The last thousand years has been characterised by expulsions, return and anti-semitism.
This differed from Spain as there the expulsion in 1492 was based on religion. In
France it was based primarily on money.
France was not the united country we now know. This is important as Jews expelled
from one area could go to another. Discussion of the size of France in the Middle
Ages (for more detail and maps see Wikipedia) is complicated by distinctions between
lands personally held by the king (the "domaine royal") and lands held in homage
by another lord. The notion of res publica inherited from the Roman province of Gaul
was not fully maintained by the Frankish kingdom and the Carolingian Empire, and
by the early years of the Direct Capetians, the French kingdom was more or less a
fiction. The "domaine royal" of the Capetians was limited to the regions around Paris,
Bourges and Sens. The great majority of French territory was part of Aquitaine, the
Duchy of Normandy, the Duchy of Brittany, the Comté of Champagne, the Duchy of Burgundy,
and other territories (for a map, see Provinces of France). In principle, the lords
of these lands owed homage to the French king for their possession, but in reality
the king in Paris had little control over these lands, and this was to be confounded
by the uniting of Normandy, Aquitaine and England under the Plantagenet dynasty in
the 12th century.
April, 1182, King Philip Augustus ordered all of the Jews to leave the royal domain
(in this case, the area around Paris). The Jews were permitted to sell their movable
goods, but their real estate went to the crown, and synagogues became the property
of the Church. Most Jews moved elsewhere in northern France. (The northern French
Jewish communities were under the control of regional authorities.) In 1198 the Jews
were permitted to return, but an additional tax was imposed on their activities.
1289, the Jews were expelled from Anjou, Maine, Gascony, and Nevers. Most of these
Jews moved to Paris, where, even though they were subjected to restrictions, they
were welcomed by the king. In 1306, Philip changed his mind and ordered the Jews
to leave his realm. With no other choice, the Jews fled northeast to Flanders, east
to Provence, or southwest to the Iberian peninsula.
Nine years later, King Louis X readmitted the Jews to France subject to certain conditions:
the Jews had to purchase their readmission; they were not allowed to lend money (although
pawnbroking was permissible); and they were forced to wear badges identifying them
But by 1321, Charles IV was unhappy with the revenue he received from the Jewish
communities, and they were expelled once again.
Over the next 73 years, the Jews slowly moved back to southern France and re-established
their businesses, until they were expelled for good by Charles VI in 1394
Jews did not return to France until the seventeenth century. Even then, Jews continued
to suffer under severe legal restrictions (notably the infamous tax levied by Colmar,
in Alsace, on all Jews and heads of cattle entering the town). And they remained
few: only 40,000 at the start of the French Revolution in 1789.
In September 1791, the National Assembly had granted Jews full citizenship, making
France the first country in Europe to give them civil rights. This was not done entirely
in the spirit of liberty, equality and fraternity. The hope was that by unlocking
the ghetto gates and removing all restrictions on employment and movement, Jews would
stop acting like a separate nation within France and ineluctably become French.
Napoleon, reconvened what he called the Great Sanhedrin — a name taken from the governing
body of the Jewish community under the Roman Empire. This council of French Jewish
leaders was summoned to resolve a series of issues left unsettled since the French
Revolution (see New York Times)
Today, France has the worlds third largest Jewish population (after Israel and the
USA) of an estimated 485,000 (HULIQ).
Salo Baron deemed it a “somewhat more civilized way of eliminating Jews.” Expulsion,
he argued, certainly appeared legitimate, as it often amounted to the simple failure
to renew an existing temporary residence permit. Baron also points to the medieval
conception of Jews as permanent “exiles” as another way to understand the phenomenon
of expulsion. While the exiles were tolerated in Christian communities as examples
of Christian truth, this toleration could cease at the discretion of the local rulers.
This was often compounded by false rumors such as Jews killing Christians in mockery
of the crucifixion (ritual murder), desecrating the host (communal wafer) and poisoning
Thus expulsion provided a “legitimate,” less violent way of eliminating the
Jews from a region. But why eliminate them at all? The rationale for group expulsion
was complex, but the most common reasons for doing so were economic and religious.
When raising taxes failed to produce enough revenue for a local ruler, expelling
a group and taking its land and possessions was often the next best alternative.
(However, expulsion for economic gain proved counterproductive, as the loss of regular
Jewish revenue depressed the economy in the long run.)
Popular anti-Jewish sentiment also fuelled expulsions.
Baron adds his theory of nationalism and intolerance. He noticed that all of the
regions that expelled the Jews during this period were evolving national states.
In defining the national self, these states eliminated the most obvious “other,”
the Jews. The expansion of two multinational states at the time--Poland-Lithuania
and the Ottoman Empire-- provided refuge for the exiles.
