GENEVA, capital of Geneva canton, Switzerland. Jews apparently first settled there after their expulsion from France by *Philip in 1182, receiving protection from the local bishop. The first mention of a Jew in an official document dates from the end of the 13th century. At first Jews were not authorized to settle in Geneva itself but only in the vicinity. They engaged in moneylending and moneychanging as well as in commerce on a partnership basis with Christian merchants. There were also some physicians among them. Jews having to pass through Geneva on business paid a poll tax of four denarii (pregnant women paid a double tax). In 1348, at the time of the *Black Death, the Jews were accused of having poisoned the wells and many were put to death. From the early 15th century, the merchants and the municipal council restricted the Jewish activities, and from 1428 Jewish residence was confined to a separate quarter (near the present Rue des Granges). The relations between the Jews and the Christian merchants were strained and the Jewish quarter was frequently attacked by the populace. The most serious attack occurred at Easter 1461. The duke's representatives admonished the city authorities but the situation of the Jews continued to deteriorate. In 1488, Jewish physicians were forbidden to practice there and in 1490 the Jews were expelled from the city. Subsequently no Jews lived in Geneva for 300 years. A proposal to allow a group from Germany to settle if they undertook to pay a high tax and perform military service obligations was rejected by the municipal council in 1582. In 1780 Jewish residence was permitted in the nearby town of Carouge, which was then under the jurisdiction of the dukes of Savoy. After the French Revolution, Geneva was annexed by France and remained under French rule until 1814. During this period, the Jews enjoyed equal rights of citizenship. However, in 1815 Geneva became a canton within the Swiss confederation, and subsequently their position deteriorated. The acquisition of real estate by Jews throughout the territory of the canton was now prohibited. The Jews in Geneva were not granted civic rights until 1841, and freedom of religious worship until 1843. The Jewish community was recognized as a private corporation in 1853 and a synagogue was inaugurated in 1859. The first rabbi of Geneva was Joseph Wertheimer (1859–1908), who also lectured at the University of Geneva. At the turn of the century, Geneva University attracted many Jewish students from Russia. Chaim *Weizmann lectured there in organic chemistry in 1900–04. As early as 1925 there existed a Sephardi fraternal group which in 1965 merged with the Communauté Israelite.

[Zvi Avneri]

Modern Period

As the seat of the *League of Nations, Geneva was also the seat of the Comité pour la Protection des Droits des Minorités Juives, headed by Leo *Motzkin, and of the Agence Permanente de l'Organisation Sioniste auprès de la Société des Nations, represented by Victor *Jacobson and, after his death, by Nahum *Goldmann. The *World Jewish Congress was founded in Geneva in 1936, and the last Zionist Congress before World War II took place there in August 1939. During World War II, the city served as an important center for information about the fate of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. After the war, although the headquarters of the United Nations were established in New York, Geneva preserved its international importance as seat of the European office of the United Nations and of many UN and other international agencies. Consequently, many Jewish organizations, including the *Jewish Agency, the World Jewish Congress, the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and *ORT, established their European headquarters there. The government of Israel maintains a permanent delegation to the European office of the United Nations, headed by an ambassador. The Jewish community of Geneva numbered 2,245 in 1945, and 3,000 in 2004; 4,356 persons declared themselves to be Jewish in 2000. After World War II a number of East European Jews settled in Geneva, and later Jews from North Africa and the Middle East also settled there. The community, which consists of separate Ashkenazi and Sephardi congregations, has two synagogues (the Sephardi Hekhal ha-Ness was built in 1972), a mikveh, and a community center (Bâtiment de la Communauté, opened in 1951) with a library. From 1948 Alexandre *Safran, former chief rabbi of Romania, served as chief rabbi of the Geneva Jewish community. After 1980 a Jewish day school was founded. In 1970 a liberal community came into being, "Groupe Israelite Liberal" (= GIL) which in 2005 has some 1,000 members. There is also a Chabad group and Machsike ha-Dass, a version of Hungarian Orthodoxy.

In Geneva there is a strict separation between religion and state following the French model of 1905. Even confessional cemeteries are forbidden, so that the Jewish community erected a new one on French soil, the mere entrance being on the territory of Geneva. The university has a small Centre des Ètudes Juives. There is a private lecturership for Jewish philosophy, first filled by A. Safran and then by his daughter, Esther Starobinsky-Safran.

[Chaim Yahil /

Uri Kaufmann (2nd ed.)]

Hebrew Printing

From the 16th to the 19th centuries, non-Jewish printers issued a considerable number of Hebrew books in Geneva, mostly Bibles or individual books of the Bible with the Greek or Latin versions, or Hebrew grammars, primers, and dictionaries using Hebrew type. Thus Robert Estienne printed a Hebrew Bible with Latin translation in 1556, and a year later a Hebrew-Chaldee-Greek lexicon. Calvin's commentaries on Daniel (1561) and Psalms (1564) were printed in Geneva with the Hebrew text. J.H. Otho's Lexicon rabbinico-philologicum… of 1675 included the Mishnah tractate Shekalim in the original with a Latin translation. The 18-volume duodecimo edition of the Hebrew Bible (1617–20) is usually ascribed to Geneva, and so is the volume of Proverbs, with interlinear Latin translation of 1616 by the same printer (אילן כאפא). The possibility that the Hebrew transcription גנווא should be read as Genoa cannot be excluded.


E. Ginsburger, in: REJ, 75 (1922), 119–39; 76 (1923), 7–36, 146–70; A. Nordmann, Histoire des Juifs à Genève de 1281 à 1780 (1925); J. Jéhouda, L'histoire de la colonie juive de Genève, 1843–1943 (1944); A. Weldler-Steinberg, Geschichte der Juden in der Schweiz (1966), index, S.V. Genf; K.J. Luethi, Hebraeisch in der Schweiz (1926), 35ff; L. Mysysowicz, "Université et révolution. Les étudiants d'Europa Orientale à Genève en temps de Plékhanov et Lénine," in: Schweizer Zeitschrift fuer Geschichte (1975), 514–62; idem, "Les étudiants 'orientaux' en médecine à Genève," in: Gesnerus, 34 (1977), 207–12; D. Neumann, Studentinnen aus dem Russischen Reich in der Schweiz (1867–1914) (1987); L. Leitenberg, La population juive de Carouge 1870–1843 (1992); idem, "Evolution et perspectives des communautés en Suisse romande," in: Schweiz. Isr. Gemeindebund (ed.), Jüd. Lebenswelt Schweiz (2004); 100 Jahre Schweiz. Isr. Gemeindebund, 153–66, 464–66.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.