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Bern, Switzerland

Bern is the capital of Switzerland. Jews in Bern, engaged in moneylending, are first mentioned in a document of 1262 or 1263. In 1293 or 1294, several Jews were put to death there in consequence of a blood libel , and the remainder expelled from the city. However, an agreement was made with the citizenry through the intervention of Adolf of Nassau permitting the Jews to return, against a payment of 1,500 marks and a moratorium on debts owed to them.

During the Black Death (1348) the Jews in Bern were accused of poisoning the wells, and a number were burnt at the stake. The Jews were expelled from Bern in 1392 after Christians were permitted to engage in moneylending (1384).

Although between 1408 and 1427 Jews were again residing in the city, the only Jews to appear in Bern subsequently were transients, chiefly physicians and cattle dealers. After the occupation of Switzerland by the French revolutionary armies and the foundation of the Helvetian Republic in 1798, Jews from Alsace and elsewhere settled in Bern. They required a special license to engage in commerce and were obliged to keep accounts in German or French instead of their customary Alsatian Judeo-German. These restrictions were removed in 1846.

An organized Jewish community was officially established in 1848: a synagogue was consecrated in 1855, and a cemetery in 1871. In 1906, a beautiful Moorish-style synagogue was built, which was still in use at the beginning of the 21st century. For some 30 years, there was a separate East European Jewish community.

Bern University was one of the first German-speaking universities (1836) to allow Jewish lecturers without requiring a change of professed faith, and many Jews subsequently held academic positions there. The university was attended by numerous students from Russia and Hungary before World War I, including Chaim Weizmann. The first Jewish woman lecturer in Switzerland, Anna Tumarkin, was active at Bern University.

The famous trial in which evidence was brought that the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion was a forgery was held in Bern in the 1930s.

In the 1990s, the Jewish communities of Bern and Biel were jointly granted state recognition.

In 2000, there were 807 Jews in the canton of Bern.


M. Kayserling, in: MGWJ, 13 (1864), 46–51; Tobler, in: Archiv des historischen Vereins des Kantons Bern, 12 (1889), 336–67; Festschrift zur Jahrhundertfeier der juedischen Gemeinde zu Bern (1948), ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: E. Dreifuss, Juden in Bern. Ein Gang durch die Jahrhunderte (1983).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.