the key from the Erfurt treasure. During a workshop discussion in the Old Synagogue, she now explained: "This here is another key that was used on Shabbat. By a woman who used it to tune her harp". And this is something special in so far as highly religious people nowadays no longer make music in synagogues, indeed they do not make music at all on the Shabbat. "But in the Middle Ages the Jewish community played harp and violin, on Shabbat and also in synagogues."