Life was never easy for medieval Europe’s Jews, and pogroms and decrees of exile were common. Even so, while Vienna’s kehillah was preparing for Pesach in Nissan of 5180/1420 it had no idea that tragedy would strike before Yom Tov was over—or that it would be destroyed before the year was out.
At Home on the Judenplatz
Although there is evidence of a Jewish presence in Austrian territory as early as the third century CE, the story of Vienna’s kehillahbegins only toward the end of the twelfth century. This was when the dukes of Babenberg, among the richest in Europe, made Vienna their home and the city grew in importance as a consequence. An early Jewish resident was a man named “Schlom” (mostly likely his name was actually Shlomo), who was the Master of the Mint to Duke Frederick I, and thus responsible for producing the land’s currency.
In the years that followed, many of Vienna’s Jews were tax collectors and moneylenders, although there were merchants and tradespeople as well. Most of them lived near the Judenplatz (Jewish Square), in a self-contained area comprised of about seventy houses. In addition to the synagogue and mikvah—remains of the medieval shul can still be seen today in the Jewish Museum Vienna—the community could boast of a Jewish hospital and a Jewish school.
Indeed, during the early Middle Ages Vienna was an important center of Torah scholarship.
Read the rest of the article at The Jewish Press.