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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in France 01: Roman times and Carolingians

Archelaus - Roman Empire - communities and proselytism - terror of the Church - Carolingian rule favorable to the Jews - professions and migration movements - terror Church - schooling and scholars

from: France; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 7

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

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<FRANCE, country in Western Europe.

This entry is arranged according to the following outline:

From the First Settlements until the Revolution
The Roman and Merovingian Periods
From the Carolingians until the Eve of the First Crusade
From the First Crusade until the General Expulsion from Provence (1096-1501)
The Communities in Medieval France
Scholarship in the Middle Ages (col. 7)
From the Expulsion from Provence to the Eve of the Revolution

The Modern Period
The Revolution
Measures of Napoleon
The Consistorial System
Official Recognition
Abolition of the "Jewish Oath"
Welfare and Education
Protection of Jewish Rights
Social and Economic Advances
New Trends in Judaism
Alliance Israélite Universelle
Alsace-Lorraine and Algeria
Separation of Church and State
Demographic Changes
World War I
Inter-War Years
Economic, Cultural, and Social Position

Holocaust Period
Anti-Jewish Measures and Administration
Deportations and Forced Labor
Rescue and Resistance

Contemporary Period
Native Population and Waves of Immigration
Geographical Distribution
Economic and Social Status
Community Organization
Cultural Life

Relations with Israel

This article deals with the history of the Jews living withing the territory corresponding to present-day France; the territories beyond the present frontiers (more particularly those of the north and south west) which were subjected to the authority of the kings of France for short periods are not considered here. The provinces neighboring on the kingdom of France or enclosed within it before their incorporation within the kingdom (in particular *Brittany, Normandy, *Anjou, *Champagne, *Lorraine, *Alsace, *Franche-Comté, *Burgundy, *Savoy, *Dauphiné, the county of *Nice, *Provence, *Comtat Venaissin, *Languedoc, *Auvergne, Guienne, *Poitou) are dealt with. Those areas which formed part of these provinces, but which are today beyond the borders of France, are not included.

From the First Settlements until the Revolution.


[Archelaus with some servants - Jewish slaves during Roman Empire - Jewish communities since 450]

The earlies evidence of a Jewish presence in France concerns an isolated individual, perhaps accompanied by a few servants; he was *Archelaus, the ethnarch of Judea, who was banished by Augustus in the year 6 C.E. to *Vienne (in the present department of Isère), where he died in 16 C.E. Similarly, his younger brother Herod *Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, was exiled to *Lyons (if not to a place also called Lugdunum on the French side of the Pyrenees) by Caligula in 39.

A story taken as legend (intended to explain the origin of the prayer Ve-Hu Rahum (Ve Hu Raḥum)) states that after the conquest of Jerusalem, the Romans filled three ships with Jewish captives, which arrived in *Bordeaux, *Arles, and Lyons. Recent archaeological findings tend to find a basis for this legend. Objects identified as Jewish because of the menorah [[7-armed candle stand]] portrayed on them have been discovered around Arles (first, fourth, and early fifth centuries), and in Bordeaux and the neighboring region (third and early fourth centuries). Written sources, previously treated with some reserve, affirm that during the Roman period Jews had been present in *Metz (mid-fourth century), *Poitiers (late fourth century), *Avignon (late fourth century), and Arles (mid-fifth century).

Evidence is abundant from 465 onward. There were then Jews in Vannes (Brittany), a few years later in *Clermont-Ferrand and *Narbonne, in "Agde in 506, in *Valence in 524, and in *Orléans in 533. After Clovis I (481-511), founder of the Merovingian dynasty, became converted to (col. 8)

Catholicism (496), the Christian population increasingly adopted Catholic doctrine. From 574 there were attempts to compel the Jews to accept the prevailing faith.

[Baptism or expulsion: Bishop Avitus is the model]

In 576 Bishop *Avitus of Clermont-Ferrand offered the Jews of his town (who numbered over 500) to alternative of baptism or expulsion. His example was followed in 582 by Chilperic I, king of Neustria (the western part of the Frankish kingdom).

