"Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem..."

Psalm 122:6


Jews in France

The History of the Jews in France

The history of the Jews in France deals with the Jews and Jewish communities in France.

There has been a Jewish presence in France since at least the early Middle Ages. France was once a center of Jewish learning, nit persecution increased as the Middle Ages wore on.

France was the first country in Europe to emancipate its Jewish population during the French Revolution, but, despite legal equality, antisemitism remained an issue, as illustrated in the Dreyfus affair of the late 19th century.

France currently has the largest Jewish population in Europe and the third-largest Jewish population in the world, after Israel and the United States.

The Jewish community in France is estimated as of 2010 ranging from a core population of 483,500 according to the Jewish Virtual Library to 500,000 according to the Appel Unifie Juif de France to an enlarged population of 600,000.

The French Jewish community is found mainly in the metropolitan areas of Paris, Marseille, Strasbourg, Lyon, and Toulouse.

Today, French Jews are mostly Sephardi and Mizrahi who came from North Africa and the Mediterranean region and span a range of religious affiliations, from the ultra-Orthodox Haredi communities to the large segment of Jews who are entirely secular.

Roman-Gallic epoch

According to the Jewish Encyclopaedia (1906), “The first settlement of Jews in Europe are obscure. From 163 B.C.E. there is evidence of Jews in Rome. in the year 6 C.E. there were Jews at Vienne and Gallia Celtica; in the year 39 at Lugdunum (i.e. Lyon).

“Further documents indicating the presence of Jews in France before the fourth century are as yet unknown. Hilary of Poitiers (died 366) is praised for having fled from the Jewish society.

A decree of the emperors Theodosius || and Valentinian ||| addressed to Amatius, prefect of Gaul (9 July 425), prohibited Jews and pagans from practicing law and from holding public offices (“militandi”), in order that Christians should not be in subjection to them, and thus be incited to change their faith.

At the funeral of Hilary, Bishop of Arles, in 449, Jews and Christians misled in crowds and wept, while the form we sang psalms in Hebrew. From the year 465, the Church took official cognizance of the Jews.

Jews were found in Marseille in the sixth century, at Arles, at Uzes, at Narbonne, at Clermont-Ferrand, at Orleans, at Paris, and at Bordeaux.

These places were generally centers of Roman administration, located in the great commercial routes, and there the Jews possessed synagogues.

In harmony with the Theodosian code, and according to an edict addressed in 331 to the decurions of Cologne by the emperor Constantine, the internal organization of the Jews seems to have been the same as in the Roman empire.

They appear to have had priests (rabbis or hazzanum), archisynagogues, patersynagogues, and other synagogue officials.

The Jews were principally merchants and slave dealers; they were also tax collectors, sailors, and physicians.

They probably remained under the Roman law until the triumph of Christianity, with the status established by Caracalla, on a footing of equality with their fellow citizens.

The emperor Constantius (321) compelled them to share in the curia, a heavy burden imposed on citizens of townships. There is nothing to show that their association with their fellow citizens was not of an amicable nature, even after the establishment of Christianity in Gaul.

It is known that the Christian clergy participated in their feasts; intermarriage between Jews and Christians sometimes occurred; the Jews made proselytes, and their religious customs were so freely adopted that at the third Council of Orleans (539) it was found necessary to warn the faithful against Jewish “superstitions” and to order them to abstain from traveling on Sunday and from adorning their persons or dwellings on that day.

In the 6th century, a Jewish community thrived in Paris. A synagogue was built on the lle de la Cite but was later torn down and a church was erected instead.

In 629 King Dagobert proposed to drive from his domains all Jews who would not accept Christianity, from his reign to that of Pepin the Short no further mention of the Jews is found.

But in the south of France, which was then known as “Septimania” and was a dependency of the Visigothic kings of Spain the Jews continued to dwell and prosper.

From this epoch (689) dates the earliest known Jewish inscription relating to France, that of Narbonne.

The Jews of Narbonne, chiefly merchants, were popular among the people, who often rebelled against the Visigothic kings.

Carolingian Period

It is certain that the Jews were numerous in France under Charlemagne, their position being regulated by law.

Exchanges with the Orient strongly declined with the advent of the Saracens in the Mediterranean sea, while oriental products such as gold, silk, black pepper, or papyrus almost disappeared under the Carolingians.

The only real link between the Orient and Occident was insured by the Radhanites Jewish traders.

A formula for the Jewish oath was fixed by Charlemagne. They were allowed to enter into lawsuits with Christians, and in their relations with the latter were restrained only from making them work on Sunday.

They were not allowed to trade in currency, wine, or grain. Of more importance is the fact that they were tried by the emperor himself, to whom they belonged.

It is a curious fact that among the numerous provincial councils which met during Charlemagne’s reign, not one concerned itself with the Jews, although these had increased in number.

Louis le Debonnaire (814-833), faithful to the principles of his father, grated strict protection to the Jews, to whom he gave special attention in their position as merchants.

The Jews engaged in export trade, an instance of this being found in the Jews whom Charlemagne employed to go to Palestine and bring back precious merchandise.

Furthermore, when the Normans disembarked on the coast of Narbonnese Gaul they were taken for Jewish merchants.

They boast, says one authority, of buying whatever they please from bishops and abbots.

Isaac the Jew, who was sent by Charlemagne in 797 with two ambassadors to Harun al-Rashid, the fifth Abbasid Caliph, was probably one of these merchants.

In the same spirit as in the above-mentioned legends, he is represented as asking the Baghdad calif for a rabbi to instruct the Jews whom he had allowed to settle at Narbonne (see History of the Jews in Babylonia).

Middle Ages

Persecution under the Capets (987-1137)

There was widespread persecution of Jews in France beginning in 1007 or 1009.

