The history of German (Ashkenazi) Jewry dates back to the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. First in Roman Italy, later on in the Rhine Valley, these Jews developed their own remarkable tradition. That tradition is the cumulative product of two millennia of brilliant scholars and dedicated community leaders. It remains today one of the priceless spiritual legacies of our people.
The 'Ohr Zarua' exclaimed nearly eight hundred years ago, "Do you not know what towering geniuses and men of holiness are the Rabbis of Mainz, Worms, and Speier? From them has the Torah gone forth to all of Israel!". After Rabbenu Asher (the 'Rosh') was forced to flee Germany for Spain, he wrote, "I keep to our tradition as we received it from our ancestors of blessed memory, the Sages of Ashkenaz. Their Torah was a legacy from their fathers from the time of the Temple's destruction".
In recent times, we find leading Eastern European Sages looking to the Masoret Ashkenaz, as maintained by German Jewry, as the authentic Ashkenazi tradition. The 'Chavath Yair', Rabbi Ya'ir Chaim Bacharach of Worms (1638-1702) described the Minhagim of Ashkenaz as free of the distortions and corruptions which inadvertently crept into other traditions. The 'Korban Nethanel', Rabbi Nathanael Weill of Karlsruhe (1687-1769), expressed the view that the customs of Germany were built on foundations of solid gold far superior to the customs of Eastern Europe. In one of his responsa, he writes, "All the customs of Germany still apply in full force, for the great rabbis of Ashkenaz, who laid down the Torah for Israel, established all our accepted customs, which we, as the descendants of the Ashkenazim, should follow"
Rabbi Nessonel Weil, the "korbone Nessonel"
Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschuetz (1690-1767), though born and raised in Eastern Europe, concurred: "The Torah was given over to the Sages of Ashkenaz. What could we know of which they were not aware?". The 'Chatham Sofer', Rabbi Moses Schreiber of Pressburg (1762-1839), a native of Frankfurt and subsequently the leader of Hungarian Jewry, wrote, "All the customs of Germany were established by our teachers, the disciples of Rashi..."
The Jewish communities of Germany were the source of spiritual life for generation after generation of European Jewry. The communities of Germany flourished for centuries, enriching the Jewish world, nourishing the precious heritage of Sinai, and willingly giving their lives to sanctify Hashem's Name.