Lyon is the capital of the Rhône department in East central France. According to a medieval Jewish legend one of the three boats loaded with Jewish captives taken during the siege of Jerusalem docked at Lyon. Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, was exiled to the city by Caligula in 39 C.E. Lyon seems to have had a Jewish population in both the first and the second centuries. Little more is known about Jews in Lyon until the beginning of the ninth century, however, when there was a large, prosperous, and powerful Jewish community in the city. The Jews owned slaves and also employed Christian laborers in their homes and in their commercial and agricultural enterprises.
Relations between Jews and their Christian neighbors appear to have been amicable. Jewish vintners and butchers sold their merchandise to both Jews and Christians. Jews also served as purveyors to the imperial palace. Some Jews were employed in public service, especially as collectors of imposts and taxes. Their religious services also appear to have been attended by Christians, many of whom declared that they preferred the preaching of the Jews to that of the Catholic priests. Such opinions could only have been an extreme irritant to the bishop, Agobard, who had hoped to convert the local Jews to Christianity. A first attempt around 820, targeting children, involved the use of a measure of force, and encountered determined resistance from parents and the vigorous intervention of the emperor, Louis the Pious. Louis had to intervene on several other occasions against this troublesome bishop, at times dispatching his special envoys in charge of Jewish affairs, the missi or magister Judaeorum. Amulo, Agobard's successor, mounted a campaign against the Jews of Lyons, but without success.
In the Middle Ages the Jews lived in the Rue Juiverie at the foot of Fourvière hill. When they were expelled in 1250 they were living in the present Rue Ferrachat. For a century Jews only visited Lyon for short periods, but, in the second half of the 14th century, there was again a Jewish settlement in the city. They paid municipal taxes, and special officials were appointed with jurisdiction over them. As the city was not part of the Kingdom of France, the new community was not affected by the expulsion order of 1394. They were expelled some years later, however, probably in 1420; most of them moved to neighboring Trévoux.
Beginning in the 16th century, Jews reappeared in Lyon sporadically as merchants at the fairs and probably also as correctors of Hebrew printing. A group of Jews arrived in Lyon in 1548 (perhaps from Spain and Portugal), but they too were forced to leave. Apparently Joseph Nasi opened a bank there for some time, but it was closed down by Henri II. A community gradually reestablished itself in the 17th century, consisting mainly of families from Avignon as well as from Comtat Venaissin, Alsace, and Bordeaux. In 1775, the community officially requested permission to open a cemetery. At first they bought space in the vaults of the city hospital. Twenty years later they were able to purchase a cemetery at La Guillotière. Nevertheless, the number of Jews remained insignificant, and there was no synagogue or permanent prayer room.
Many Jewish resistance fighters hid in the city during World War II. Subsequently, Klaus Barbie, the
Butcher of Lyon, to set up his operations there. On the eve of World War II, 5,000 Jews lived in Lyon, many of whom perished. After the war, many Jewish immigrants settled there and currently there is a sizeable Jewish population of 20,000.
Lyon has more than 20 synagogues. Two of its most famous are the Grand Synagogue and Neve Shalom. The Grand Synagogue, located on quai Tilsitt 14, was built in 1864. Neve Shalom, is a beautiful Sephardic synagogue and community center.
Lyon also has several kosher restaurants.
A. Lévy, Notice sur les lsraélites de Lyon (1894); idem, in: Univers Israélite, 48–49 (1892/93–1893/94); T. Reinach, in: REJ, 50 (1905), lxxxi–cxi; S. Reinach, ibid., 51 (1906), 245–50; B. Blumenkranz, Juifs et Chrétiens dans le monde occidental (1960), index; A. Coville, Recherches sur l'histoire de Lyon (1928), 538ff.; J. Kling, in: Revue de Psychologie des peuples, 13 (1958), 199ff.; E. Dreyfus and L. Marx, Autour des Juifs de Lyon (1958); F. Delpech, in: Cahiers d'Histoire (1959), 51ff.; H. Amoretti, Lyon… 1940–1944 (1964), 142ff.; Z. Szajkowski, Analytical Franco-Jewish Gazetteer (1966), 252f.