Monday, February 10, 2014

When Jews Came to Paris, Champagne and Toulouse, France

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                      
Jews have lived in Paris since Roman times.  We know that individual Jews lived in France before 70 CE when Jerusalem fell.   A settlement was recorded throughout the early Middle Ages.  Persecutions started in the 12th century.  The Jews were expelled in 1182-1198.  In 1240 the French held the Disputation of Paris which was followed by the public burning of the Talmud.  Like the rest of French Jews, they were banished in 1306 and 1394.  

By the 17th and 18th centuries, Jews came to live from Bourdeaux, Avignon, Alsace, and other places.  At the time of the French Revolution, there were 500 Jews in Paris.  Settling there from that time on was unrestricted.  By  1880 there were 40,000 Jews in Paris.  Many Jews became prominent in politics, literature, art, and theater.  From 1882 on, Jews from Russia came to live.  So did Jews from North Africa and the former Ottoman Empire.  This is where the Dreyfus Affair happened which stirred up the city at the end of the 19th century which showed that anti-Semitism existed.  Nevertheless, 70,000 Jews from eastern Europe settled in Paris between WWI and WWII.  Many German Jews had managed to arrive after 1933 as well. so that the total Jewish population was about 200,000 in 1939.  Many were taken away by the Nazis when they occupied Paris.  and at least 50,000 died in the death camps.  By 1990 the Jewish population was 300,000 and consisted of many from North Africa like Algeria.  There are many synagogues in Paris as well as communal institutions.  Today, anti-Semitism runs rampant there with the influx of Muslim immigrants.

Today France is one of the worst places for Jews with all the anti-Semitism going on there. Many have already made aliyah to Israel. "April 23, 2013 - Paris - A rabbi and his son were stabbed near the Beth-El synagogue by an Iranian man who had recently escaped a psychiatric hospital. The attacker stabbed the rabbi in the neck causing light injuries, while the rabbi's son was lightly cut when he came to his defense."  
  Little do the French realize that according to legend, a Jewish community existed in in Vitry-en-Perthois in 279 CE.  Champagne is a region in NE France and used to have international fairs.  This had attracted Jews from an early date.  The international traders that came to this fair were the Radanites or Jewish merchants who, in the 9th century, traveled between southern France and China.  They spoke Arabic, Persian, Roman, and the languages of the Franks, Andalusians, and Slavs.  Jews were then excluded from trade and handicrafts being it was unwanted competition for the Christians that drove them into moneylending, which in Northern France became their economic stand-by.  The Christian church didn't allow their people to lend money, thinking it was a disgusting profession, so that was all that was open for the Jews.

By the 10th century, or 900 CE, there were many Jews living in the province, especially in its capital of Troyes, which was the capital and home of Rashi, the famous biblical commentator.  Rashi was born in 1040 and died in 1105.  "By 1000, Troyes had an organized Jewish community and collected taxes from its members, and Jews owned real estate, more particularly vineyards.  There were about 100 Jews living there at the time of Rashi.  Many of his pupils, the tosaphists, taught at various places in Champagne such as in Ramerupt, Dampierre, Vitry, and other cities.   Tosaphists are well known for their prayer-ritual which has been preserved and published in Budapest in 1905.  The tosaphot, or in Hebrew, addenda, were critical and explanatory notes on the Talmud by French and German scholars of the 12th to 14th centuries.  To start with they were added to Rashi's Talmud commentary, which they frequently criticized and modified.  They soon developed a new independent mode of Talmud study.  Rashi was the author of the monumental commentary on the Talmud and the Torah.   Rashi's  grave has never been found, but scholars believe he died there in about 1105. In 1940, the Champagne region around Troyes had as its prefect,  Rene Bousquet, who later headed the Vichy police and was responsible for numerous roundups of Jews during the Nazi occupation of France. In 2005, the city had a 900th anniversary of Rashi's birth since he was the most famous person from there. 

 "A well-kept, small, medieval city about 100 miles east of Paris, Troyes was once at the center of European trade routes located on the ancient Roman road connecting Milan in northern Italy with Boulogne-sur-mer on the English Channel.  Coupled with its proximity to Flanders and the cities of the Rhineland, this made the town one of the major trading hubs in Europe, an advantage seized upon by the Counts of Champagne, who instituted the twice-yearly Champagne fairs, where traders from across the continent would ply their wares."  Jews had learned about the city and followed the traders there being many were merchants themselves.  .  

