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Belgium

BELGIUM, West European kingdom.

The Medieval Community

Jews first appeared in the southern Netherlands during the early 13th century, although the exact date of their settlement there cannot be ascertained. They arrived from the east, most probably from the large Rhenish communities, and did not migrate further south than *Brussels and Mechlin (*Ma-lines). Most of the immigrants settled along, or within proximity of, the Cologne-Bruges axis. Jews are mentioned in Jodoigne (in Brabant province) in about 1200; in Louvain, where a small community lived precariously, in about 1220; in Tirlemont in about 1230; and in Brussels shortly before 1260. In his will (1261) Duke Henry III ordered that "all Jews and usurers be expelled from the province of Brabant. They are to be totally extirpated until not even one remains, unless they undertake to engage in commerce after the fashion of other merchants and agree to cease their practice of moneylending and usury." Apparently their expulsion was not implemented. When consulted, Thomas *Aquinas recommended that the Jews should be taxed moderately, so as not to deprive them of the necessary means to lead a decent existence. He added that it was preferable to compel them to earn their livelihood by manual labor rather than become wealthy by the practice of usury. The fact remains that they were not disturbed in any of their occupations. The organization of a crusade in 1309 brought this comparative tranquillity to an end. After the massacre of Jews in Louvain who had refused baptism, Duke John II took the survivors under his protection. Jews later returned to Louvain, and in 1311 had their own rabbi. The number of Jews throughout Brabant during this period was not large.

As a result of the expulsion from France in 1306, a number of exiles found refuge in the province of Hainaut. They were scattered in about ten localities, the community in Mons being the most important. In 1326, a converted Jew was put to death in Cambron, on a charge of stabbing an image of the Virgin. In 1337, the count of Hainaut renewed his protection of the Jews. A census on this occasion showed 18 Jewish families, comprising 35 adults. They subsequently scattered in other cities

The Jewish communities of Belgium. The Jewish communities of Belgium.

in Hainaut, but their numbers remained small. The *Black Death (1348–49) calamitously disrupted the existence of these communities. Accused of having introduced the plague by poisoning the wells, the Jews were either massacred by the populace or executed by the authorities. Almost all the Jews in Brabant were put to death. In Brussels the community ceased to exist. The massacre may have spread to *Antwerp, and few communities in Hainaut remained unscathed.

Thus the Jews disappeared almost completely from Hainaut. In Brabant, however, tiny communities were reestablished. There were seven families living in Brussels in 1368 and two in Louvain. In 1370 the Jews in Brussels and Louvain were accused of desecrating the Host, and after confessions extracted by torture a number were burned at the stake. The Jews thus disappeared also from Brabant. The role and number of the Jews in medieval Belgium were unimportant. Mainly petty moneylenders, their restricted numbers prevented them from wielding any influence in the economic life of the country. They were generally regarded as foreigners and as such exposed to violent hostility.

The Resettlement Period

It is only in the early 16th century that Jews again appeared in the southern Netherlands. At that time, Portuguese merchants made their way to the north, attracted by the economic development of the Netherlands, first to Bruges and then to Antwerp. Possibly the majority of them were *Marranos whose presence was sanctioned by a safe-conduct accorded to the New Christians in 1526. The newcomers consolidated their presence in Antwerp, notwithstanding a number of inconsistent measures concerning them. For a number of them, such as the future Duke of Naxos, Joseph *Nasi, or the physician *Amatus Lusitanus, Antwerp was only a place of transit en route to the hospitable Turkish haven. The Marrano population of Antwerp gradually increased with the intensification of their persecution in Portugal. However, with the establishment of an open Jewish community in *Amsterdam, the main tide of Marrano settlement was diverted to that place and to Holland generally. On the other hand, the Dutch Jews now not infrequently visited Brussels or Antwerp, sometimes for prolonged periods, without suffering serious inconvenience. When Antwerp came under Austrian rule in 1713, the community was at last able to profess Judaism more openly. With the occupation of the Netherlands by the French revolutionary armies in 1794, Jews were able to settle freely in Brussels and Antwerp. From the early 18th century, there was also a slight immigration of Ashkenazi Jews to Belgium. The authorities took care to limit their numbers by the imposition of special taxes which aroused vehement protests by the Dutch Jews, who rejected this attempt at discrimination.