These persecutions, instigated by Robert || (972-1031), King of France (987-1031), called “the Pious”, are described in a Hebrew pamphlet, which also states that the King of France conspired with his vassals to destroy all the Jews on their lands who would not accept baptism, and many were put to death to kill themselves.

Robert is credited with advocating forced conversions of local Jewry, as well as mob violence against Jews who refused.

Among the martyrs was the learned Rabbi Senior. Robert the Pious is well known for his lack of religious toleration and for the hatred which he bore toward heretics; it was Robert who reinstated the Roman imperial custom of burning heretics at the stake.

In Normandy under Richard ||, Duke of Normandy, Rouen Jewry suffered from persecutions that were so terrible that many women, in order to escape the fury of the mob, jumped into the river and drowned.

A notable of the town, Jacob b. Jekuthiel, a Talmudic scholar, sought to intercede with Pope John XV||| to stop the persecutions in Lorraine (1007).

Jacob undertook the journey to Rome but was imprisoned with his wife and four sons, Judah, as a hostage with Richard while he with his wife and three remaining sons went to Rome.

He made a present of seven gold marks and two hunted pounds to the pope, who thereupon sent a special envoy to King Robert ordering him to stop the persecution.

If Adhemar of Chabanes, who wrote in 1030, is to be believed (he had a reputation as a fabricator), the anti-Jewish feelings arose in 1010 after Western Jews addressed a letter to their Eastern coreligionists warning them of a military movement against the Saracens.

According to Ademar, Christians urged by Pope Sergius |V were shocked by the destruction by the Muslims in 1009 of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

After the destruction, European reaction to the rumor of the letter was of shock and dismay, Cluniac monk Rodulfus Glaber blamed the Jews for the destruction.

in that year Alduin, Bishop of Limoges (bishop 990-1012), offered the Jews of his diocese the choice between baptism and exile.

For a month theologians held disputations with the Jews, but without much success, for only three or four of Jews abjured their faith; others killed themselves, and the rest either fled or were expelled from Limoges. Similar expulsions took place in other French towns.

By 1030, Rodufus Glaber knew more concerning this story. According to his 1030 explanation, Jews of Orleans had sent to the East through a beggar a letter which provoked the order for the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Glaber adds that, on the discovery of the crime, the expulsion of the Jews was everywhere decreed. Some were driven out of the cities, others were put to death, while some killed themselves; only a few remained in all the “Roman world”.

Count Paul Riant (1836-1888) says that this whole story of the relations between the Jews and the Mohammedans is only one of those popular legends with which the chronicles of the time abound.

Another violent commotion arose about 1065. At this date Pope Alexander || wrote to Beranger, Viscount of Narbonne and to Guifred, bishop of the city, praising them for having prevented the massacre of the Jews in their district, and reminding them that God does not approve of the shedding of blood.

In 1065 also, Alexander admonished Landulf V| of Benevento “that the conversion of Jews is not to be obtained by force.”

Also in the same year, Alexander called for a crusade against the Moors in Spain. These Crusaders killed without mercy all the Jews whom they met on their route.

Franco-Jewish literature

This period, which continues until the First Crusade, also saw the awakening of Jewish culture in the south and north of France.

The initial interest included poetry, which was at times purely liturgical, but which more often was a simple scholastic exercise without aspiration, destined rather to amuse and instruct than to move.

Following this came Biblical exegesis, the simple interpretation, and based by preference upon the Midrashim, despite their fantastic character. Finally, and above all, their attention was occupied with the Talmud and its commentaries.

The text of this work, together with that of the writings of the Geonim, particularly their responsa, was first revised and copied; then these writings were treated as a corpus juris, and were commented upon and studied nth as a pious exercise in dialectics and from the practical point of view.

There was no philosophy, no natural science, no belles-lettres, among the French Jews of this period.


The great Jewish figure which dominated the second half of the 11th century, as well as the whole rabbinical history of France, was the Ashkenazi Rabbi Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki) of Troyes (1040-1106).

He personified the genius of northern French Judaism: its devoted attachment to tradition; its untroubled faith; its piety, ardent but free from mysticism. His works are distinguished by their clarity, directness, and are written in a simple, concise, unaffected style, suited to his subject.

His commentary on the Talmud, which was the product of colossal labor, and which eclipsed the similar works of all his predecessors, by its clarity and soundness made easy the study of that vast compilation, and soon become its indispensable complement.

Every edition of the Talmud that was ever published has this commentary printed on the same page of the Talmud itself.

His commentary on the Bible (particularly on the Pentateuch), a sort of repertory of the Midrash, served for edification but also advanced that taste for seeking the plain and true meaning of the bible.

The school which he founded at Troyes, his birthplace, after having followed the teachings of those of Worms and Mainz, immediately became famous.

Around his chair were gathered Simhah b. Samuel, R. Samuel b. Meir (Rashbam), and Shemaya, his grandsons; likewise Shemaria, Judah b. Nathan, and Isaac Levi b. Asher, all of whom continued his work.

The commentaries and interpretations in the Talmud of this school are the basis and starting point for the Ashkenazic tradition of how to interpret and understand the Talmud’s explanation of Biblical laws.

In many cases, these interpretations differ substantially from those of the Sephardim, which results in differences between how Ashkenazim and Sephardim hold what the practical application of the law is.

In his Biblical commentaries, he availed himself of the works of his contemporaries.

Among them must be cited Moses ha-Darshan, chief of the school of Narbonne, who was perhaps the founder of exegetical studies in France, and Menachem b. Helbo.

Thus the 11th century was a period of fruitful activity in literature. Thenceforth French Judaism became one of the poles within Judaism.

The Crusades

The Jews of France suffered during the First Crusade (1096), when the Crusaders are stated, for example, to have shut up the Jews of Rouen in a church and to have murdered them without distinction of age or sex, sparing only those who accepted baptism.

