The Complete Jewish Guide to France

The Complete Jewish Guide to France

by Toni L. Kamins

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The Complete Jewish Guide to France is the only resource you need to embark on a trip through Jewish France. Travel writer and journalist Toni L. Kamins catalogs information on well-known sights and little-known treasures, such as the Marais district (Paris's celebrated Jewish neighborhood), ancient ghettos, beautiful old synagogues around the country, and many other places. She includes information on transportation and lodging, plus hundreds of places to buy kosher food. Selected photographs and maps fill out the picture. Kamins also recounts the nearly two thousand years of French-Jewish history beginning with evidence that Jews may have lived in France as early as the first century, and continuing right up to the present day.

The Complete Jewish Guide to France has everything you need to know to make your trip to France a success-and to put it into a historical context that will make it even more worthwhile.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466852815
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/17/2013
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 980,168
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Toni L. Kamins is a freelance journalist and former editor. She is the author of The Complete Jewish Guide to Britain and Ireland and The Complete Jewish Guide to France. Her work has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Jerusalem Post. She has lived in France and traveled extensively.

Toni L. Kamins is a freelance journalist and former editor. She is the author of The Complete Jewish Guide to Britain and Ireland. Her work has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Jerusalem Post. She has lived in France and traveled extensively.

Read an Excerpt


A Short History of Jewish France

Early and Medieval France

If we think about European Jewish history at all, most of us don't associate France with a significant part of that history. However, there have been Jews in France since the earliest years of the Common Era, and in terms of Jewish scholarship, France was one of the most important centers of European Jewish life — the home of world-famous rabbis and yeshivas, including Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki (Solomon, son of Isaac), known by the acronym Rashi. To this day, Rashi is considered one of the greatest commentators on the Torah.

The sweep of Jewish history in France begins nearly two millennia ago. Though very early evidence of Jewish settlement in France is sketchy at best, and abundant hard physical evidence doesn't really crop up until the fifth century, there is enough to point to the existence of a Jewish community or at least groups of Jews in France in those earliest times. There are even some documents that indicate that Jews may have lived in such geographically disparate cities as Metz, Poitiers, and Avignon as early as the first and fourth centuries. From the fifth century, historians have recognizable evidence of Jewish settlement in Brittany, Clermont-Ferrand, Narbonne, Agde, Valence, and Orléans.

From the fifth century until 751, the Merovingians, a dynasty of Frankish kings, ruled part of France. Clovis I (481–511), founder of the monarchy and grandson of the Franks' chief, Meroveus, converted to Catholicism in 496 and with him most of the rest of the population. Of course this meant that Jews living in the kingdom at the time would have come under the same pressure to convert, and the alternatives to conversion were far from attractive. Bishop Avitus of Clermont-Ferrand, for example, offered the five hundred Jews of his town a choice between baptism and expulsion. That tactic was repeated throughout the Franks' kingdom. Most Jews chose expulsion. Some evidence suggests that a later Merovingian king, Dagobert I (612–39), tried the convert-or-get-out strategy, too, but no details are known about this.

Despite the difficulties — only a taste of what was to come over the next centuries — there was a significant increase in the Jewish population of France in this early period, arising from immigration of Jews from Italy, Spain, and other parts of the Roman Empire, and conversions to Judaism among slaves and members of the poorer classes.

The seventh century saw the demise of the Merovingians and the rise of the Carolingian dynasty under Pépin le Bref (Pépin the Short). Though the dynasty would die out in France by 987, this period proved to be a good one for the kingdom's Jews. It was Pépin's son Charlemagne (Charles the Great) who, through his invasion of Italy to support Pope Leo III, his Christianizing of the Saxons, and his conquest of northern Spain and Bavaria, laid the groundwork for the Holy Roman Empire. As emperor, Charlemagne reigned over a kingdom in which intellectual and artistic pursuits flourished, and with them, the kingdom's Jews. So complete was Jewish integration into the economy that they did business with the royal court, held imperial ambassadorships, and worked in the administration of Catholic organizations. Jews even produced wine for the Mass — viticulture being an almost exclusively Jewish occupation at the time.