By the 12th century, Jews were treated differently then as they continue to be today with anti-Semitism.. In 1182 there was the order of all Jews to be expulsed out of France. This had to do with the Christian Crusades in 1096 and 1099 and its effects on people of how they viewed Jews.  Before that, The Byzantine Empire had been forcibly trying to convert Jews to Christianity.   At that time, Champagne wasn't yet incorporated into the kingdom of France, so this was a safe place for them to live.   Then, they were subjected to severe taxation  by the counts.  "The counts of Champagne took the precaution of keeping in their own hands jurisdiction over the Jews in the charters of freedom granted to various towns."  However, by the 13th century, Jews enjoyed more royal protection and acted as financiers to the nobles, monasteries, as well as other places.

13 Jews were put to death in Troyes in 1288 on a Ritual Murder/Blood Libel charge:  2 elegies in Old French commemorate this episode. An elegy is something like a poem or song that laments sorrow for one who is dead.  If they are continuing to sing this today, it is done strictly as an anti-Semitic act.   This was a completely false allegation that Jews murdered Christians in order to get blood to put in the Passover matzos. Jews did not eat blood of any animal at all and went through great lengths to avoid this when eating the allowed meats, so certainly wouldn't want human blood in their food.  To take something so obvious about Jews and claim such a horrific thing showed that they knew nothing at all about Jews or Judaism.

The general French expulsion orders of 1306-1394 affected the Jews living in Champagne this time, so they were forced to leave the area and probably went up into eastern Europe.  After this expulsion in 1306, the community never again held their position, but some returned in  to Troyes the 14th century.

A few Jews returned in Champagne only in the 17th century and then in 1794 and there were about 80 families by 1930.  WWII caused half of the Jews of Troyes to be deported under the Nazi occupation, so probably all were killed in the Holocaust.  After the liberation, the community was reconstitued by those that lived through it all.   Lately, there are Jewish communities in Chalons, Rheims, Chaumont, Troyes, Epernay, and Vitry-le-Francois.  That is, if they haven't been driven out again by anti-Semitism.  The Jewish population in 1990 was under 1,000.  "The old, classical form of antisemitism, which we had hoped was long gone in Europe, continues to be resilient."  "During November, 2013, a new phenomenon had spread. Fans of the antisemitic comedian Dieudonné responded to his request and started to get pictures of themselves making the 'quenelle salute', a backwards Nazi salute, next to Jewish or Israeli places, or even next to a group of Jews.  How disgusting can they get with their anti-Semitism?  This caught on, of course, in other countries after the French started it.  

There had been Jews living in Toulouse, France in 1420 somehow, but the whole Jewish community was then annihilated, a mini Holocaust by the French.  Jews had lived here since the 8th century.  They had all left with the 1306 order but some had returned in 1315 but were killed in the Shepherds' Crusade of 1321.  Toulouse was a Marrano Center (Jews who had to pretend to be Catholic) in the 16th Century.

The modern community of Jews dates from the early 19th century which was reorganized in 1907.  It grew in population with the North African Jewish immigration in the 1950's and early 1960's because of the African countries rebelling against their Jewish population over the creation of Israel in 1948.  The Jewish population of Toulouse in 1990 was 18,000.
 In March 2012, a Muslim shot and killed people in a Jewish Day School in Toulouse.  Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, and his sons Arye 6, and Gabriel 3, along with the principal's daughter, Mirium Monsonigo 8, were shot and killed at their school, Ohr Hatorah  "The suspect pursued his last victim, an 8-year-old girl, into the concrete courtyard, seizing and stopping her by her hair, said Ms. Yardeni, who viewed surveillance footage of the killing.  His gun appeared to jam at that point, Ms. Yardeni said. Still holding the girl, the killer then changed weapons, from what police identified as a 9-millimeter pistol to the .45-caliber. He shot her in the head and left, never removing his motorcycle helmet. The killer was Mohammed Merah.   "On September 16, 2013, a 20-year-old French national of Moroccan origin,  called the Ohr Hatorah school in Toulouse and told a secretary, “I am Mohammed,  Merah’s cousin,  and I’m coming over tonight to kill you.” That threat was not the first one from this youngster, and he was arrested."  The 2012 attack was the worst France had seen against Jews in 30 years.  The killer was finally caught and killed when the police stormed his apartment on the 22nd of March..  " An Islamist extremist who is believed to have killed seven people in France died Thursday after a shootout with police, officials said. Interior Minister Claude Gueant said that Mohamed Merah, a 23-year-old French citizen of Algerian origin who had allegedly confessed to killing three Jewish children and four adults, was hiding in a bathroom when special forces officers raided his ground-floor apartment."

The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia: Champagne

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