The Jewish Virtual Librarystates that the Marranos had to maintain some semblance
of Catholicism for more than two centuries, but they were seldom molested in their
secret practice of Judaism. Though they were called "New Christians" or "Portuguese
merchants," their Jewishness was an open secret. In the large settlements they lived
in their own quarters, had their own burial grounds, developed their own schools
and communal institutions, and even trained their own rabbis after first importing
them from abroad. In the course of time they gradually reduced their Catholic practices
and eventually abandoned Church marriage and even baptism. In 1730 they were officially
recognized as Jews. Their more formal communities were situated at Bordeaux and Bayonne
and there were numerous lesser settlements in such places as Toulouse, Lyons, Montpellier,
La Rochelle, Nantes, and Rouen. Bayonne was the center of a cluster of communities,
including Biarritz, Bidache, Peyrehorade, and Saint-Jean-de-Luz. In this last town
the Marranos had the misfortune of being expelled in 1619, and then, after a partial
return, seeing the town captured by the Spaniards in 1636.
David Ferdinando has reproduced the The Marranos of Rouenby Cecil Roth which describes
how a group of Marranos organised themselves and were regarded by the local community.
Jews have been documented in France since ancient times. Jews lived in Phoenician
Marseilles before the Romans invaded Gaul. During the Middle Ages, they were periodically
expelled and again allowed to return, until 1384, when some 100,000 Jews had to leave
France, mostly to German speaking areas. For instance, Rashi spent a great part of
his life in the town of Troyes around 1100 CE, growing wine grapes, teaching and
commenting. Thereupon, there were no Jews any longer left in the Kingdom of France.
But the Kingdom did not control the Papal states around Avignon, in the South West
of France, where Jews could survive. Also, after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain
and then Portugal in 1492, a number of "New Christians" emigrated to the southWest
of France, mainly around Bayonne and Bordeaux. Though apparently assimilated and
christianized, this "Portuguese Nation" maintained a hidden Jewish faith and practice.
Besides these two French speaking communities, the largest number of Jews living
on the territory of present France, the so-called German Jews, lived in Alsace, initially
under the control of principalities of the Holy Roman Empire, and in Lorraine, around
When France progressively took control of these provinces, a certain status quo was
respected, though Jews were no citizens, not allowed to live in towns and were subjected
to discriminatory taxes. On the other hand, Jewish communities could live according
to their own rules, as long as the relations with the civil and Christian authorities
remained as imposed.
In 1791, during the French Revolution, Jews at once became citizens with the same
rights and obligations as all other Frenchmen. They were allowed to settle where
they wanted, mainly in larger cities where they could more easily earn a living.
There have been two major waves of Jewish immigration, from the 1880ies to World
War II, Eastern Europeans, and from 1950 to 1962, North Africans. The present Jewish
population in France, estimated as 600,000 persons, includes a majority of people
originating in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.
In each major zone of settlement, different conditions prevailed, each providing
specific tools for genealogy research. For the sake of comparison, around 1789 some
5000 Jews lived in southwest France, 1800 in the southeast, and 1700 in various other
cities, including Paris. In Lorraine, in and around the city of Metz, there were
about 7000 Jews, and in Alsace about 23000.
The early settlements in the SW and SE of France, though in limited size, played
an important role in the history of French Jews. Having adopted French habits for
a long time, they were able to rise both socially and economically. Their family
histories have been kept over time, inasmuch as most families had a well-known personality
within their ranks.
The Jews in the Comtat Venaissin ("The Pope's Jews")
These Jews lived mainly in 4 towns in the southeast: Cavaillon, Carpentras, L'Isle-sur-Sorgue
and Avignon. The A.D., as well as the municipal archives, holds documents dating
back to the 16th century. This rather limited population has been studied in great
detail. A rich literature is available, mainly in French. The ancient documents,
written in Latin or old French, are difficult for non-specialists to read.
The Portuguese Nation
The Jews who left Portugal after 1496 (many had originated in Spain and had fled
to Portugal shortly before) had to convert to Catholicism, and settled in southwest
France as Catholics. They were called "new Christians" and often continued undercover
Jewish practices. Church registers exist, mainly from the 17th century, with various
documents similar to vital records for the 18th century. Additional information is
available for those with connections to the Amsterdam Sephardic.
In the Departement de la Gironde, the A.D.(in Bordeaux) and also the municipal archives
hold various documents, mainly from the 17th and 18th century. In the Departement
des Pyrenees Altantiques, the A.D. (in Pau) and the municipal archives also hold
various documents (mainly 17th and 18th centuries). These documents have been catalogued.
The French kingdom, after conquering the "three bishoprics" (Toul, Verdunand Metz)
in the mid-16th century, favored the settlement of Jews in Metz. These Jews did not
generally reach great wealth, but the community was a center of attraction for Jewish
scholars. In the course of progressive conquest of the region, several communities
were founded in small places, part of them speaking French, the other part German.
