AVIGNON (sometimes called in Hebrew Ir ha-gefanim "city of grapes"; gefen = vigne, i.e., vine), capital of the department of Vaucluse, southeastern France, formerly part of
. Avignon was the residence of the popes for some years after 1309. In 1348 Joanna, countess of Provence, sold the city to Pope Clement VI and it belonged to the French states of the Holy See until the French Revolution. In consequence the Jews were permitted to remain there and in the adjacent area of the
even when they were excluded from the rest of France. According to legend the Jews took part in a revolt against Bishop Stephen of Avignon in 390. The first archaeological evidence of their presence there dates from the fourth century and is given by a stamp with the five-branched menorah and the inscription: Avin (ionnensis); the first written evidence dates from 1178 when Emperor Frederick I entrusted the protection of the Jews of Avignon to Bishop Pons. The Jewish quarter was at first situated at the present Vieille Juiverie street. About 1221 it was transferred to the neighborhood of the Church of St. Peter. Its location is marked by Rue Jacob and the former Place Jérusalem (today Place Victor-Basch). The old synagogue which stood on this site was destroyed by fire in 1845 and replaced on the same spot by the existing circular synagogue in the Roman manner. Near the synagogue, or escole, there was also a wedding hall, a butchery, and the oven for baking unleavened bread. The Jewish quarter, or carrière des Juifs, was surrounded by walls and closed by three gates. The Jews of Avignon were obliged to pay a tax to the collegiate chapter of St. Peter's (Arch. départ. G IX. 10). Although covering an area of approximately 100 yards by 100 yards, the quarter nevertheless housed over 1000 persons in 1358. One of the cemeteries was located on the site formerly called La Pignotte.
The statutes of the city of Avignon of 1243 mention the Communitas Iudeorum several times. It was specifically laid down (art. 84) that animals killed according to Jewish ritual were not to be sold outside the carrière. Jewish commerce flourished during the period of papal residence in Avignon, supplying the papal court with victuals, bed and table linen, horses, perfumes, coral and pearls for rosary beads, parchment, and other commodities. The tailor of Gregory XI was a Jew, as was the papal bookbinder. The less wealthy Jews generally engaged in brokerage. In 1374, 87 of 94 textile dealers and 41 of 62 timber merchants were Jews. In the 14th century, Jewish moneylending on interest, practically nonexistent in the previous century, gradually developed, although limited in scale. At the time of the
in 1348 a massacre of the Jews was prevented by the energetic intervention of Pope
VI and the city councilors; nevertheless two or three Jews were burned by the populace. After the popes returned to Rome, the attitude of the populace and the civic authorities became increasingly hostile to the Jews.
The first evidence of ordinances promulgated by the Jewish community dates from 1413. Its administration already comprised baylons, or delegates, and a council. The first extant ordinances date from 1452. They include a detailed tariff of dues of the charity fund, or hekdesh. The 1558 ordinances show the financial organization: community members were divided into three categories, or mains ("hands"), according to financial status. The "manifest," or tax declaration, was based on property, not on income. The officials and administrators of the community were members of the council which included the various baylons, notably those in charge of the manifest, charity, the sick, study, etc., and the secretary, cantor, preacher, translator of services into the vernacular for women, and beadle. The police regulations of the city of Avignon of 1458 prohibited Jews from keeping their shops open or transacting business on Christian holy days, and from accepting as pledges church ornaments or Christian religious objects. Restrictions were imposed on Jewish trade in textiles and clothing. A bull of Pope Sixtus IV (Aug. 1, 1479), relatively favorable to the Jews, was annulled at the beginning of 1480 after opposition from the city council and guilds of Avignon. During the anti-Jewish disturbances at
in 1484, the town council of Avignon took security measures. These precautions prevented more violent outbursts when students and artisans attacked the Jews in Avignon in May of the following year. In 1486, after refugees from anti-Jewish violence in other towns of Provence had begun to arrive in Avignon, the municipal councilors demanded their expulsion. In 1493 they again asked for measures to be taken against the influx of Jews from other parts. It was then that Jews expelled from Spain also began to take refuge there.