During that period, there was a real disparity among attitudes of the king, the locals, and Church officials concerning the Jews. Try as it might, the organized Church was largely unsuccessful in its efforts to stir up anti-Jewish sentiment among the populace, and historians point to this lack of success as evidence of friendly personal and professional relations between Jews and Christians. For example, the Church councils of Meux and Paris in 845 and 846 C.E. tried to implement anti-Jewish legislation, but King Charles the Bald (840–77) would have none of it. Later, on both ends of the eleventh century, Bishops Fulbert and Ivo gave anti-Jewish sermons, promulgated anti-Jewish canons, and preached against Jewish influence in the town of Chartres, near Paris. Neither bishop was taken very seriously.

But that would not always be the case.

For many centuries French Jewry was at the forefront of Jewish scholarship, and in the eleventh century it began to come into its own. The centers of French Jewish learning were in both northern (Troyes) and southern (Narbonne) France. Jewish scholars produced commentaries on the Talmud and on the Torah, and discussions of rabbinical decisions and Jewish liturgy. Those works were the talk of the Jewish scholarly world, and in some cases the Christian, too.


Ra(Rabbi)Sh(lomo)I(tzchaki) (1040–1105), the son of a scholarly Jewish family, was born in Troyes, once the capital of Champagne. After going to school in Troyes and then the Talmudic academies of Mainz and Worms (Germany), where he studied with the great Jewish scholars of the time, he returned home and eventually founded his own school. His teachings on the Torah and the Talmud became so renowned that he attracted a considerable following among contemporary Jewish scholars.

Rashi wrote down extensive and laboriously detailed explanations and analyses (known as commentaries) of the texts of the Torah and the Talmud, including a grammar by which they could be studied. Up until this point much scholarly and rabbinical discourse and interpretation was not generally written down, so Rashi's work was groundbreaking, and considering the complexity and enormous length of both the Torah and the Talmud, his work was nothing short of amazing.

The Tosafists

Rashi's students, sons, and sons-in-law continued with his work by commenting on his commentaries. The Hebrew word tosafot means "additions." Rashi's followers used Rashi's own work as a point of departure for additional analysis so that it would become the standard for the study of the Torah and the Talmud within their own schools of rabbinical study.

What made the work of the Tosafists so revolutionary was that through it, Jewish scholars had, for the first time, a logical method of studying Rashi, and through a process of questioning, analyzing, and comparing his writings, they gained greater access to the Torah and the Talmud. As a result they were able to make new and additional interpretations of Jewish law, refine or rethink conclusions to problems arising from its legal texts, and they could themselves provide the impetus for further work in generations to come.

As has been often the case in Jewish history, great scholarship was produced in the midst of turmoil within the Jewish community. In this instance it resulted from riots and other violence whipped up against the Jews prior to the Crusades. The catalyst was an accusation that the Jews of Orléans had conspired with the ruler of Jerusalem, Sultan al-Hakim, to destroy the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The riots were incited by the clergy and supported by Robert the Pious (King Robert II, 996–1031), who aroused public frenzy. The resulting murders, expulsions, and forced baptisms of Jews ceased only when Pope John XVIII (1004–9) intervened at the behest of Jacob ben Jekuthiel, a prominent Jew of the time.

During the early years of the First Crusade (1096–99), the daily life of Jews in Europe was not adversely affected. And when anti-Jewish events did occur it was the Jews of Germany who bore the brunt. But the very first of these events, murder and forced conversion, took place in France in the cities of Metz and Rouen.

In Rouen, the Crusades served as a pretext for the persecutors. To paraphrase a contemporary sentiment, Why go all the way to the Orient (as the Middle East was known) to kill the defilers of our holy sites when we have those same people right here among us? So in 1144 Louis VII expelled all Jews who had converted to Christianity and then returned to Judaism. It was to be the first of many such expulsions.

