IMC 2003: Sessions

Session 803: Recent Advances in the Archaeological Study of Medieval Jewish Ritual Baths (Mikva’ot) in Northern Europe

Tuesday 15 July 2003, 16.30-18.00

Sponsor:Society for Medieval Archaeology / Jewish Historical Society of England
Organiser:Bruce Watson, Museum of London Archaeology Service
Moderator/Chair:Sharman Kadish, Survey of the Jewish Built Heritage in the UK & Ireland / University of Manchester
Paper 803-aIntroduction and Overview to the Archaeological Study of Mikva’ot
(Language: English)
Ronny Reich, University of Haifa
Paper 803-bThe Mikveh in the Urban Community in Medieval Northern Europe
(Language: English)
Joseph Gordon Hillaby, University of Bristol
Paper 803-cJacob's Well, Bristol: Mikveh or Bet Tohorah?
(Language: English)
Richard S. Sermon, Gloucester Archaeology Unit, Gloucester City Council
Paper 803-dThe City of London Mikva'ot
(Language: English)
Bruce Watson, Museum of London Archaeology Service

The archaeological identification of the medieval Jewish community in the urban archaeological record is difficult as so much of their material culture was apparently identical to that of their Christian neighbours. However, there is one subterranean structure, the mikveh, (a bath, entered by steps, in which Orthodox Jews immerse themselves to achieve spiritual cleanliness in various ritual contexts), which is a uniquely Jewish institution, and such is its importance that Jewish practice requires a community to build one before it constructs a synagogue.

Medieval mikva‘ot (the plural of mikveh) in Northern Europe consisted of two types. Firstly, the monumental ones such as Cologne, Speyer and Worms which served the great Rhineland Jewries. Secondly, the smaller ‘cellar’ mikva’ot found at Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, Sondershausen (Germany) and more recently in London. The context of the cellar mikva’ot varied, it appears that some were located within private houses (or possibly private synagogues), while others may have served nearby public synagogues. The aim of this session is to reconsider the evidence for these important monuments and examine their cultural context in the light of recent archaeological discoveries and ongoing research.