BRUSSELS, capital of
. A Jewish community existed in Brussels by the mid-13th century. Its cultural standard is attested to by the fine illuminated Pentateuch completed there by the scribe Isaac for Ḥayyim, son of the martyr Ḥayyim, in 1310. The Jews of Brussels were massacred during the
(1348–49). A few subsequently resettled, but a further massacre followed an accusation of desecrating the Host (May 1370), and the Jews were officially excluded from Brussels until the end of Spanish rule in Belgium. The memory of the reputed sacrilege was preserved, as the wafers became an object of worship, still commemorated on the third Sunday of July. The episode is depicted in the stained-glass windows of the St. Gudule Cathedral of Brussels. Marranos, however, found their way to Brussels from time to time, such as the Mendes family in the 16th century. In the 17th century several Marranos, including
Daniel Levi (Miguel) de *Barrios
, served in the Spanish army in Brussels. Some of them later settled in Amsterdam where they openly professed Judaism.
After the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Belgium came under Austrian rule and Jews began to settle in Brussels. Decrees of expulsion were issued in 1716 and in 1756, but were averted by gifts to the crown. In 1757 the community of Brussels consisted of 21 men, 19 women, and 26 children, many of whom had moved there from Holland. In 1783 Philip Nathan, who received the right of citizenship of Brussels, asked the authorities to assign a site for a new Jewish cemetery. With the annexation of Belgium in 1794 by France, Jews were able to settle freely in Brussels. At the beginning of the 18th century, the Brussels community recognized the authority of the rabbinate of Metz. The Napoleonic edict of March 17, 1808, included Brussels in the
of Crefeld. When Belgium was united with Holland, Brussels became the head of the 14th religious district of Holland. Belgium became independent in 1830 and the constitution of 1831 accorded religious freedom. Brussels became
the center of the Belgian consistories, and
(1802–1875) was appointed chief rabbi of Belgium in 1832. The community, originally made up primarily of Jews from Holland and Germany, increased through immigration from Poland and Russia and, after 1933, again from Germany. Before World War II, the Brussels community totaled some 30,000, although it remained second in size to Antwerp.
The Nazis occupied Belgium in May 1940. A committee of the Association de Juifs en Belgique (AJB) was created in Brussels. All Jews were subjected to direction from this organization under the pretext of providing social relief for their brethren. The local Jews were sent to the labor camp of Mechlin (Malines) and from there they were sent to the extermination camps in the east.
For details see
: Holocaust Period.
From 1945 until approximately 1950, the Jewish population of Brussels was as large as it had been before World War II (about 27,000), owing to the temporary sojourn of thousands of refugees from Eastern and Central Europe there. After that period, however, immigration to Belgium decreased and an important wave of emigration began to the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, and Israel. The total population was not known precisely, but certain statistical data, such as the average family size (which is 2.6 persons), indicated that it did not substantially exceed 18,000. The age distribution, owing to a low birthrate and an increasing trend of assimilation, points to the fact that the population had become stationary and was on the road to natural diminution. The community's reconstruction after World War II was severely hampered by Belgium's economic instability and the process of rehabilitating war victims. Furthermore, as the majority of Jews were foreigners, it was difficult for them to obtain work permits. In 1946 a monthly average of 4,500 persons required relief or some form of aid from Jewish agencies, while only a few hundred were still in need in 1970. Priority was given to the creation of general institutions for social assistance and public services, such as L'Aide aux Israélites Victimes de la Guerre (now the Service Social Juif), L'Heureux Séjour, an old-age home, and the Caisse de Prêt de Crédit, to cope with the needs of the postwar Jewish community. The important contributions of the
*American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
*Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany
to the institutions largely supported by them for 20 years eventually tapered off. A central fund-raising agency, La Centrale d'Oeuvres Sociales Juives, unifying 15 institutions, was created in 1952.
In 1970 Brussels had two primary Jewish day schools run on different ideological bases: one religious-traditionalist, l'École Israélite, and the other, Ganenou, more specifically Zionist-oriented. The Athénée Maimonide high school was run by the same board as the École Israélite. These three schools were recognized and subsidized by the state. Participation in a Jewish curriculum was also been expanded through other endeavors, such as the creation of Sunday schools, a school of Yiddish language and literature, and a number of Hebrew classes. Three ideologically different communal centers also provided educational and leisure activities. Apart from its four legally recognized religious communities (three Ashkenazi and one Sephardi), Brussels had several groups that organized their own religious services. In 1966 Belgian Jews and American Jews residing in Belgium created L'Union Israélite Libérale de Belgique, which had a Progressive ideology. The Centre National des Hautes Études Juives, created by the Free University of Brussels and subsidized by the state, promotes research and studies on contemporary Jewry and played an active role in the cultural renewal of the community.
The community grew slightly in the ensuing decades and reached a population of around 15,000 in 2002, representing about half the Jewish population of Belgium (with the other half in
). In addition to maintaining its three Jewish schools, the community saw to the religious instruction of those in public schools in voluntary classes taught by Consistoire-appointed rabbis, with around 60% of Jewish public school children in attendance. The community had over a dozen synagogues and a yeshivah operated in the borough of Forest, where Orthodox Jews were concentrated. A Jewish Studies Institute operated within the framework of the Brussels Free University. The Jewish Secular Community Center (Centre Communautaire Laic Juifs) offered lectures, seminars, and Hebrew and Yiddish classes.
[Max Gottschalk /
H. Ouverleau, in: REJ, 7 (1883), 117–38; 8 (1884), 206–34; 9 (1884), 264–89; M. Kayserling, in: REJ, 18 (1889), 276–89; R. Orfinger-Karlin, in: AJYB, 49 (1947), 325–30; JYB (1964), 171; W. Bok, in: Deuxième colloque sur la vie juive dans l'Europe contemporaine (1967); W. Bok and H. Helman, in: Jewish Communal Service (1967), 69–75; M. Flinker, Young Moshe's Diary (1965). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: AJYB (2003).
Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group.
All Rights Reserved.