In the days before modern communication, one of the ways Jewish communities knew about other Jewish communities was through travelers' tales and messengers from one community to another. One such traveler, Benjamin of Tudela (in Spain), chronicled the known Jewish world in the late twelfth century. His journals provide valuable insight about the lives of contemporary Jews and their communities. His figures, for example, tell us that there were more than six thousand Jews in Narbonne, and that Jews inhabited some 150 towns in the Ile de France (the area around Paris).

Like other countries, France was no stranger to one of the most despicable ongoing lies concocted against Jews over the centuries: the blood libel, also known as ritual murder.

The Blood Libel

Employed throughout history as a pretext for the murder and persecution of Jews, the blood libel alleges that Jews hunt and kill Christians (usually children) and use their blood in the baking of Passover matzo and for other religious rituals. It has its origins in the notion that Jews hate people in general and Christians and Christianity in particular. In addition, it takes some of its power from the superstition that Jews are not human and have to resort to potions so that they may appear human.

The myth of the ritualistic use of human blood by Jews goes back to ancient times when pagans, who used blood in sacrifices (a practice forbidden to Jews), misunderstood the Jewish ritual of removing all blood from meat by salting. The superstition evolved into a myth perpetuated by the Greek empire at a time when there was considerable tension between Jews and the Greek governors of large parts of what is now the Middle East. Along with Christianity, it made its way into Europe, and by the Middle Ages it had become firmly rooted.

Europe's first clear case of blood libel against Jews was in England in 1144. But it quickly spread throughout Europe where the Middle Ages and early modern times saw numerous trials and massacres of Jews as a result. An integral part of European lore, it was used also by the Nazis.

France's first blood libel occurred in Blois in 1171. Though no body was ever found, local Jews were accused all the same of murdering a Christian, and thirty-one men, women, and children were burned at the stake following a show trial. As if to capitalize on this horrific trend, similar accusations were soon made in Pontoise, Epernay, and Joinville. King Louis VII didn't believe the charges, but in spite of his statements to that effect to the Jewish leadership, outbreaks were many, and popular belief in the blood libel continued.

Although King Louis VII seemed somewhat open-minded at least where blood libel was concerned; his successor, Philippe-Auguste (1180–1223), was anything but. His hatred of Jews had been nurtured since childhood. Shortly after he became king he threw the wealthy Jews of Paris in prison and held them for a huge ransom. The following year, the paid ransom notwithstanding, he banished all the Jews from France and confiscated their property for good measure. So began a relationship between the king and the Jews that was to see a series of expulsions and repatriations throughout his entire reign.

At the time, the kingdom of France did not extend much beyond the borders of the city of Paris, and the Paris of the twelfth century was not the Paris we know today. Philippe-Auguste's wall stopped just north of today's 2nd arrondissement on the right bank of the Seine and ran along part of the present rue Tiquetonne. As a result, the number of Jews actually affected was relatively small. So the neighboring provinces and lands where the king lacked authority frequently became places of refuge. But Philippe-Auguste was undaunted by such minor details as royal authority and jurisdiction, and he frequently pursued his expelled Jews to other territories.

As much as the king despised the Jews, he despised his perpetually barren royal coffers even more, and whenever he needed money for one pet project or another he invited the Jews back so he could extort more money from them. And so it went throughout Philippe-Auguste's reign.

The Jews of France came through the Third Crusade (1189–92) relatively unscathed, though the same could not be said for their brethren in England. But soon after, the bloody Albigensian War in southern France took a grave toll on local Jews, especially in Béziers in 1209. The Albigenses were Christian heretics who were popularly, though incorrectly, believed to have been influenced by Jewish beliefs. (See chapter 8.) Despite papal opposition, they persisted in their beliefs. Pope Innocent III declared a crusade against them in 1208, and Pope Gregory IX established an inquisition in 1233 to put a stop to them. (An inquisition is a council set up by the Roman Catholic Church to crush heresy. There have been many throughout history. The notorious Spanish Inquisition, however, was set up by the Spanish monarchy in 1478 to punish Jews and Muslims who converted to Christianity but continued to practice Judaism or Islam in secret.)