According to a Hebrew document, the Jews throughout France were at that time in great fear, and wrote to their brothers in the Rhine countries making known to them their terror and asking them to fast and pray.

In the Rhineland thousands of Jews were killed by the crusaders.

Expulsions and returns

Expulsion from France, 1182

The First Crusade led to nearly a century of accusations (blood libel) against the Jews, many of whom were burned or attacked in France.

Immediately after the coronation of Philip Augustus on 14 March 1181, the King ordered the Jews arrested on a Saturday, in all their synagogues, and despoiled of their money and their investments.

In the following April 1182, he published an edict of expulsion, but according to the Jews delay of three months for the sale of their personal property.

Immovable property, however, such as houses, fields, vines, barns, and wine-presses, he confiscated. The Jews attempted to win over the nobles to their side but in vain.

In July they were compelled to leave the royal domains of France (and not the whole kingdom); their synagogues were converted into churches.

These successive measures were simply expedients to fill the royal coffers. The goods confiscated by the king were at once converted into cash.

During the century which terminated so disastrously for the Jews, their condition was not altogether bad, especially if compared with that of their brethren in Germany.

Thus may be explained the remarkable intellectual activity which existed among them, the attraction which it exercised over the Jews of other countries, and the numerous works produced in those days.

The impulsive given by Rashi to study did not cease with his death; his successors the members of his family among them brilliantly continued his work.

Research moved within the same limits as in the preceding century and dealt mainly with the Talmud, rabbinical jurisprudence, and Biblical exegesis.

Recalled by Phillip Augustus, 1198

This century, which opened with the return of the Jews to France proper (then reduced almost to the Isle of France), closed with their complete exile from the country in a larger sense.

In July 1198, Phillip Augustus, “contrary to the general expectation and despite his own edict, recalled the Jews to Paris and made the churches of God suffer great persecutions” (Rigord).

The king adopted this measure from no goodwill toward the Jews, for he had shown his true sentiments a short time before in the Bray affair.

But since then he had learned that the Jews could be an excellent source of income from a fiscal point of view, especially as money lenders.

Not only did he recall them to his estates, but he gave state sanction by his ordinances to their operations in banking and pawnbroking.

He placed their business under control, determined the legal rate of interest, and obliged them to have seals affixed to all their deeds.

Naturally, this trade was taxed, and the affixing of the royal seal was paid for by the Jews. Henceforward there was in the treasury a special account called “Produit des Juifs”, and the receipts from this source increased continually.

At the same time, it was to the interest of the treasury to secure possession of the Jews, considered as a fiscal resource.

The Jews were therefore made serfs of the king in the royal domain, just at a time when the characters, becoming wider and wider, tended to bring about the disappearance of serfdom.

In certain cases appeal to custom and were often protected by the Church, but there was no custom to which the Jews might appeal, and the Church laid them under its ban.

The kings and the lords said “my Jews” just as they said “my lands”, and they disposed in like manner of the one and of the other.

The lords imitated the king: “they endeavored to have the Jews considered an inalienable dependence of their fiefs, and to establish the usage that if a Jew domiciled in one barony passed into another, the lord of his former domicile should have the right to seize his possessions.”

This agreement was made in 1198 between the king and the Count of Champagne in a treaty, the terms of which provided that neither should retina in his domains the Jews of the other without the latter’s consent and furthermore that the Jews should not make loans or receive pledges without the express permission of the king and the count.

Other lords made similar conventions with the king. Thence-forth they too had a revenue known as the “Produit des Juifs”, comprising the taille, or annual quit-rent, the legal fees for the writs necessitated by the Jews law trials, and the seal duty.

A thoroughly characteristic feature of this fiscal policy is that the bishops (according to the agreement of 1204 regulating the spheres of ecclesiastical jurisdiction) continued to prohibit the clergy from excommunicating those who sold goods to the Jews or who bought from them.

Under Louis V|||

Louis V||| of France (1223-26), in his Etablissement sur les Juifs of 1223, while more inspired with the doctrines of the Church than his father, Phillip Augustus, knew also how to look after the interests of his treasury.

Although he declared that from 8 November 1223, the interest on Jews debts should no longer hold goods, he at the same time ordered that the capital should be repaid to the Jews in three years and that the debts due to the Jews should be inscribed and placed under the control of their lords.

The lords then collected the debts for the Jews, doubtless receiving a commission. Louis furthermore ordered that the special seal for Jewish deeds should be abolished and replaced by the ordinary one.

Twenty-six barons accepted Louis V|||’s new measures, but Theobald |V (1201-53), the powerful Count of Champagne, did not, since he had an agreement with the Jews that guaranteed their safety in return for extra income through taxation.

Champagne’s capital at Troyes was where Rashi had lived a century before, and Champagne continued to have a prosperous Jewish population.

Theobald |V would become a major opposition force to Capetian dominance, and his hostility was manifest during the reign of Louis V|||.

For example, during the siege of Avignon, he performed only the minimum service of 40 days and left home amid charges of treachery.

Under Louis |X

In spite of all these restrictions designed to restrain, if not to suppress money lending, Loius |X of France (1226-70), with his ardent piety and his submission to the Church, unreservedly condemned loans at interest.

He was less amenable than Philip Augustus to fiscal considerations. Despite former conventions, in an assembly held at Melun in December 1230, he compelled several lords to sign an agreement not to authorize Jews to make any loan.

No one in the whole kingdom was allowed to detain a Jew belonging to another, and each lord might recover a Jew who belonged to him, just as he might his own serf (tanquam proprium servum), wherever he might find him and however long period had elapsed since the Jew had settled elsewhere.

At the same time, the ordinance of 1223 was enacted afresh, which only proves that it had not been carried into effect. Both king and lords were forbidden to borrow from Jews.