Under French domination, Belgian Jewry, which then numbered some 800 persons, was incorporated into the *Consistory of Krefeld; the administrative framework disappeared with the downfall of Napoleon's empire. The principal communities in Belgium at the time were in Antwerp, Brussels, Herentals, Liège, and Mons. From 1831, once Belgian independence was achieved, the Jewish religion received official recognition, religious freedom being an integral part of the constitution guaranteed by the Concert of Europe. However, the synagogue councils were not officially recognized until 1870. The organization of Belgian Jewry remained strongly influenced by the Napoleonic prototype. Centralized in Brussels, it was administered by the Consistoire Central Israélite de Belgique.

Throughout the 19th century, Belgian Judaism developed on the French pattern. At the end of the century, however, as a result of the influx of immigration from Central and Eastern Europe, Belgian Jewry underwent a process of bipolarization which has lasted to the present day. Brussels was the center of French influences while in the Antwerp community Yiddish influences, and accessorily Flemish, were equally strong; occasionally conflicts arose between the two. In 1900, Antwerp numbered some 8,000 Jews, the greater part intending emigrants en route to the United States. The sudden impetus given to the diamond industry by the discovery of mines in South Africa opened numerous possibilities of employment in Antwerp. After an interruption during World War I, when part of the Jewish population migrated to Holland, the Jewish community again began to grow. Massive immigration to Antwerp, as well as the local particularism, rapidly resulted in a marked difference in character between Antwerp Jewry and the main body in Belgium, not only from the economic aspect, but also from the aspect of Antwerp Jewry's anxiety to retain the traditional forms of Jewish life. The Antwerp community resisted assimilation with more success than neighboring Brussels. This was also due to the care taken to ensure that almost every child should attend a Jewish school. The Jewish community of Antwerp remained faithful to its East European origins and was rightly considered as a bulwark of European Judaism. The Brussels community, as well as the smaller communities, had also benefited from a strong numerical contribution from Eastern Europe, but this had little effect on its structure or character. The Belgian government's restrictive naturalization policies encouraged the continued cohesion of the Antwerp community, whose members represented some 75% of the local manpower employed in the diamond industry and commerce.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

E. Ouverleaux, Notes et documents sur les Juifs de Belgique sous l'ancien régime (1885); S. Ullmann, Studien zur Geschichte der Juden in Belgien bis zum XVIII. Jahrhundert (1909); idem, Histoire des Juifs en Belgique jusqu'au 19e siècle (1934); E. Ginsburger, Les Juifs en Belgique au XVIIIe siècle (1932); J. Stengers, Les Juifs dans les Pays-Bas au moyen âge (1950); E. Schmidt, Geschiedenis van de Joden in Antwerpen (1963). HOLOCAUST PERIOD: R. Hilberg, Destruction of the European Jews (1961), 382–9; C. Reitlinger, Final Solution (19682), 398–408; Belgium, Commission d'enquête sur la violation des règles du droit des gens…, Les crimes de guerre commis sous l'occupation de la Belgique 19401945: la persécution antisémitique (1947); Gutfreund, in: Yalkut Moreshet, 2 no. 4 (1965), 43–55; Liebman, in: Centrale (Bruxelles, March 1964); B. Garfinkels, Les Belges face à la persécution raciale 19401944 (1965); Steinberg, in: Regards, nos. 29 and 30 (Aug.–Oct. 1968); E. Schmidt, Geschiedenis van de Joden in Antwerpen (1963). CONTEMPORARY JEWRY: Centre National des Hautes Études Juives, La vie juive dans l'Europe contemporaine (1965), with Eng. summ.; J. Gutwirth, in: JJSO, 10:1 (1968), 121–37; idem, in: Les Nouveaux Cahiers, no. 7 (1966), 56–63; C. Lehrer, in: L'Arche, no. 62 (1962); S. Brachfeld, Het Joods Onderwijs in België (1966); A. Tartakower, Shivtei Yisrael, 2 (1966), 225–37. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: AJYB (2003).