MONTPELLIER, capital of the Hérault department, southern France. The first direct evidence of the presence of Jews in the city is found in the will of Guilhem V, Lord of Montpellier, who forbade the investiture of a Jew as a bailiff. The Jewish traveler *Benjamin of Tudela, visited Montepellier in about 1165. Though he does not mention any figure for the Jewish population of the city, its importance can be deduced from the fact that he mentions the existence of several yeshivot. Until at least the end of the 12th century, the Jews of Montpellier appear to have been particularly active in commerce; they are explicitly mentioned in the trade agreement between Montpellier and *Agde; and they appear in the tariff of taxes due from the merchants of Montpellier in *Narbonne. Until the end of the 12th century, they do not appear to have practiced moneylending. In times of war, particularly when the town was besieged, the Jews helped in its defense by supplying weapons. (An agreement written at the beginning of the 13th century, for example, speaks of Jews providing 20,000 arrows.) From the middle of the 13th century, moneylending was regulated by the ordinances of James I, king of *Majorca, who also ruled over the duchy of Montpellier together with the bishop of Maguelonne. Before any contract could be drawn up, the Jewish lender was called upon to swear that it involved neither fraud nor usury. In addition, the consuls of the town prohibited loans to people under the age of 25 without the consent of their parents. James I's legislation concerning the Jews promulgated in 1267 was fairly favorable. Especially noteworthy was the clause prohibiting their prosecution on the basis of an anonymous denunciation. Those who accused or denounced Jews were to provide two guarantors and were threatened with being condemned themselves if they could not prove their accusation. Bail was to be granted to the accused Jew if he could provide a satisfactory guarantee.
During the 13th century, a Jewish quarter existed on the present site of the Rue Barralerie (until the 15th century it was named Sabatariè Neuve); in the first house on this street there are still some remains of the synagogue, and of the mikveh in the cellar. Although James I gave the old Jewish cemetery to the Cistercians of Valemagne in 1263, the latter were required to refund the cost of the exhumation and the transfer of the remains to the new cemetery. When the Jews were expelled from France in 1306, the king of Majorca opposed the measure. After considerable delay, the expulsion finally took place. It was little comfort to the Jews that the king of France was required to give to the king of Majorca two-thirds of the booty seized from "his Jews" and one-third of that taken from the other Jews of Montpellier.
In 1315, when the Jews were allowed to return to France, the Jews of Montpellier, like those elsewhere, were again placed under the authority of their former lords. In 1319 Sancho I, king of Majorca, permitted them to acquire a cemetery. It is not known in which quarter the Jews lived during this short stay, which lasted until 1322 (or 1323). In 1349 James III of Majorca sold his seigneury over Montpellier to Phillip VI of France. As a result, when the Jews resettled in the city in 1359 they found themselves under the direct sovereignty of the king of France, Charles V. Originally assigned to the Castelmoton quarter, they were forced to move to the Rue de la Vielle Intendance quarter after complaints from the Christian inhabitants. In their new settlement, they owned a synagogue and a school (after 1365). The Jews of Montpellier had to provide large financial contributions to the defense of the town, particularly in 1362 and 1363. In 1374 they were also obliged to participate in guarding the gates. The construction of a beautiful new synagogue in 1387 gave rise to a lawsuit with the bishop of Maguelonne, to whom the Jews paid the then enormous sum of 400 livres. In Montpellier the final expulsion of the Jews from France in 1394 was preceded by violent accusations against them in the municipal council.
Even though the town had numerous Jewish physicians – who were subjected to a probative examination from 1272 – there is no valid evidence that the Jews had a part in founding and organizing the school of medicine there. Excluding those scholars who only lived temporarily in Montpellier, such as *Abraham b. David of Posquières, the foremost scholar in the town was *Solomon b. Abraham b. Samuel, who denounced the work of Moses Maimonides to the Inquisition. One of his leading followers was *Jonah b. Abraham Gerondi, who died in Toledo, Spain. The liturgical poet *Aryeh Judah Harari lived in Montpellier during the second half of the 13th century, as did *Aaron b. Joseph ha-Levi, the opponent of Solomon b. Abraham *Adret; and Isaac b. Jacob ha-Kohen *Alfasi. From 1303 to 1306 Montpellier was again the scene of a renewed polemic between the supporters and opponents of the study of philosophy. The latter were led by Jacob b. Machir ibn *Tibbon. In the later medieval community of Montpellier, the physician and philosopher Abraham *Avigdor was particularly distinguished.
In the middle of the 16th century, the presence in Montpellier of *Conversos, who chiefly lived among the Protestant population, is vouched for by a Swiss traveler, a student named Platter. From the beginning of the 16th century, Jews from *Comtat Venaissin traded in the town. In 1653 the attorney general of the parliament of Toulouse directed the town magistrates to expel them. Similar orders were issued in 1679 and 1680. A special register was opened at the town record office for the Jews who entered Montpellier as a result of a general authorization granted from the end of the 17th century enabling them to trade for one month during each season. From 1714 nine Jews were allowed to settle in the town; others followed with the tacit consent of the magistrates in spite of complaints by the Christian merchants. In 1805, the Jewish community consisted of 105 persons and was headed by R. Moïse Milhau, who represented the department of Vaucluse at the great *Sanhedrin. Thirteen local Jews served in the armies of the revolution and of the empire, five as volunteers. The historian and physician Joseph *Salvador was born in Montpellier of an old Spanish-Jewish family that had fled the Inquisition. At the beginning of the 20th century there were about 35 Jewish families in Montpellier.
Holocaust and Contemporary Periods
After the 1940 armistice, Montpellier, which was in the "free" zone, became a center for Jewish refugees from the occupied part of France. After the North was occupied by the Germans in November 1942, Montpellier became an important transit stop for Jewish partisans. After the liberation, the community was reorganized and by 1960 had 600 members. The arrival of Jews from North Africa increased the number to 2,000 in 1969, and led to the construction of a communal center and a Sephardi synagogue with 300 seats. There were two kosher butchers and a Talmud Torah.
Gross, Gal Jud, 322–35; C. d'Aigrefeuille, Histoire de la ville de Montpellier, 2 (18752), 348ff.; A. Germain, Histoire du Commerce de Montpellier, 2 vols. (1861), index S.V. Juifs, S. Kahn, in: REJ, 19 (1889), 259–81; 22 (1891), 264–79; 23 (1891), 265–78; 28 (1894), 118–41; 33 (1896), 283–303; G. Saige, Les Juifs du Languedoc (1881), index; L.H. Escuret, Vieilles rues de Montpellier, 2 (1964), 23ff., 28–34; Z. Szajkowski, Franco-Judaica (1962), index.
[Bernhard Blumenkranz and
David Weinberg (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.