In 1234, Louis freed his subjects from a third of their registered debts to Jews (including those who had already paid their debts), but debtors had to pay the remaining two-thirds within a specified time.

It was also forbidden to imprison Christians or to sell their real estate to recover debts owed to Jews. The king wished in this way to strike a delayed blow at usury.

in 1243, Louis ordered, at the urging of Pope Gregory |X, the burning in Paris of some 12,000 manuscript copies of the Talmud and other Jewish books.

In order to finance his first crusade, Louis ordered the expulsion of all Jews engaged in usury and the confiscation of their property, for use in his crusade, but the order for the expulsion was only partly enforced if at all.

Louis left for the Seventh Crusade in 1248.

However, he did not cancel the debts owed by Christians. Later, Louis became conscience-stricken, and, overcome by scruples, he feared lest the treasury, by retaining some part of the interest paid by the borrowers, might be enriched with the product of usury.

As a result, one-third of the debts were forgiven, but the other two-thirds were to be remitted to the royal treasury.

In 1251, while Louis was in captivity on the Crusade, a popular movement rose up with the intention of traveling to the east to rescue him; although they never made it out of northern France, Jews were subject to their attacks as they wandered throughout the country. (See Shepherds Crusade).

In 1257 (“Ordonnances”, i. 85), wishing, as he says, to provide for his safety of soul and peace of conscience, Louis issued a mandate for the restitution in his name of the amount of usurious interest which had been collected on the confiscated property, the restitution to be made either to those who had paid it or to their heirs.

Later, after having discussed the subject with his son-in-law, Thibaut, King of Navarre and Count of Champagne, Louis decided on 13 September 1268 to arrest Jews and seize their property.

But an order which followed close upon this last (1269) shows that on this occasion also Louis reconsidered the matter.

Nevertheless, at the request of Paul Christian (Pablo Christiani), he compelled the Jews, under penalty of a fine, to wear at all times the rouelle or badge decreed by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.

This consisted of a piece of red felt to cloth cut in the form of a wheel, four fingers in circumference, which had to be attached to the outer garment at the chest and back.

The Medieval Inquisition

The Inquisition, which had been instituted in order to suppress the heresy of the Albigenses, finally occupied itself with the Jews of southern France who converted to Christianity.

The popes complained that not only were baptized Jews returning to their former faith but that Christians also were being converted to Judaism. In March 1273, Gregory X formulated the following rules: relapsed Jews, as well as Christians who abjured their faith in favor of “the Jewish superstition”, were to be treated by the Inquisitors as heretics.

The instigators of such apostasies, as those who received or defended the guilty ones, were to be punished in the same way as the delinquents.

In accordance with these rules, the Jews of Toulouse, who had buried a Christian convert in their cemetery, were brought before the Inquisition in 1278 for trial, with their rabbi, Isaac Males, being condemned to the stake.

Philip the Fair, as mentioned above, at first ordered his seneschals not to imprison any Jews at the instance of the Inquisitors, but in 1299 hr rescinded this order.

The Great Exile of 1306

Toward the middle of 1306 the treasury was nearly empty, and the king, as he was about to do the following year in the case of the Templars, decided to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

He condemned the Jews to banishment and took forcible possessions of their property, real and personal. Their houses, lands, and movable goods were sold at auction; and for the king were reserved any treasures found buried in the dwellings that had belonged to the Jews.

That Phillip the Fair intended merely to fill the gap in his treasury, and was not at all concerned about the well-being of his subjects, is shown by the fact that he put himself in the place of the Jewish moneylenders and exacted from their Christian debtors the payment of their debts, which they themselves had to declare.

Furthermore, three months before the sale of the property of the Jews the king took measures to ensure that this event should be coincident with the prohibition of clipped money, in order that those who purchased the goods should have to pay in underused coin.

Finally, fearing that the Jews might have hidden some of their treasures, he declared that one-fifth of any amount found should be paid to the discoverer. It was on 22 July, the day after Tisha B’Av, a Jewish fast day, that the Jews were arrested.

In prison they received notice that they had been sentenced to exile; that, abandoning their goods and debts, and taking only the clothes which they had on their backs and the sum of 12 sous tourneys each, they would have to quit the kingdom within one month.

Speaking of this exile, an American Rabbi has said,

In striking at the Jews, Philip the Fair at the same time dried up one of the most fruitful sources of the financial, commercial, and industrial prosperity of his kingdom.

Although the history of the Jews in France in a way began its course again a short time afterward, it may be said that in reality, it ceased at this date.

It was especially sad for them that during the preceding century the Domaine of the King of France had increased considerably in extent. Outside the IIe de France, it now comprised Champagne, the Vermandois Normandy, Perche, Maine, Anjou, Touraine, Poitou, the Marche, Lyonnais, Auvergene, and Languedoc, reaching from the Rhone to the Pyrenees.

The exiles could not take refuge anywhere except in Lorraine, the country of Burgundy, Savoy, Dauphine, Roussilon, and a part of Provence-all religions located in the Empire. It is not possible to estimate the number of fugitives; that given by Gratz, 100,000, has no foundation in fact.

Return of the Jews to France, 1315

Nine years and hardly passed since the expulsion of 1306 when Louis X of France (1314-16) recalled the Jews.

In an edict dated 28 July 1315, he permitted them to return for a period of twelve years, authorizing them to establish themselves in the cities in which they had lived before their banishment.

He issued this edict in answer to the demands of the people. Geoffrey of Paris, the popular poet of the time, says in fact that the Jews were gentle in comparison with the Christians who had taken their place, and who had flayed their debtors alive; if the Jews had remained the country would have been happier; for there were no longer any moneylenders at all (Bouquet, xxii. 118).

The king probably had the interests of his treasury also in view.