The Jewish survivors of that bloodbath found refuge on the other side of the Pyrenees where they reestablished their community in Gerona, Spain. Of course, refuge is a relative concept, but the Jews would enjoy some safety in Spain, at least for the next 283 years, until they were expelled at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492.

Though in earlier centuries there were periods when Jews were well integrated into the local economy, increased restrictions on their economic activity mirrored the desire of the Church to constrain what they perceived as Jewish influence on Christian society. Throughout much of French history (as well as the history of the rest of Europe) very few commercial activities were open to Jews, and Jews were also prohibited from owning land. Starting in the twelfth century, money lending became a major source of income for individual Jews and for the community that was dependent on them to run its various institutions. Money lending in this sense refers to private, usually collateral loans (i.e., pawnbroking) at high rates of interest. This was especially true in the parts of France where Jews were expelled and later readmitted.

This method of earning a living came about because both Jews and Christians are forbidden to lend money at interest within their own religious groups; that is, Jews are forbidden to charge interest to other Jews and Christians to other Christians, but neither is forbidden from charging interest to someone outside the group. That situation allowed Jews to earn a living when no other path was open to them, and like many other differences in religious law and practice, it was a source of social and political friction. In the parts of France where commercial regulations were more liberal, Jews were physicians, traders in livestock and agricultural products, and petty government officials.

Money Lending

According to the Torah, Jews are forbidden to lend money at interest to other Jews, and there are a number of interpretations of the Torah's wording that go so far as to eschew the taking of interest from anyone. Likewise, the Roman Catholic Church was opposed to the charging of interest in any form. Nonetheless, when merchants, governments, and individuals were in need of funds and they had none of their own, they borrowed from the wealthy, who loaned money at interest. Jews were not the only people in the money-lending business; this type of commerce crossed religious lines despite the Church's stand against it. Money could be borrowed from priests, merchants, landowners, and even the pope. In much of Europe, Italian merchants like the Lombards, the Medici, and the Caursini competed with Jews in the lending of money at interest.

In the Middle Ages, money lending became a critical source of Jewish income because Jews were excluded from virtually every other occupation. In some cases they were specifically limited to earning a living by lending money, and the interest rates they could charge were strictly regulated. Indeed, interest charged by non-Jewish lenders was much higher. So this raises the question, Just who did run the money-lending business? Was it Jews, or was it the governments that regulated them and whose income was dependent on the derived tax income?

In its effort to contain Jewish participation in day-to-day social and economic life, the Church set up legislative councils. These had a tremendous effect on the daily lives of Jews. One such group, the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), mandated the wearing of a Jewish badge. This was first imposed in Languedoc, Normandy, and Provence. Later, in 1294, the council passed laws prohibiting Jews from residing outside specific Jewish sections of a city or town. The measures extended to legal matters as well. A guardian, or magister Judaeorum, had to be appointed in all lawsuits in which one party was Jewish. Even internal Jewish matters were adjudicated in special public tribunals rather than within the Jewish community. Jews who were witnesses at a trial were forced to take a special oath known as the More Judaico.


Excerpted from "The Complete Jewish Guide To France"
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Copyright © 2001 Toni L. Kamins.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents

CHAPTER ONE A Short History of Jewish France,
CHAPTER FIVE The Loire Valley,
CHAPTER SIX Poitou-Charentes,
CHAPTER SEVEN Aquitaine and the Basque Country,
CHAPTER EIGHT Languedoc-Roussillon,
CHAPTER ELEVEN Lyon and Auvergne,
CHAPTER SIXTEEN Flanders-Picardy,

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