From the end of the 15th century, the Jewish community of Avignon undertook to pay annuities or allowances to wealthy Christian families against the deposit of capital sums
of various sizes ranging from 40 to 500 florins. This was probably not only a way of coping with temporary financial difficulties, but also of interesting influential citizens of Avignon in maintaining the Jewish right of residence. The policy bore fruit in 1500 when Pope
VI imposed a tax of 1/20 of Jewish property; the inhabitants of Avignon managed to enlist the opposition of the pontifical governor to this levy until a formal order from Rome confirmed it. Such an exceptional levy was in addition to the regular dues and taxes required from Jewish residents beside their share of the general charges. In 1510 the archbishop and papal legate in Avignon granted the Jewish community a comparatively favorable constitution. This confirmed that the baylons could not be arrested for debt during their period of office, modified the former regulations which imposed the wearing of the
, and obliged the Jews to attend only one compulsory missionary sermon a year. From the 17th century the main occupations of Avignon Jewry were dealing in second hand goods, horses and mules, and peddling. From the beginning of the 18th century many left Avignon and emigrated to Paris, Bordeaux, and Bayonne.
In September 1791 Avignon ceased to be a papal possession (together with the adjacent Comtat-Venaissin) and was united with France. The Jews of Avignon were granted full civil rights in June 1791. The egalitarian aspirations of the new regime were not without influence on the inner structure of the Jewish community. In October 1790 the rabbi Elie Vitte Spire maintained in a sermon that in conformity with the new principles the syndics should no longer be elected to represent the existing groups of taxpayers. This marked the end of the old system of minority control. Following the Napoleonic decree of 1808 on the organization of the Jewish
, the community was included in the regional consistory of Marseilles. However the cultural level of the Jews seems to have suffered from these changes, and, from 1789, to have reflected the activities of single individuals rather than a communal entity. The number of Jews in Avignon dwindled to 149 (54 families) in 1892 and thereafter communal life almost ceased until somewhat revived by North African immigration.
Avignon Jewry had its own rite of prayers, similar to, though not identical with, that which was followed in
and the other two "Holy Communities" of the Comtat-Venaissin: the volumes for the New Year, Day of Atonement, and Penitential Prayers only were published (Amsterdam, 1765, 1766, 1763). In addition, the daily prayers (Seder ha-Tamid) were published for all four communities (2 vols., Avignon, 1767) along with occasional prayers and hymns (Seder ha-Kunteres; Avignon, 1765). Many manuscripts of the ritual according to the Avignon rite are extant in various libraries. For the specific nature of the rite see
. Avignon Jewry shared also the peculiar Hebrew pronunciation, Judeo-Provençal patois, synagogue architecture, and folklore common to the other communities of the region.
A local Purim was observed at Avignon on the 8th of Shevat to celebrate a providential escape of the community in 1757.
Notable among the many Jewish scholars and writers born or living in Avignon were Mordecai b. Joseph, Joseph Samuel b. Abraham b. Joseph b. Abraham Baruch b. Neriah,
*Kalonymus b. Kalonymus
*Levi b. Gershom
*Jacob b. Ḥayyim
, Israel b. Joseph ha-Levi (Crescas Caslari), Judah b. Solomon Nathan (Maestro Bonjudas Nathan), Abraham b. Mordecai Farissol, and
. The first Hebrew printing venture was attempted at Avignon in 1446 when the Jew Davin de Caderousse acquired Hebrew characters from the Prague engraver Procop Waldfoghel against an obligation to teach him the craft of cloth dyeing. Davin's failure to do so involved him in a lawsuit, and he had to return the type. The early prayer books of Avignon were, however, printed in Holland, and a Hebrew press did not function in Avignon until 1765 when the Seder ha-Kunteres was published. The Jewish religious periodicals La Loi Divine and La Famille de Jacob were published there in the second half of the 19th century.
During World War II, many Jewish refugees, especially from Alsace, settled in Avignon. According to a census of June 1941, 300 Jews were living there. But on April 17, 1943, several Jewish families were arrested and deported.