In *Marseilles, where Jews from both these areas found refuge, there was also an attempt at forced conversion. Little information is available on a similar attempt made by Dagobert I between 631 and 639; had this been successful, the Jews would have been excluded from almost the whole of present-day France. However, this seems to have been far from the case; though documents make no mention of Jews for some time, there is a similar lack of information about other social and ethnic groups.

Little is known of the Jews of Septimania (in southwest Gaul, then a Spanish province). The Jews there were spared the forced conversions and subsequent violent persecutions which befell their coreligionists in Visigothic *Spain.

[Influx of Jews after collapse of the Roman Empire - Jewish proselytism - professions - archaeological proofs and synagogues]

During this period the number of Jews in France increased rapidly, initially through immigration, first from Italy and the eastern part of the Roman Empire, and then from Spain, especially after Sisebut's persecutions, which began in 612. However, the increase in numbers was also due to Jewish proselytism, which found adherents mostly among the poorest classes and in particular among slaves.

At that time the Jews were mainly engaged in commerce, but there were already physicians and even sailors.

In the absence of written Jewish sources, archaeological evidence once more provides information on the France of this early period. On a seal from Avignon (fourth century) the menorah [[7-armed candle stand]] is reproduced, although only with five branches. The same motif appears on the inscription of Narbonne (687/8), which also points to a scanty knowledge of Hebrew at the time; the whole text is in Latin with the exception of three words, Shalom al Yisrael, which are incorrectly spelled.

Nothing at all is is known of the internal organization of these Jewish groups, except for the presence of synagogues (*Paris 582; Orléans before 585), but it is known that there were contacts between them. The Marseilles community maintained relations with those of Clermont-Ferrand and Paris and even, beyond the borders, with that of Rome.

[Terror of the Church against the population: edicts against connections between Christians and Jews]

In spite of the attempts at forced conversion, relations between the Jewish and Christian populations seem to have been free, a state of affairs demonstrated by the repeated efforts of the church authorities to prohibit these relations. The main prohibition, frequently repeated, was on Jews and Christians taking meals together (Vannes, 465; Agde, 506; Epaon, 517; etc.); another, aimed at separating the population further, forbade the Jews to go out-of-doors during the Easter holidays (Orléans, 538; *Mâcon, 583; etc.);and finally - a measure designed to prevent Jewish proselytism - possession of not only Christian but also pagan slaves by the Jews was restricted or forbidden (Orléans, 541; Clichy, 626 or 627; etc.).

Further though at first sight negative, proof of good relations between Christians and Jews is provided by the frequent religious *disputations, discussions which were characterized by the great freedom in argument accorded to the Jews (particularly between King Chilperic I (561-84) and his Jewish purveyor *Priscus, 581). Another positive testimony - though this may be largely a pious invention - is to be found in the participation of the Jews in the obsequies of church dignitaries (Arles, 459 and 543; Clermont-Ferrand, 554).

[[The arriving of Magdalena of the circle of Jesus and the founding of the king's family in South of France is not mentioned in the article]].


[Carolingian rule - further influx from Italy and Spain - further proselytism - emigration to England]

The reign of the Carolingians was the most (col. 9)

favorable period for the Jews in the kingdom of France. *Agobard's attempted forced conversion of Jewish children in Lyons and district around 820 brought the bishop into disfavor with Louis the Pious (814-840).

The important Jewish settlement in the Rhone Valley, which had been in existence during the Roman and Merovingian periods, increased and expanded through the Saône Valley. Continued immigration from Italy and Spain was a source of demographic growth, as was proselytism affecting also the higher social classes; the best-known example is *Bodo, deacon of Louis the Pious, who converted to Judaism in Muslim Spain. From the second half of the tenth century and, at the latest, from the second half of the 11th century, there was also a trend toward migration to England.

