University town in the grand duchy of Baden, Germany; it has a population of 40,240, including 882 Jews. The community there dates from the middle of the thirteenth century, as is shown by historical references to the presence of Jews in the neighborhood of Heidelberg during the reign of Ludwig II. (1253-94). In 1300 the protected Jew Anselm lived in the town itself; in 1321 there were several others there; and in 1349 Jews were among those who suffered during the Black Death. However, it is probable that but few were martyred, for the elector Rupert I. made Heidelberg at that time a place of refuge for Jews fleeing from Worms, Speyer, and other places. From the middle of the fourteenth century onward Jews were regularly received in Heidelberg under comparatively favorable conditions. The "Hochmeister" (rabbi) Lebelang was granted protection, and permission to open at Heidelberg or in some other place in the Palatinate aschool whose pupils were also assured of protection. The cemetery was enlarged in 1369. In 1381 Heidelberg became the seat of the federated neighboring communities. The elector Rupert II. expelled all Jews in 1390, and gave their cemetery, synagogue, houses, and manuscripts to the university, although on becoming king he permitted Jews to stay in other cities of his domains.
Jews are not mentioned again at Heidelberg until the middle of the seventeenth century, when five members of the famous Oppenheimer family were living there. At that time Heidelberg seems to have been the seat of the electoral dayyan Isaac Margolis. During the French invasions of 1689 and 1693 the Jews of Heidelberg and the refugees from Mannheim staying with them suffered greatly. In 1704 thirteen Jewish families were living at Heidelberg, including the first district rabbi, Hirsch Fränkel, who was succeeded by David Ullmann (d. 1762). In 1763 the elector invested Hirsch Moses Mergentheim with the office of chief rabbi of the Palatinate. Olympia Fulvia Morata, born at Ferrara of Jewish parents, was offered the chair of Greek at the university in 1554, but was prevented from accepting by ill health. Baruch Spinoza was called to a chair of philosophy in 1693, but declined. Among the teachers of Hebrew at the university were the baptized Jews Paulus Staffelstein (called May 18, 1551) and Emanuel Tremellius (called July 8, 1561), and also Johann Reuchlin, Sebastian Münster, Simon Grynæus. The University of Heidelberg was perhaps the first in Germany to admit Jews as privat-docenten, among these being H. B. Oppenheim (1842; political economy) and Alexander Friedländer (1843; law), grandson of Rabbi Joseph Friedländer. The first Jewish regular professor in Heidelberg was the Orientalist Gustav Weil, appointed 1861. At present (1903) the university includes among its professors Georg Jellincek (international law).
Heidelberg became part of the grand duchy of Baden in 1803; by the edict of 1808 the Jews were granted full civic liberty. Heidelberg belongs, under the "grossherzoglicher Oberrath" of the Israelites of Baden, to a synagogal district that includes the communities of Baierthal, Gross-Sachsen, Heidelberg, Hemsbach, Hockenheim, Ketsch, Leutershausen, Lützelsachsen, Meckesheim, Nussloch, Rohrbach, Reilingen, Sandhausen, Schwetzingen, Walldorf, Weinheim, and Wiesloch.
The synagogal districts of Ladenburg and Sinsheim with their communities are also under the jurisdiction of the district rabbi of Heidelberg. H. Pinkus is now rabbi (1903), his two immediate predecessors having been Hillel Sondheimer and Solomon Fürst. There are many societies and foundations in the community, including a B'nai B'rith Friedrichsloge.
- Löwenstein, Gesch. der Juden in der Kurpfalz, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1895;
- Salfeld, Martyrologium;
- Statistisches Jahrb. des Deutsch-Israelitischen Gemeindebundes, Berlin, 1903.