In the days of Corona, hygiene and handwashing depend on everyone’s lips. Therefore, we look not only at the history of physical cleanliness but also at the topic of ritual purity in the history of Judaism, especially in the history of Judengasse in Frankfurt.

We have been constantly washing our hands lately to prevent corona infections of ourselves and others, not only by cleansing our body but also by disinfecting our homes and cleaning our pets using cleaning machines, see. In addition to hygienic reasons, hand washing also has a ceremonial aspect.


Ritual hand washing in Judaism

There is much ritual handwashing washing in Jewish religious practice. Many of them date back to the time of the old Temple in Jerusalem. The priest Kohanim washed his hands before the temple service and before the priest blessed the people. This tradition continues to this day. Even in Orthodox worship, Kohenim washes his hands before receiving the priestly blessing at the synagogue.

Ritual handwashing uses a special container, natlan. This is a kind of big mug with two handles. It is filled with water and each hand is usually poured 3 times. Ritual bathing helps to achieve the desired mental state for the practice of religious conduct. For their own religion and health, it keeps the hygienic “side effects” out of control.


Clean clothes instead of clean bodies

Therefore, people in early modern Central Europe thought that water was harmful. They avoided it as a suspected carrier of the disease. So it wasn’t the body, it was mostly washed clothes, instead, it was treated with powder and make-up and wrapped in clean clothes. White clothes are worn under wool or silk clothes for easier cleaning. Collars, cuffs, petticoats, and linen shirts were changed more often and actually provided some hygiene. In addition, after washing, the laundry was spread in the sun on a large lawn. Sunlight not only makes the laundry glow white but also kills some viruses and bacteria.


A house with Judengasse

Disease, which lives in a confined space, can spread very easily under the cramped living conditions of modern Frankfurt and its Judengasse. The narrow Jewish quarters were built particularly densely in the 17th and 18th centuries, with some front and rear buildings, and little light or air penetrated the apartment.

The three- to the four-story house was home to several families. However, people did not live in closed apartments and used separate rooms accessible from the central stairs.

Even though the cleanliness requirements of 17th and 18th-century homes are already lower than they are today, for example, the reins of stairwells are no longer needed. They were so dirty that I was worried that touching them could lead to scabies.