The profits of the former confiscations had gone into the treasury, and by recalling the Jews for only twelve years he would have an opportunity for ransoming them at the end of this period. It appears that they gave the sum of 122,500 livers for the privilege of returning.

It is also probable, as Vuitry states, that a large number of the debts owing to the Jews had not been recovered and that the holders of the notes had preserved them; the decree of return specified that two-thirds of the old debts recovered by the Jews should go into the treasury.

The conditions under which they were allowed to settle in the land are set forth in u number of articles; some of the guaranties which were to live by the work of their hands or to sell merchandise of good quality; they were to wear the circular badge, and not discuss religion with laymen.

They were not to be molested, either with regard t the chattels they had carried away at the time of their cemeteries were to have resorted to them on condition that they would refund their value; or, if these could not have restored, the king would give them the necessary sites at a reasonable price.

The books of the Law that had not yet been returned to them were also to be rested, with the exception of the Talmud.

After the period of twelve years granted to them, the king might not expel the Jews again without giving them a year’s time in which to dispose of their property and carry away their goods.

They were not to lend on usury, and no one was to be forced by the king to his officers to repay to them a year’s loans.

If they engaged in pawnbroking, they were not to take more than two deniers in the pound a week; they were to lend only on pledges.

Two men with the title “auditors o the Jews” were entrusted with the execution of this ordinance and were to take cognizance of all claims that might arise in connection with goods belonging to the Jews which had been sold before the expulsion for less than half of what was regarded as a fair price.

The king finally declared that he took the Jews under his special protection and that he desired to have their persons and property protected from all violence, injury, and oppression.

Expulsion of 1394

On 17 September 1394, Charles VI suddenly published an ordinance in which he declared, in substance, that for a long time he had been taking note of the many complaints provoked by the excess and misdemeanors which the Jews committed against Christians; and that the prosecutors, having made several investigations, had discovered many violations by the Jews of the agreement they had made with him.

Therefore he decreed as an irrevocable law and statute that thenceforth no Jew should dwell in his domains (“Ordonnances”, vii.675).

According to the “Religieux de St. Denis”, the king signed this decree at the instance of the queen (“Chron. de Charles VI. ” ii. 119).

The decree was not immediately enforced, a respite being granted to the Jews in order that they might sell their property and pay their debts.

Those indebted to them were enjoined to redeem their obligations within a set time; otherwise, their pledges held in pawn were to be sold by the Jews.

The provost was to escort the Jews to the frontier of the kingdom. Subsequently, the king released the Christians from their debts.

Early Modern Period 17th Century

In the beginning of the 17th century Jews began again to re-enter France.

This resulted in a new edict of 23 April 1615 which forbade Christians, under the penalty of death and confiscation, to shelter Jews or to converse with them. Violent antisemitic riots broke out in Provence, resulting in Jews migrating to northern France.

Alsace and Lorraine were the home of a significant number of Jews. In annexing the provinces in 1648, Louis XIV was at first inclined toward the banishment of the Jews living in those provinces but thought better of it in view of the benefit he could derive from them.

On 25 September 1675, he granted these Jews letters patent, taking them under his special protection.

This, however, did not prevent them from being subjected to every kind of extortion, and their position remained the same as it had been under the Austrian government.

The Regency was no less severe. In 1683 Louis XIV expelled Jews from the newly acquired colony of Martinique.

Beginnings of emancipation

In the course of the 18th century, the attitude of the authorities toward the Jews changed for the better. A spirit of tolerance began to prevail, which corrected the iniquities of previous legislation. The authorities often overlooked infractions of the edict of banishment; a colony of Portuguese and German Jews was tolerated in Paris.

The voices of enlightened Christians who demanded justice for the proscribed people began to be heard. An Alsatian Jew named Cerf Berr, who had rendered great service to the French government as a purveyor to the army, was the interpreter of the Jews before Louis XVI.

The humane minister, Malesherbes, summoned a commission of Jewish notables to make suggestions for the amelioration of the condition of their coreligionists.

The direct result of the efforts of these men was the abolition, in 1785, of the degrading poll tax and the permission to settle in all parts of France.

Shortly afterward the Jewish question was raised by two men of genius, who subsequently became prominent in the French Revolution Count Mirabeau and the abbe Gregoire the former of whom, while on a diplomatic mission in Prussia, had made the acquaintance of Moses Mendelssohn and his school (see Haskalah), who were then working toward the intellectual emancipation of the Jews.

In a pamphlet, “Sur Moses Mendelssohn, sur la Reforme Politique des Juifs” (London, 1787), Mirabeau refuted the arguments of the German anti-Semites like Michaelis and claimed for the Jews the full rights of citizenship.

This pamphlet naturally provoked many writings for and against the Jews, and the French public became interested in the question.

On the proposition of Roederer, the Royal Society of Science and Arts of Metz offered a prize for the best essay in answer to the question: “What are the best means to make the Jews happier and more useful in France?”

Nine essays, of which only two were unfavorable to the Jews, were submitted to the judgment of the learned assembly. Of the challenge, there were three winners: Abbe Gregoire, Claude-Antoine Thiery, and Zalkind Horowitz.

The Revolution and Napoleon

Jews in Bordeaux and Bayonne participated in 1789 to the election of the Estates-General but those in Alsace, Lorraine, and in Paris were denied this right.

Cerf Beer then asked Jacques Necker and obtained the right for the Jews from eastern France to elect their own delegates. Among them were the son of Cerf Beer, Theodore, and Joseph David Sinzheim.

The Cahier written by the Jewish community from eastern France asked for the end of the discriminatory status and taxes targeting Jews.

The fall of the Bastille was the signal for disorders everywhere in France. In certain districts of Alsace, the peasants attacked the dwellings of the Jews, who took refuge in Basel.

A gloomy picture of the outrages upon them was sketched before the National Assembly (3 August) by the abbe Henri Gregoire, who demanded their complete emancipation.