[Jewish professions - privileges by Carolingian law - agriculture monopoly - moneylending in the agriculture sector - protected Jews by Carolingian law]

The most intensive economic activity of the Jews of France, especially in the commercial field, belongs to this period. Some were accredited purveyors to the imperial court and others administered the affairs of Catholic religious institutions. Privileges granted to the Jews by the Carolingian emperors became the model for those coveted by other merchants. Their great concentration in agriculture and especially viticulture enabled them practically to monopolize thee market; even the wine for Mass was bought from Jews.

The few cases of moneylending known from this period were in fact connected with this agricultural activity; they were related to deferred purchases of agricultural estates intended to round off existing Jewish estates. In view of the wealth of general information available on the Jews of this period, the paucity of evidence concerning physicians suggests that there was a great decrease of interest in this profession. In the public services, Jews were employed both in the subordinate position of tax collector and in the most respected office of imperial ambassador (*Isaac for *Charlemagne; Judah for Charles the Bald).

The personal privileges and ordinances granted by the Carolingians assured the Jews complete judicial equality. Moreover, any attempt to entice away their pagan slaves by converting them to Catholicism was penalized; their right to employ salaried Christian personnel was explicitly guaranteed; any offense against their persons or property was punishable by enormous fines. Even more, the Jews enjoyed a preferential status, because they were not subjected to the ordeals ("judgments of God") which normally formed part of the judicial process. An imperial official, the magister Judaeorum [["Jewish master"]], who ranked among the missi dominici [["Masses for God"]], supervised the meticulous enforcement of all these privileges.

[Terror Church with hostile canons without success]

The activities of the church councils had little effect during this period. The Councils of Meaux and Paris (845-6) sought to legislate on the subject of the Jews, and a series of hostile canons concerning them were drawn up; these were in fact a kind of canonical collection and the work of *Amulo, Agobard's successor to the see of Lyons, and the deacon *Florus of Lyons, faithful secretary of both bishops. However, Charles the Bald (840-77) refused to ratify these canons.

Another center of intensive Jewish settlement and powerful anti-Jewish reaction was *Chartres, where at the beginning of the 11th century, Bishop *Fulbert delivered a series of sermons to refute the Jewish assertion that, since there might yet be Jewish kings in distant lands, the Messiah had not yet come. Toward the close of the same century, *Ivo of Chartres inserted a series of violently anti-Jewish texts in his canonical collection. All of these, however, precisely by their concern to combat Jewish influences on the Christian faithful, emphasize the cordiality of the relations prevailing between Jews and Christians.

[Jewish learning - scholars - schools]

The so-called "Carolingian Renaissance" in the intellectual (col. 10)

sphere had no counterpart on the Jewish scene, but strangely enough, subsequent tradition also attributes the impetus of Jewish learning in the West to Charlemagne (768-814). Just as he actually brought scholarly Irish monks to France, he is said to have brought the Jewish scholar *Machir from Babylon. What is known of Hebrew works circulating in France derives from the testimony of Agobard, but, being a polemist, he mentions only those works he criticizes: a very ancient version of *Toledot (col. 11)

Yeshu, a parody of the Gospels, and *Shi'ur Komah, a mystic work.

The real upsurge of Jewish learning in France began during the 11th century. In the middle of the century, Joseph b. Samuel *Bonfils (Tov Elem) was active in Limoges, Moses ha-Darshan in Narbonne, and, a little later, *Rashi in Troyes. From the outset, the scholars' works comprised the principal fields of Jewish learning: liturgic poetry, biblical and talmudic commentaries, rabbinic decisions, grammar, and philology. The glory of Limoges (col. 12)

and central France in general was shortlived, but Narbonne and Troyes heralded the great schools of Jewish scholars in both the extreme south and the extreme north of the country.> (col. 13)
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Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): France, vol. 7,
                    col. 7-8
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): France, vol. 7, col. 7-8
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): France, vol. 7,
                    col. 9-10
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): France, vol. 7, col. 9-10
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): France, vol. 7,
                    col. 11-12
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): France, vol. 7, col. 11-12
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): France, vol. 7,
                    col. 13-14
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): France, vol. 7, col. 13-14

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