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Virtual Jewish World:
Arles, France


Virtual Jewish World: Table of Contents | Europe | France


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Arles is a town in France, approximately 30 miles south of Avignon. According to a Jewish legend, one of three rudderless ships bearing Jewish exiles arrived in Arles after the destruction of the Second Temple. It is said that Jews sang psalms at the funeral of Hilary, bishop of Arles, in 449. The first documented reference to Jews in the town (508) relates that defense of part of the wall was entrusted to them during a siege.

In 591 Archbishop Virgilius of Arles was rebuked by Pope Gregory the Great for wishing to convert the Jews there by force. In 820, "a great number" of Jewish children from Lyons , Chalon-sur-Saone , Mâcon , and Vienne had to take refuge with the Jews of Arles to escape forcible conversion. The Jews of Arles were accused by Agobard , archbishop of Lyons (c. 826–27), of having sold kidnapped Christian children into slavery. Jurisdiction over the Jews in the city was granted by Boso, count of Provence, to the archbishop of Arles in 879; the grant was renewed and ratified in 921, 1147, and 1154. A Hebrew copy of one of these documents, placed at the disposal of Archbishop Raymond (1142–57), mentions the first Jewish cemetery at the Montjuif, in the present Griffeville quarter, for which Jews made an annual payment of 44 sols to the archbishop. Twelfth century and later documents show that the Jews of Arles owned real estate. A record of 1170 shows that the archbishop shared the proceeds of the dues and taxes with a Jew. Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Arles about this time, noted the existence of a community of 200. In 1215 the archbishop issued the Jewish community with its first constitution and delegated its administration to three elected "rectors." Jews were living in both the town and borough; later their main place of residence was on the Rue Neuve, near the church of the Jacobins. The present chapel of the pénitents bleus is said to stand on the site of the 13th-century synagogue.

During the 14th century the community was augmented by exiles from the kingdom of France, as well as through the incorporation into Arles of nearby Trinquetaille, with its considerable Jewish community. For the last quarter of the century the Jews of Arles paid directly to the count annual dues of 200 florins, formerly combined with the levy on the other Provençal communities. They also paid the Arles municipality an annual impost of 60 pounds of pepper. They renewed their association with the union of Jewish communities in Provence by 1420, in that year contributing 600 florins out of a total assessment for Provençal Jewry of 1,740 florins. The community maintained a charitable organization, founded in 1401. A school, founded at the end of the previous century and reorganized in 1407, provided instruction in both Bible and Talmud. At this time the communal administration included three baylons, eight councilors, and three auditors. There was a synagogue, ritual bathhouses, and a market. The cemetery in 1376 was situated at the present intersection of the Rue du Marché-Neuf and the Rue de la Rotonde. In 1434 it was replaced by sites at the Plan du Bourg and the Crau d'Arles. The Jews of Arles were mainly occupied in commerce, especially in brokerage. Their real property included numerous vineyards. More than 5% of the Jews appearing in the records (especially notarial ones) of the first half of the 15th century were doctors (physicus, cirurgicus, medicus). In 1425 a partnership of two Jews for the manufacture of soap is recorded.

Anti-Jewish outbreaks occurred in Arles in 1427, 1436, 1457, 1473, and 1480. The most violent attack took place on April 8, 1484, when bands of farm laborers from Dauphiné, Auvergne, and the Provençal highlands, assisted by citizens of Arles, invaded the Jewish street, looting and partially destroying it. Havoc was caused to the synagogue, already damaged by fire, possibly in 1457; two women were killed in the disorders and some 50 males were compelled to adopt Christianity. Similar disorders recurred in the following year but the municipal officers intervened to protect the Jews more effectively. In 1486 the Arles Jews contributed toward maintaining a police force for such contingencies. In 1493, however, soon after the acquisition of Provence by the French king (1481), the citizenry secured his consent to expel the Jews from Arles. The synagogue was now completely destroyed. The last Jews were expelled in September 1494. Some exiles who attempted to return in 1496 to settle their affairs were immediately expelled; certain Jews chose the alternative of conversion. Christian animosity toward these converts prompted the circulation of a literary forgery in the form of a purported exchange of correspondence between them and the Jews of Constantinople in which the latter advised their brethren in Arles to feign conversion.

Jews who passed through Arles in the 17th century were required to pay a crown impost, administered in 1658 by Levy of Arles, possibly himself a Jew. In 1775 a decree of the parliament of Provence ordered certain Jews who had tried to reestablish themselves in Arles to leave within eight days. In 1773, and again in 1775, trading in Arles was forbidden to Jews by the parliament of Provence. After the French Revolution, some Jews from the Comtat Venaissin settled in Arles. A few Jews were living in Arles in the late 1960s and the Municipal Museum possessed a rich collection of Jewish ritual objects and Jewish documents.

Arles, a center of Jewish scholarship, was also noted for the work of Jewish translators from the Arabic. The first known Jewish scholar of Arles is R. Moses (c. 900). Samuel ibn Tibbon , completed his translation of Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed (1204) there. Other scholars in Arles included Gershon b. Solomon of Arles (beginning of the 13th century); Joseph Kaspi (c. 1317); Kalonymus b. Kalonymus (early 14th century); Kalonymus b. David b. Todros (same period); Todros b. Meshullam of Arles, translated into Hebrew Averroes' "Middle Commentaries" on Aristotle's Rhetoric and Poetics (Sefer ha-Meliẓah) and Sefer ha-Shir; 1337); Isaac Nathan b. Kalonymus (middle 15th century) and Meir, known as Maestro Bendig, (second half of the 15th century).


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

Blumenkranz, Juifs et Chrétiens dans le monde occidental… (1960), 35, 43, 105, 194; idem, Auterus Chrétiens sur les juifs… (1963), 15–16; Fassin, in: Bulletin de la société des amis du vieil Arles, 1 (1903–04), 30–33, 87–90; 6 (1909), 89–97; E. Engelmann, Zur staedtischen Volks-Bewegung in Suedfrankreich… (1959), 47–4, 60, 85–87; C. Arnaud, Essai sur la condition des Juifs en Provence au moyen âge (1879), 14, 19; Crémieux, in: REJ, 44 (1902), 301ff.; Gross, in: MGWJ, 27 (1878), 61ff.; 28 (1879); 29 (1880); 31 (1882); Gross, Gal Jud, 73ff.; Hildenfinger, in: REJ, 41 (1900), 62ff.; 47 (1903), 221ff.; 48 (1904), 48ff., 265ff.; Darmesteter, in: REJ, 1 (1880), 119ff.; Morel-Fatio, in: REJ, 1 (1880), 301ff.; Chotzner, in JQR, 13 (1901), 145–6; Gershon b. Solomon of Arles, Gate of Heaven, ed. and tr. by F.S. Bodenheimer (1953); Z. Szajkowski, Franco-Judaica (1963), 2, 31; Roth, Dark Ages, index.

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