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04 October 2011

History of the Jews of France

In July of 2012, the annual conference of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) will be held in Paris, France. As was mentioned in a recent posting in this blog the conference already has a wonderful website that is available (www.paris2012.eu). With a Jewish population of around 500,000, France has the third largest Jewish population in the world, trailing only Israel and the United States. With the conference fast approaching, it seems like a great time to explore the history of the Jews of France. Some of the interesting facts about the Jewish history of France include;
  • The history goes back over 2,000 years, when France was part of the Roman empire. During this time it was probably more about groups of individuals than an actual community, however there was a presence.
  • The first Jewish communities in France are dated from the mid 5th century through the early part of the 6th century. These communities were in Brittany (465), Valence (524) and Orleans(533). In the later part of the 6th century a community was established in Paris and even built their own synagogue.
  • Beginning in 1096 and lasting up until the middle ages in the 1400's, the Jews of France lived through a great deal of persecution. At various times they were imprisoned, forced to wear identifying clothing, forced to give up their land and freedoms and even murdered.
  • Beginning in the early 1500's Jews began arriving from Portugal, as they fled the Inquisition. At this time was also the first time that Jews were allowed to legally live in France.
  • Jews began arriving from Poland and the Ukraine in the middle of the 17th century. The Jews of France thrived and became an active part of the business community. In the late 1700's many of the anti-Jewish laws were repealed.
  • The Jews began moving back into Paris in the late 1700's. The Sephardic Jews settled on the Left bank, and places such as Bordeaux and Avignon. Ashkenazic Jews on the other hand settled the Right bank. The first synagogue opened in Paris in 1788.
  • In 1790 the Sephardic Jews were granted citizenship and less than 6 months later the Ashkenazic Jews received the same.
  • Following the French Revolution, the Jews began to restore their communities, reopening schools and even opening a Rabbinical seminary that is still in use today.
  • Beginning in the early 1900's up through the war, France received Jews from many areas, including Turkey, North Africa, Greece and many countries of Eastern Europe.
Today, with a vibrant Jewish community in an absolutely beautiful city, the IAJGS conference promises to be a major success. I look forward to attending.

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