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Basle (Basel), Switzerland

Basle (Basel, Bâle) is a Swiss city. The earliest information on a Jewish community dates from the beginning of the 13th century when Basle was still a German free city. The medieval Jewish cemetery was discovered in recent years and the remains were transferred in 1938 to the present Jewish cemetery.

In the Middle Ages the Basle Jews were free to acquire and sell real estate. They engaged in commerce and money-lending, sometimes providing loans to the bishops of Basle. Juridically they were under imperial protection: according to a roster of 1242 the Jews of Basle had to pay the crown an annual tax of 40 marks. During the Black Death they were accused of poisoning the wells; the members of the city council attempted to defend them, but finally yielded to the guilds who demonstrated before the town hall. Six hundred Jews, with the rabbi at their head, were burned at the stake; 140 children were forcibly baptized. This ended the first Jewish community in Basle (Jan. 16, 1349).

In 1362 a Jew from Colmar in Alsace was permitted to settle in Basle; he was soon followed by others. In 1365 the emperor transferred his prerogatives over the Jews of Basle to the town. The second half of the 14th century was a period of prosperous growth despite restrictions imposed by the Church. However, in 1397, the slander of well poisoning was renewed. The Jews fled in panic and the community again came to an end. In 1434 a church council held in Basle introduced compulsory attendance of Jews at conversionist sermons.

For four centuries there was no Jewish community in Basle. From the mid-16th century Basle authorities alternately issued residence permits to individuals and expulsion edicts. At the end of that century Basle became a center for Hebrew printing. The printing houses were owned by Christians, but they had to have recourse to Jewish proofreaders for whom they obtained residence permits. Johannes Froben published the Psalms in 1516. His son Jerome in 1536 published a Bible in Hebrew. In 1578–80 Ambrosius Froben was permitted to print a duly censored edition of the Talmud, which had been banned under Pope Julius III in 1553 and placed on the Index in 1559. Also printed there were the works of Johannes Buxtorf (father and son) who taught Hebrew at Basle University (1591–1664). From the 1560s Jews lived in rural communities in nearby Alsace.

In 1789, when anti-Jewish propaganda was rife in Alsace, many Alsatian Jews fled to Basle and were permitted to stay there temporarily. On the request of the French government the city authorities in 1797 exempted French Jews entering Basle from payment of the body-tax usually imposed on Jews and, in 1798, the tax was abolished completely in the whole of Switzerland. Under Napoleon several Jews, mainly French citizens from Alsace, settled in Basle. They numbered 128 in 1805 and were organized in a community. In 1835, however, Jews were expelled from the new separatist canton of Basle Land and the French government broke off relations. Some of the Jews returned after a brief interval, but in 1851–54 were again forced to leave both cantons of Basle.

After the granting of free settlement to the Jews of Switzerland in 1866 Jews were able to return and live in Basle. A synagogue was consecrated in 1868. The first Zionist Congress was held in Basle in 1897 where the "*Basle Program" was adopted; other Zionist Congresses were subsequently held there: the second (1898), the third (1899), the fifth (1901), the sixth (1903), the seventh (1905), the 17th (1931), and the 22nd (1946). Prominent members of the Basle community were J. Dreyfus-Brodsky, representative of Swiss Jewry in the Jewish Agency (1859–1942), Rabbi Arthur Cohn, a leader of Agudat Israel, and his son, the lawyer Marcus Mordecai Cohn (1890–1953), an active Zionist and rabbinical scholar, who later became adviser on Jewish law to the Ministry of Justice in Israel. Other prominent Basle Jews were the chemist Markus Guggenheim (1885–1970) and Tadeus Reichstein (1897–1996), who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1950.

During World War II Basle served as a temporary refuge for many Jewish refugees. Most of them left after the war.

In 2000, there were 1,421 Jews in Basle City and 318 in Basle Land The community maintained a community house from 1958 and an oldage home (Holbeinhof) from 2001, relocated in the city. A Jewish school was opened in 1961 and named after Rabbi Leo Adler. The Orthodox community (founded in 1927), with a membership of approximately 90 families, had its own network of services (e.g., a separate primary school and a small Jewish high school preparing students for yeshivah attendance). The Union of Jewish Women in Switzerland is centered in Basle and there are also WIZO and other Zionist organizations. Two youth movement are active in Basle, the unaffiliated Emuna and Bnei Akiva.

From 1960 a small but excellent Jewish museum was open and from 1940 the weekly Juedische Rundschau Maccabi was published, later merging with the new Swiss Jewish weekly Tachles. In 1973 the community was formally recognized by the canton of Basle City, the first such case in Switzerland. Consequently, women received voting rights in 1975. An international congress honored the 100th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress in Basle (1997).

A kosher butcher shop in Basel was vandalized four times in October 2018 in what local Jews called an anti-Semitic campaign of intimidation.


A. Weldler-Steinberg, Geschichte der Juden in der Schweiz (1966), passim; A. Wolf, Juden in Basel: 15431872 (1909); M. Ginsburger, in: REJ, 87 (1929), 209–11; idem, in: Basler Zeitschrift fuer Geschichte und Altertumskunde, 8 (1909); A. Nordmann, ibid., 13 (1913); idem, in: Basler Jahrbuch (1914, 1929); Jahresberichte der Israeli-tischen Gemeinde Basel (1938–1953), Th. Nordemann, Zur Geschichte der Juden in Basel (1955). ADD BIBLIOGRAPHY: N. Guth-Biasini, Synagoge und Juden in Basel (1988), H. Haumann, Juden in Basel und Umgebung (1999), H. Haumann, Der Erste Zionistenkongress von 1897 (1997); idem, Acht Jahrhunderte Juden in Basel (2005); Israelitische Religionsgesellschaft Basel. Festschrift zum fuenfundsiebzigjaehrigen Jubiläum. 56885763 / 19282003 (2004); P. Kury, Man akzeptierte uns nicht, man tolerierte uns! Ostjudenmigration nach Basel (1998); E. Lang: Aus den ersten fuenfzig Jahren. 56885738. 19271977. Israeli-tische Religionsgesellschaft Basel (1977); A. Nolte, Juedische Gemeinden in Baden und Basel (2002); PRINTING: K. J. Luethi, Hebraeisch in der Schweiz (1926), 4ff., 21ff.; R.N.N. Rabinowitz, Ma'amar al Hadpasat ha-Talmud (1952), 75ff., 121; J. Prijs, Die Basler hebraeischen Drucke (15161828) (1952); idem, Der Basler Talmuddruck (157880) (1960); A.M. Habermann, Ha-Sefer ha-Ivri be-Hitpatteḥuto (1968), index; B. Friedberg, Ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Eiropah (1937).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
“Swiss kosher butcher shop vandalized 4 times in one month,” JTA, (October 24, 2018).