Vital registration documents, as well as tax registers and notary deeds, are available
for periods since the 18th century. In particular, marriage contracts (tenaim) registered
with the Royal Notaries have been indexed. They are held in the A.D. du Departement
de la Moselle (Metz) and also in municipal archives
Choose Their Own Names
From ‘The Times of Israel’ By REBECCA BENHAMOU April 3, 2013, 4:15 am
After a historically charged legal fight, Jewish families can revert to their foreign
ancestors’ last names
last names to their original Jewish ones, the French Ministry of Justice recently
revised its position.
Fearful of anti-Semitism, many French Jews decided to adopt French surnames in the
late 1940s and ’50s.
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“Even though the French administration never forced them to adopt less foreign-sounding
names, they were highly encouraged to do so,” says Céline Masson, a lecturer in psychoanalysis
at Université Paris-Diderot and a co-founder of La Force du Nom (“The Strength of
the Name”), a Paris-based organization that lobbies for the right to reclaim old
Nearly 70 years after World War II, many descendants of both Holocaust survivors
and Jews from North Africa have decided to reconnect with their roots by taking back
the names of their ancestors.
French law, however, stipulates that once changed, a last name is considered “immutable.”
It also prohibits citizens from reverting to a “foreign-sounding name.”
Céline Masson says changing one’s name can be a “trauma.” (Courtesy of Céline Masson)
In 2010, the debate entered the national spotlight when Masson and co-founder Natalie
Felzenszwalbe submitted their first name-change requests to the State Council, the
relevant government agency.
“We’re talking about a very small minority here,” Masson told The Times of Israel.
“So far, we’ve had about 30 cases or so. But in a country where 76,000 Jews were
deported [during the Holocaust], it’s bound to be a powerful debate.”
In their applications, both advocates argued that allowing the reversion to previous
names constitutes a “symbolic reparation” that France owes its Jewish citizens.
“Reparation has been achieved at every level in France: when Nazi collaborators Klaus
Barbie, Paul Touvier and Maurice Papon were brought to justice in the 1980s and 1990s;
when President Chirac made his famous 1995 speech and became the first French politician
to recognize France’s responsibility in the July 1942 Vel d’Hiv Roundup; and of course
financial reparations. What’s missing is the right of name reversion,” Masson said.
Even though she and Felzenszwalbe were initially told the law wouldn’t be repealed,
the French Ministry of Justice has revised its policy, adopting a case-by-case approach.
In an op-ed entitled “Stranger to One’s Name,” published in the daily Libération
newspaper Feb. 28, 41-year-old David Forest — now renamed Fuks — explained how he
was finally allowed to revert to his Polish-born grandfather’s name in October 2012,
more than 60 years after the family changed it.
“When I was asked about the origins of my name, even people with the best intentions
never failed to ask what my ‘real name’ was,” he wrote. “In fact, I often heard my
parents say that our current name wasn’t a ‘real one’.”
“The truth lay within the name we abandoned — the only one that truly said where
our family came from and who we were.”
In her 2012 book, “Rendez-nous Nos Noms! Quand des Juifs Revendiquent Leur Identité
Perdue” (“Give Back Our Names! When Jews Reclaim Their Lost Identities,” Masson writes
that the number of name changes within the French Jewish community peaked between
1945 and 1957 — a total of 2,000 requests.
Originally from Tunisia, Masson’s family — the Hassans — changed its name when it
immigrated to France in the ’60s, like many other Sephardic families from Morocco
‘Sometimes family members don’t agree on what their name should be and what it represents’
“My name has been changed, and it’s not difficult to pronounce it,” she wrote. “It
is cut off from its history and its original language; it has lost its flavor, its
In her book, Masson also interviews Tunisian-born Magali Taillé — originally Taieb
— whose family emigrated to France at the same time.
“Changing one’s name is like changing jurisdiction,” said Taieb. “Magali Taieb was
a young Jewish girl raised in the values of Tunisian society of the 1950s. She stopped
growing up in 1970. Magali Taillé was born in the same year and studied in Parisian
universities. Between the two, there’s a gap, a distance, a duality, an incompatibility.
Until they were finally reconciled.”
Backed by years of experience as a psychoanalyst and her personal history, Masson
explains that changing one’s name can represent a “trauma,” especially for younger
generations that now want to reconnect with their Jewish roots and family past.
In some cases, certain family members choose to revert to their old Jewish names,
while others maintain the newer one.
“Sometimes family members don’t agree on what their name should be and what it represents,”
Masson said. “I’ve seen cases where children feel like having a Jewish name, and
the parents or the grandparents don’t, or vice versa.”
“This is the kind of problem we didn’t think we would encounter at first,” she continued.
“But this is definitely something we ought to analyze more in the years to come.
It is yet another interesting aspect of how complex a Jewish identity can be, even