In 2021, Germany marks at least 1,700 years of Jewish life along the Rhine and north of the Alps. In a legal decree dated December 11, 321 and addressed to the Council of Cologne, the Emperor Constantine declared lawful “to appoint Jews to the council of the city” throughout the Roman Empire.
Another important European anniversary of 321, that of March, illustrates how the time of Constantine still shapes our world. It was then that the emperor established that Solis died (the day of the sun, which eventually became Sunday) as a weekly Roman day of rest, one day after the Jewish Shabbat – a tradition that many societies still observe today. .
Constantine, who was reportedly baptized on his deathbed in 337, used religious politics to implement his rule and as a means of fostering identity.
Centuries of anti-Semitism
Constantine Decree 321 makes it clear that the Jews have been in Germany from the start; they did not come from elsewhere. The 1,700 year period has been marked by horrendous ups, downs and atrocities.
Christoph Strack is TBEN’s religion expert
Coexistence was seldom easy and has often been difficult. “There haven’t been so many great afternoons,” said Andrei Kovacs, head of the association “321-2021: 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany”.
Marginalization, persecution, ritual murder, crusades, anti-Semitic fervor, racist hatred – every German city with a rich Jewish heritage has a dark history, a terrible shadow that existed long before the Nazis took power. But there is also a rich cultural and intellectual history – the many German Jewish Nobel Prize winners are proof of that. All of this should be remembered and shared by all Germans, not just those in the Jewish community.
This makes it all the more important to look back AND forward together in the anniversary year. Jewish life in Germany is more diverse today than at any time since before the Holocaust. Young men and women are again completing liberal, conservative and orthodox rabbinical studies in Germany.
Jewish life in Germany includes older, established communities, people who lead an overtly secular secular lifestyle, and those who express a young and confident identity. Since the wave of Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union began in the 1990s, many communities have engaged in very meaningful – and often neglected – integration work. This year’s anniversary celebrations aim to highlight the vital diversity of Judaism.
Stop marginalizing minorities
The decree of Emperor Constantine in 321 aimed at politically integrating Jews into their communities. This still applies today, but Jews remain a rarity in German politics. Of course, there is a Jewish minister of state, a mayor and a state parliamentarian here and there, but with a total community of 200,000, Jews remain a minority.
The emperor warned the Cologne government not to marginalize the Jews. At the time, the policy only concerned Jews; now it includes all political minorities in Germany and around the world.
Over 1,700 years of Jewish life is a reason for all Germans to celebrate, remember and look to the future – together. We must be grateful for what has been accomplished. The past is over, but it should not be forgotten – so that we can all hope to share a future together.
This commentary was adapted from the German by Jon Shelton.