The National Assembly shared the indignation of the prelate, but left undecided the question of emancipation; it was intimidated by the deputies of Alsace, especially by Jean-Francois Rebell.

In December 1789, the Jewish question came again before the Assembly in debating the issue of admitting to public service all citizens without distinction of creed.

Mirabeau, the abbe Gregoire, Robespierre, Duport, Barnave and the comte de Clermont-Tonnerre exerted all the power of their eloquence to bring about the desired emancipation;

but the repeated disturbances in Alsace and the strong opposition of the deputies of that province and of the clericals, like La Fare, Bishop of Nancy, the Abbe Maury, and others, caused the decision to be again postponed.

Only the Portuguese and the Avignonses Jews, who had hitherto enjoyed all civil rights as naturalized Frenchmen, were declared full citizens by a majority of 150 on 28 January 1790.

This partial victory infused new hope into the Jews for the German districts, who made still greater efforts in the struggle for freedom.

They won over the eloquent advocate Godard, whose influence in revolutionary circles was considerable.

Through his exertions, the National Guards and the diverse sections pronounced themselves in favor of the Jews, and the abbe Malot was sent by the General Assembly of the Commune to plead their cause before the National Assembly.

Unfortunately, the grave affairs which absorbed the Assembly, the prolonged agitations in Alsace, and the passions of the clerical party kept in check the active propaganda of the Jews and their friends.

A few days before the dissolution of the National Assembly (27 September 1791) a member of the Jacobin Club, formerly a parliamentary councilor, Duport, unexpectedly ascended the tribute and said,

I believe that freedom of worship does not permit any distinction in the poetical rights of citizens an account of their creed.

The question of the political existence of the Jews has been postponed. Still, the Moslems and the men of all sects are admitted to enjoy political rights in France.

I demand that the motion for postponement be withdrawn, and a decree passed that the Jews in France enjoy the privileges of full citizens.

This proposition was accepted amid loud applause.

Rewbell endeavored, indeed, to oppose the motion, but he was interrupted by Regnault de Saint-Jean, president of the Assembly, who suggested: “that everyone who spoke against this motion should be called to order because he would be opposing the constitution itself.”

During the Reign of Terror

Judaism in France thus became, as the Alsatian deputy Schwendt wrote to his constituents, “nothing more than the name of a distance religion”.

However, in Alsace, especially in the Bas-Rhin the reactionaries did not cease their agitations and Jews were victims of discrimination.

During the Reign of Terror, at Bordeaux, Jewish bankers, compromised in the cause of the Girondins, had to pay important fines or to run away to save their lives while some Jewish bankers (40 according to the Jewish Encyclopaedia) were imprisoned at Paris as suspects and nine of them were executed.

The decree of the convention by which the Catholic faith was annulled and replaced by the worship of Reason was applied by the provincial clubs, especially by those of the German districts, to the Jewish religion as well.

Some synagogues were pillaged and the mayors of a few eastern towns (Strasbourg, Troyes, etc.) forbade the celebration of Sabbath (to apply the week of ten days).

Meanwhile, the French Jews gave proof of their patriotism and their gratitude to the land which had emancipated them.

Many of them died in battle as part of the Army of the Republic while fighting the forces of Europe in a coalition.

To contribute to the war fund, candelabra of synagogues were sold, and many Jews deprived themselves of their jewels to make similar contributions.

Attitude of Napoleon

Main article: Napoleon and the Jews

Though the Revolution had begun the process of Jewish emancipation in France, Napoleon also speared the concept in the lands he conquered across Europe, liberating Jews from their ghettos and establishing relative equality for them.

The net effect of his policies significantly changed the position of the Jews in Europe.

Starting in 1806, Napoleon passed a number of measures supporting the position of the Jews in the French Empire, including assembling a representative group elected by the Jewish community, the Grand Sanhedrin.

In conquered countries, he abolished laws restricting Jews to ghettos. In 1807, he added Judaism as an official religion of France, with previously sanctioned Roman Catholicism, and Lutheran and Calvinist Protestantism.

Despite the positive effects, it is unclear, however, whether Napoleon himself was disposed favorably towards the Jews, or merely saw them as a political or financial tool.

On 17 March 1808, Napoleon rolled back some reforms by the so-called secret infamy, declaring all debts with Jews reduced, postponed, or annulled; this caused the Jewish community to nearly collapse.

The decree also restricted where Jews could live, especially for those in the eastern French Empire, with all its annexations in the Rhineland and beyond (as of 1810), in hopes of assimilating them into society. Many of these restrictions were eased again in 1811 and finally abolishes in 1818.

After the Restoration

The restoration of Louis XVIII did not bring any charge in the political condition of the Jews.

Such of the enemies of the Jews as cherished the hope that the Bourbons would hasten to undo the work of the Revolution with regard to Jewish emancipation were soon disappointed.

The emancipation of the French Jews had made such progress that the most clerical monarch could not find any pretext for curtailing their rights as citizens.

They were no longer poor, downtrodden paddlers or money-lenders with whom every petty official could do so as he liked.

Many of them already occupied high positions in the army and the magistracy, as well as in the arts and sciences.

State recognition

Of the faiths recognized by the state, only the Jewish had to support its ministers, while those of the Catholic and Protestant churches were supported by the government.

This legal inferiority was removed in that year, thanks to the intervention of the Duke of Orleans, lieutenant-general of the kingdom, and to the campaign led in Parliament by the deputies Rambuteau and Viennet.

Encouraged by these prominent men, the minister of education on 13 November 1830, offered a motion to place Judaism upon an equal footing with Catholicism and Protestantism as regards support for the synagogues and for the rabbis from the public treasury.

The motion was accompanied by flattering compliments to the French Jews, “who”, said the minister, “since the removal of their disabilities by the Revolution, have shown themselves worthy of the privileges granted them”.

