7 Adar II 5771
Minhag Bechhofen, Middle Franconia, Bavaria, Ashkenaz
The Customs of the Synagogue
The Regulations of the Burial Society
The Commemoration Book
Original manuscripts written by Uri Shraga Rosenstein, spiritual leader of Bechhofen, 1867–1903
Edited and annotated by Rabbi Shlomo Katanka
Including an extensive history of the Jewish community of Bechhofen, by Rabbi Mordechai Doerfer
Reviewed by Rabbi Phillip Ginsbury, M.A., Rabbi Emeritus of South London Synagogue:
Following the massacres of Rhineland Jewish communities during the First Crusade (1096) it became customary to read the names of those martyred in a memorbuch (Commemoration Book), which also contained special prayers and lists of distinguished members of the community who had died naturally.
Jewish history became replete with such compilations in the following centuries and in recent times they have become one way of paying tribute to entire Jewish communities that were slaughtered during the Holocaust; including not only the names of the martyrs, but also a history of each community and in some cases recording their specific and sometimes unique ritual customs and synagogue regulations.
The small community of Bechhofen in Bavaria has been understandably non-existent since 1938, with only a Synagogenplatz park, a model of the Synagogue in the Town Hall and Jewish cemetery to remind passers-by of its past existence. Now however it has miraculously in a sense been restored to life, in a beautifully presented and scrupulously researched 564-page work Makom Shenahagu. Based on original manuscripts written by Uri Rosenstein, spiritual leader of Bechhofen from 1867 until 1903 and grandfather of Dr. Jacob Braude, a founder of Hendon Adath Synagogue, Rabbi Shlomo Katanka has carefully edited and annotated the work and included an extensive history of the Jewish community by Rabbi Mordechai Doerfer.
Rabbi Katanka has also added an English section which contains a fascinating account of a visit paid to the community in 1925, originally published in the Frankfurt periodical Der Israelit, an overview of the Minhag Bechhofen by the author’s father, Rabbi David Katanka, and histories of the Jewish community, its unusual Synagogue with its painted walls, cemetery and spiritual leaders (usually all purpose teachers— lehrers—of some distinction).
The Hebrew section consists of the Customs of the Synagogue covering the entire Jewish year, the Regulations of the Burial Society, and the Commemoration Book itself.
Among the impressive haskamot there is an introduction and approbation by Rav Binyomin Shlomo Hamburger of the Machon Moreshes Ashkenaz in Bnei Brak. He remarks that the rural German communities, while not usually learned in Torah, preserved carefully and conscientiously the precious Minhagim of their ancestors and that R. Nissim Gaon one thousand years earlier had praised such zeal, as authentic Jewish customs always have a source and reason. In Bechhofen a candle was kept burning in the Synagogue throughout Shabbat Shuvah, as a reminder to repent; the Shalosh Esrei Midot were recited when opening the Ark on Chol Ha-moed, a custom unknown elsewhere.
Rabbi Katanka must be congratulated on his meticulous and painstaking work, which is the finest tribute that could be paid to the alas now defunct Jewish community of Bechhofen.