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NARBONNE: (Aude département, Languedoc-Roussillon région) PDF Print E-mail
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Narbonne, a town and commune of southwestern France in the Languedoc-Roussillon région,lies 849 km from Paris in the Aude département, of which it is a sous-préfecture with a population of 46,500. Once a prosperous port located about 15 km from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, this commercial center of a wine-growing région and an industrial city producing sulfur, copper, and clothing was the first Roman colony outside of Italy. The establishment of Jewry in Narbonne goes back to the fifth century with the presence of Jews noted in two letters dated 470 and 473 from Sidoine Apollinaire to his friend Félix de Narbonne, a Gallo-Roman dignitary. He mentioned a Jew named Gozolas, an employee of Félix. The Jews lived amicably with their Christian neighbors although in 589 the Council of Narbonne forbade them to sing psalms at interments on pain of a fine of six ounces of gold. In 673, the Narbonne Jews took an active part in the revolt of Count Hilderic of Nîmes and Duke Paul against King Wamba. The king was victorious; and the Jews were expelled from the town. The 40 years (719 to 759) that mark Muslim occupation are mute on the fate of Jews. Until then, they had maintained good relations with other elements of the population (Romans, Syrians, and Greeks). In 768, Pope Stephen III complained bitterly to Archbishop Aribert of the privileges granted to the Jews including the right to own real estate, live in the same house with Christians, and employ Christians in the cultivation of their fields and vineyards. Jews remained however the intermediaries, animators of commercial life between the East and Occident. With the Carolingian kings, Jews acquires the right to have hereditary domains; and Charlemagne granted them numerous privileges including a "leader" (Nassi), an important figure with several buildings in city. Jews seems to have benefited from rather broad security from the possibility of enlivening economical life and of building up investments in land ownership or industrials (mills, salt, etc). The viscounts and the archbishops of Narbonne knew how to draw considerable incomes from their Jewish subjects by augmenting their number by conferring various privileges, origin of a permanent rivalry between the leaders of both. In the twelfth century, the community numbered about 2,000 souls; but as a result of a war between the city and the Count of Toulouse after the death in 1137 of Don Emeric IV, Viscount of Narbonne, the community dwindled so much that in 1165 Benjamin of Tudela found it to consist of only 300 Jews, the rest having emigrated to Anjou, Poitou, and other French provinces. In 1173, a passenger noted Narbonne as "teacher of Hebrew law" from where it spread to the entire province. There were found famous doctors among whom Rabbi Kalomine, son of the Rabbi Theodore, descendants of David. To Narbonne, as it is said, the Talmud owes its biggest publicity. The Jews were under the jurisdiction of the archbishop and of the viscount, each of whom had his own Jewry. Some were under the archbishop in the suburb of Belvèze, near the Mont Judaïque, the location of the Jewish cemetery. In the viscount's district were the Grandes Juiveries including the Hôpital de l'Aumône, the baths, the shops, the ovens, and the stores. The "Old Schools," or synagogues, were also in this district. In 1218 Viscount Aimery and his wife Marguerite de Montmorency ceded to the Jews the territory of the Grandes Juiveries and of the Old Schools in consideration of a yearly payment of ten sous Narbonne currency. In this gift the rights of the "Jewish king" were reserved; and he continued to enjoy his prerogative as a freeholder. The Jews were governed by consuls elected by the Jews themselves. These consuls exercised a general supervision over the Jewries, which were, however, subject to the municipal ordinances issued by the consuls of the city. In 1236, the lives and property of the Jews were put in jeopardy as a result of a quarrel between a Jew and a Christian. The populace fell upon the Jews and pillaged their houses; but fortunately, Don Emeric, the governor of the city and city authorities succeeded in establishing order and in restoring the property to the owners that had been carried off. Meïr b. Isaac, one of the victims of the riot, instituted the Purim of Narbonne in commemoration of the event. The Archbishop of Narbonne protected the Jews so carefully that in 1241 the chapter reproached him with favoring them at the expense of the Christians. In 1245 R. Meïr ben Simeon engaged in a public religious disputation before Archbishop En Guillem de la Broa and the Jewish notables of Narbonne and Capestang. He pleaded in behalf of his coreligionists and pointed to their fidelity to the Christian sovereigns as well as to their loyalty in the struggle with the Saracens. In 1276, the archbishop, in accordance with an agreement between him and the viscount, regulated the legal status of the Jews favorably to them. In 1284, he granted them special privileges. When Philip the Fair expelled them in 1306 and confiscated their property, the archbishop and the viscount defended their respective interests and obliged the king to draw up an inventory of the property seized in order to bring about a partition. For this purpose, the king and the viscount made an agreement (1309) by which the viscount accepted 5,000 Tours livres and various parcels of real estate that had not yet been sold. The Jewish Schools of Narbonne were renowned with a number of learned Jews including Jaccaben-Jekar, who was one of the masters of Rashi and Bassinet de Narbonne, nicknamed Hodarchian, the preacher who had composed commentaries on the Bible (that were lost). The 11th and 12th century leadership of Talmudic Schools of Narbonne founded centers of Jewish education in Montpellier and Lunel, assuring Nassi from Narbonne the high spiritual authority in all province. On June 21st, 1306, Philippe le Bel ordered the expulsion of the Jewry of his kingdom. He ruined to a great extent the centers of wealth and Jewish culture that existed then in France and in Narbonne more specifically. On July 19th, 1315, Louis X decides to invite the Jewry to return to his kingdom. Few Jews returned to Narbonne after which followed seven centuries of silence. The Community came back to life with the arrival of the Jews repatriating from North Africa. In 2006, about twenty families are present in all areas of the economical life of the city. A.C.I.N. et Synagogue, Centre communautaire, 67, rue Droite - 11100 NARBONNE, Tél 04-68-65-06-11 [January 2008]

No longer existing cemetery: In Belvèze, near the Mont Judaïque. Some tombstones from this cemetery bearing Hebrew inscriptions are preserved in the museum of Narbonne. [January 2008]

Carré au Cimetière de l'Ouest: - NARBONNE [January 2008]

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