JEWISH LIFE IN THE SOUTH OF FRANCE

Friday, May 31, 2013

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The Jewish population in France, dates back to the Roman Empire, and had a fairly unstable existence, depending on the governing bodies.

Israelites first arrived after the distraction of the Temple of Herod, and the conquest of Jerusalem. The tragedy at Massada happened around the same time, all of which forced them to disperse through the Mediterranean. with the South of France being one of the main places of refuge. Thus began a long history filled with periods of strive and strife.

The majority of these exiles were merchants, slave-dealers, tax collectors, sailors and physicians. Most Jews lived in the Phoenician Marseilles area, until the Middle Ages, when they were periodically expelled and again, allowed to return. In 1384, a 100,000 Jews had to leave France, mostly to German speaking areas.

Despite the terrible instability, the 11th century was a period intellectual and cultural Franco-Jewish awakening,  Jews, settled mainly in the South of France, produced liturgical  poetry, several interpretations of the Bible,and commentaries to the Talmud, but not yet with the daring and depth of the Ashkenazi genius Rabbi Rashi. They treated the writings as the ultimate truth because of the blind faith they had in the Midrashim. Nevertheless, the &ldquoGeonim&rdquo started a scholastic tradition, and made the area into a Center of Jewish learning.  In 1384, a 100,000 Jews had to leave France, mostly to German speaking areas.

The Papal states around Avignon, in the South West of France, were not controlled by the Kingdom so Jews could survive there. Later after the expulsion of all jews from Spain a large number of Jews and &ldquoNew Christians&rdquo from Portugal emigrated to SW of France, mainly to Bayonne and Bordeaux. Although forcibly converted to Christianity, the &ldquoMarranos&rsquo&rsquo, also known as the Anusim, (the forced ones), secretly practiced their hidden Jewish faith.There were two more large waves of immigration one from Eastern Europe, the second in mid 20th century, from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The Majority of jews in the South, in fact in all of France, are Sephardi and Mizrachi, who came from the North African and Mediterranean regions.They go from the Ultra Orthodox  Haredim to the largest segment, which is secular.

The Jewish intellectual, financial and artistic force, which came from that part of the world, produced legendary figures, such as Rashi , James Mayer de Rothschild,Sarah Bernhardt amongst many.

As of today, France has the biggest Jewish population in the world, following Israel and the USA. Most of them live in Toulouse, Marseille, Lyon in the South of France, and Paris in the North.

There are many beautiful synagogues, some ancient, museums depicting Jewish life through the centuries, spiced with some of the most beautiful countryside, seaside towns and the best kosher restaurants anywhere.  Because of this, it's a perfect destination for a Kosher tour!

 

Image source: www.ramhg.com





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