After a short discussion, the motion was adopted by a large majority.

In January 1831, it passed in the Chamber of Peers by 89 votes to 57, and on 8 February it was ratified by King Louis Philippe, who from the beginning had shown himself favorable to placing Judaism on an equal footing with the other faiths. Shortly afterward the rabbinical college, which had been founded at Metz in 1829, was recognized as a state institution and was granted a subsidy.

The government likewise liquidated the debts contracted by various Jewish communities before the Revolution.


While the Jews had been placed in every point the equals of their Christian fellow citizens, the oath More Judaico still continued to be administered to them, in spite of the repeated protestations of the rabbis and the consistory.

It was only in 1846, owing to a brilliant speech of the Jewish advocate Adolphe Cremieux, pronounced before the Court of Nimes in defense of a rabbi who had refused to take this oath, and to a valuable essay on the subject by Martim, a prominent Christian avocet of Strasburg, that the Court of Cassation removed this last remnant of the legislation of the Middle Ages.

With this act of justice, the history of the Jews of France merges into the general history of the French people.

The rapidity with which many of them won affluence and distinction in the nineteenth century is without parallel.

In spite of the deep-rooted prejudices that prevailed in certain classes of French society, many of them occupied high positions in literature, art, science, jurisprudence, the army indeed, in every walk of life.

In 1860, the Alliance Israelite Universelle was formed “to work everywhere for the emancipation and moral progress of the Jews; to offer effective assistance to Jews suffering from antisemitism, and to encourage all publications calculated to promote this aim.”

In 1870 the approximate 40,000 Jews of Algeria, at that time a French department, were automatically granted French citizenship by the Cremieux decrees.

In the last decade of the nineteenth century the reactionaries, having failed in every attempt to overthrow the republic, had recourse to antisemitism, by means of which they maintained a persistent agitation for over ten years.

The Jews were charged with the ruin of the country and with all the crimes which the fertile imagination of a Drumot (founder of the Antisemitic League of France) or a Viau could invent; and as the accused often disdained to answer such slanderous attacks, the charges were believed by a great number of people to be true.

A campaign was started against Jewish army officers, which culminated in the Dreyfus affair, during which a Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was accused of treason in favor of the German Empire and jailed in appalling conditions, before eventually being exonerated at the turn of the century.

At the turn of the century, the 1905 law on the Separation of the Church and the State put an end to state religion in France, all religions and philosophies being considered by the state a matter of privacy, tolerance, and of freedom of thought.

20th Century Before World War ||

By the early 1900s, the conditions of the Jews had improved tremendously and a wave of Jewish immigration arrived in France, mostly fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe.

Immigration temporarily halted during World War |, and Jews fought in French forces but resumed afterward. Jews were prominent in art and culture during this period-such as at the turn of the century, with such artists as Modigliani, Sountine, and Chagall.

Anti-Semitism declined during the 1920s, in part because the fact that so many Jews died fighting for France during World War | made it more difficult to accuse them of not being patriotic.

The antisemitic newspaper La Libre Parole closed in 1924, and the former anti-Dreyfusard Maurice Barres included Jews among France’s “spiritual families”.

An influx of Jewish refugees from Germany and the Jewishness of the Popular Front’s leader Leon Blum contributed to a revival of antisemitism in the 1930s.

Writers such as Paul Morand, Pierre Gaxotte, Marcel Jouhandeau, and the leader of Action Francaise Charles Maurras denounced Jews.

Perhaps the most violent anti-Semitic writer was Louis-Ferdinand Celine, who wrote “I feel very friendly yo Hitler, and to all Germans, whom I feel to be my brothers…Our real enemies are Jews and Masons”, and “Yids are like bedbugs.”

By 1937 even mainstream conservatives and socialists, not previously associated with anti-semitism, denounced the alleged Jewish influence pushing the country into a “Jewish war” against Nazi Germany.

When the Popular Front received the majority of ores in 1936, France elected a Jewish prime minister, the second country to do so (Italian prime minister Alessandro Fortis was the first Jewish head of state, serving from 1905 to 1906, and his fellow countryman, Luigi Luzzatti was second; Benjamin Disraeli, Britain’s 19th century Prime Minister, was born Jewish but baptized in the Church of England when he was 13).

Blum, however, was attacked by segments of the French far-right, for his Jewishness, while the Action Francaise, far-right leagues, and the Cagoule terrorist group engaged in antisemitic propaganda.

French Jews and the Holocaust

In 1940, early in World War ||, France and its allies in the Low Countries were defeated by Nazi Germany, and the Jews there became subject to Nazi anti-Jewish measures and fell victim to the Holocaust.

In the early months of the war, there were probably some 350,000 Jews living in France, some of whom were refugees from Germany.

Antisemitism was particularly virulent in Vichy France during World War ||. The Vichy government openly collaborated with the Nazi occupiers to identify Jews for deporting ion and transportation to the death camps (about 75,000 were killed).

As early as October 1940, without any request from the Germans, the Vichy government passed anti-Jewish measures (the Statues on Jews), prohibiting them from moving, and limiting their access to public places and most professional activities. In 1941, the Vichy government established a Commissariat general aux questions juives (1941-1944), which worked with the Gestapo to begin rounding up Jews for the concentration camps in 1942, including the notorious Vel’dHiv Roundtrip on 16 and 17 July of that year.

Between 1942 and July 1944, nearly 76,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps from France, of which only 2,500 survived. Drancy, outside of Paris, was the primary camp for Jews being deported to Nazi German death camps in Poland and Eastern Europe.

It was designed to hold 700 people, but at its peak in 1940, it held more than 7,000. It is interesting to note, however, that the majority of Jews deported from France and killed during the Holocaust were non-French Jews.

Until severe pressure was brought to bear by Nazi Germany, Vichy sought in many instances to protect its native French-born Jews, especially those who had assimilated into the culture to convert to Catholicism.

On the other hand, France has the third-highest number of Righteous Among the Nations (according to the Yad Vashem museum, 2006).

This award is given to “non-Jews who acted according to the noblest principles of humanity by risking their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust”.

Post-World War ||: North African Jewish migration

In the wake of the Holocaust, 180,000 Jews remained in France, some of whom were refugees from Eastern Europe.

Between 16 December 1946 and 22 January 1947 Leon Blum was Head of state and Head of government. In 1951 the population was 250,000. In the 1940s and 1950s Jewish refugees from Europe resettled in France.

They were later joined by large numbers of Jews from France’s North African colonies who quickly assimilated in France, their numbers increased after the French decolonization of its territories abroad in 1962 and antisemitism in these newly formed nation-states.

In total, it is estimated that between 1956 and 1967, about 235,000 North Africa Jews from Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco immigrated to France due to the decline of the French Empire and following the Six-Day War.

Hence, by 1968, Jews of North African origin were a majority of the Jews of France. The North African Jews enjoyed a successful social and economic interrogation in France while reinvigorating its Jewish life.

Kosher restaurants and Jewish schools multiplied, in particular since the 1980s and the religious renewal of the younger generation.

France was initially a very strong supporter of Israel, voting for its formation and becoming its main ally and primary supplier of military hardware between 1948 and 1967.

After the Suez Crisis in 1956, relations between Israel and France remained strong. However, after the Algerian War in 1962 France progressively shifted towards a more pro-Arab view, which accelerated rapidly after the Six-Day War in 1967.

The United States then became the main supplier of weapons and military technology of Israel.

Even is it has been neither confirmed nor denied by Israel, it is widely believed that, according to the protocol of Sevres agreements, France secretly transmitted parts of its own atomic technology to Israel in the late 1950s leading Israel to possesses nuclear weapons.


There are between 483,000 and 600,000 Jews in France making French Jews the world’s third-largest Jewish community.

In 2009, France’s highest court, the council of state issued a ruling recognizing the state’s responsibility in the deport ion of tens of thousands of Jews during World War ||.

The report cited “mistakes” in the Vichy regime that had not been forced by the occupiers, stating that the state “allowed or facilitated the deportation from France of victims of anti-Semitism”.

Antisemitism and Immigration

In the early 2000s, rising levels of antisemitism among French Muslims and antisemitic acts were publicized around the world, including the desecration of Jewish graves and tensions between the children of North African Muslim immigrants and North African Jewish children.

One of the worst crimes happened when Ilan Halimi was mutilated and tortured to death by the so-called “Barbarians gang”, led by Youssouf Fofana.

This murder was motivated by money and fuelled by antisemitic prejudices (the perpetrators said they believed Jews to be rich).

In March 2012, a gunman, who had earlier killed 3 soldiers, opened fire at a Jewish school in Toulouse in an anti-Semitic attack, killing four people, including three children.

President Nicolas Sarkozy said, “I want to say to all the leaders of the Jewish community, how close we feel to them. All of France is by their side.”

However, Jewish philanthropist Baron Eric de Rothschild suggested that the extent of antisemitism in France has been exaggerated and that France was not the anti-Semitic country.”

The newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique had earlier said the same thing.

According to a 2005 poll made by the Pew Research Center, there is no evidence of any specific antisemitism in France, which, according to this poll, appears to be one of the least antisemitic countries in Europe, though France has the world’s third-largest Jewish population.

France is the country that has the most favorable views of Jews in Europe (82%), next to the Netherlands, and the third country with the least unfavorable views (16%) next to the UK and the Netherlands.

Rises in antisemitism in modern France have been linked to the intensifying Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Between the start of the Israeli offensive in Gaza in late December, her and its end in January, an estimated hundred antisemitic acts were recorded in France.

This compares with a total of 250 antisemitic acts in the whole of 2007.

In 2009, 832 acts of antisemitic were recorded in France (with, in the first half of 2009, an estimated 631 acts, more than the whole of 2008, 474), in 2010, 466 and, in 2011, 389. In 2011 there were 26o threats (100 graffitis, 46 flyers to mails, 114 insults) and 129 crimes (57 assaults, 7 arsons to attempted arsons, 65 deteriorations and acts of vandalism but no murder, attempted murder, or terrorist attack) recorded.

Between 2000 and 2009, 13,315 French Jews moved to Israel or made Aliyah, an increase compared to the previous decade (1990-1999: 10,443) that was in the continuity of a similar increase since the 1970s.

A peak was reached during this period, in 2005 (2005: 2,951 Olim) but a significant proportion (between 20 and 30%) eventually came back to France. Some immigrants cited antisemitism and the growing Arab population as reasons for leaving.

One couple who moved to Israel claimed that rising antisemitism by French Muslims and the anti-Israel bias of the French government was making life for Jews increasingly uncomfortable for them.

At a welcoming ceremony for French Jews in the summer of 2004, then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon caused controversy when he advised all French Jews to “move immediately” to Israel and escape what he coined “the wildest anti-Semitism” in France.

In August 2007, doe 2,800 immigrants were due to arrive in Israel from France, as opposed to the 3,000 initially forecast. [better source needed ] 1,129 French Jews made Aliyah to Israel in 2009 and 1,286 in 2010.

However, in the long term, and even if France has the world’s third-largest Jewish community, France is not one of the top countries of Jewish emigration toward Israel.

In November 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a joint press conference with Francois Hollande advised the French Jewish community by saying “In my role as Prime Minister of Israel, I always say to the Jews, wherever they may be, I say to them: Come to Israel and make Israel your home”.

alluding to former Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s similar advisement towards the French Jewish community to move to Israel back in 2004.