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This commune and the administrative capital city of the Pyrénées-Orientales département in southern France has a population of 105,000. Located near Mediterranean Sea and Spanish border in southern France, Perpignan blends Mediterranean French and Catalan cultures. The first mention of the existence of Jewry in the city dates from 1185 under the kingdom of Aragon: James 1st of Aragon allocated Jews in a territory and exempted them from numerous indirect levies. Perpignan so became an important Jewish centre. The Jewish personalities who marked this epoch are ABRAHAM BEDRESI, pupil of JOSEPH EZOBI, and rabbi Menachem Ben Salomon MEIRI. The Jews performed international trade and launched into the transport by sea with Jews from Barcelona. Jews probably lived in Perpignan in the latter half of the twelfth century; in 1228 James I forbade them to exercise public functions or to keep Christian servants. In the same year, an ecclesiastical convocation prohibited them from paraphrasing the Bible in "Romans" (i.e, Catalan) or from exacting a higher rate of interest than 20 percent. The kings of Aragon were, however, on the whole favorably disposed toward them. In 1251 Queen Yolande, wife of James I. of Aragon, compelled all the Jews of Perpignan to live in a special quarter, "Le Call," situated on the Ping or the Lepers' Hill. Some Jews settled within the city limits in 1366, but the syndics of the "Université" complained to King Peter IV, who ordered them immediately to expel all Jews from streets inhabited by Christians. In 1269 and 1270, King James, "in reward for the many and gracious services which his faithful Jews of Perpignan have rendered and continue to render to him," relieved them of the payment of all tolls imposed by the "leudes" or chief vassals on them and their riding-animals. In 1275 he declared all ground acquired by the Jews to be free and clear then and for the future and exempted them from all claims for quit-rent, dues on sales of inheritance, and the like. In 1279, however, all Jews were forbidden to keep Christian nurses, chambermaids, or other servants; and Christians were prohibited from carrying water or from washing for the Jews and from taking their bread to the bakeries. In 1295 the Jews were forbidden to go into the street without cloaks; and in 1314 they were compelled to wear a badge in the shape of a quoit. King Peter IV prohibited them in 1358 from buying poultry, game, or any kind of food in the market-place "before the third part of the day had elapsed"; but in 1372 he authorized them to travel in France on business and gave letters of "guiatge" or safe-conduct to foreign Jews wishing to enter the counties of Roussillon and Cerdagne. A "scola" or synagogue at Perpignan is mentioned as early as 1303. Supposedly, the monastery of the Franciscans (later the army bake-house) was built on its ruins in 1575. In 1415 Ferdinand I of Aragon forbade the Jews to build new synagogues or to enlarge or repair old ones; and in case any place possessed several, only one was to be open for worship. In 1370 and 1392 the Jews were attacked in the Call and obliged to seek refuge in the royal castle. When King Martin ascended the throne of Aragon in 1396, the Jews offered him a present of 4,000 florins; they were assured by him of his protection. He authorized the prosecution of those Christians who ill-treated them. King Ferdinand I, however, dealt very differently with the Jews, issuing a decree in 1415, with the view of converting them to Christianity, to the effect that three times a year the Jews should attend a sermon to be delivered by a priest or a master in theology. The old Jewish community or aljama of Perpignan had its own statutes. It was governed by a council consisting of a certain number of members, four secretaries, and a commissioner in charge of the public ways and of the minor police. All the Jews contributed to the taxes in proportion to the value of their property. In 1413 the aljama was obliged to levy a special tax to pay a sum of money which the community owed in consequence of an agreement made with a citizen of Perpignan, Jean de Rivesaltes, councilor to the king. In 1419 Alphonse IV permitted the Jews to cease wearing the badge. In 1427 he intervened in their favor against the bailiff of Perpignan and against the inquisitors, whom he forbade to harass the Jews "except in case of hatred or in transgression of the moral law." The inquisitors, however, paid no heed to the royal commands; and a large number of Jews alarmed by the threats of the Inquisition either accepted baptism or left Perpignan. The French occupation under Louis XI and Charles VIII was fatal to the Jewish community of Perpignan, which had already been reduced to the last extremity by Alphonse IV. When the Jews were expelled from Spain, in July 1492, a number of refugees from Catalonia and Aragon placed themselves under the protection of Charles VIII.; but on Sept. 15 of the same year they were obliged to seek another home. A royal edict of Sept. 21, 1493, compelled the thirty-nine Jews still living in Perpignan to leave the city within thirty days and not to return "on pain of death and confiscation of their property." They then sought refuge at Naples, and thence some of them went shortly afterward to Constantinople. In 1493 the Call was set apart as the courtezans' quarter, but the Preaching Friars, whose monastery was in the vicinity, objected, and the houses of the Jews were put up at public auction instead and sold to various private individuals, priests and merchants, of Perpignan.  In the fourteenth century, Perpignan was renowned for its astronomers among whom them Jacob Ben David Yom Tov, who created tables translated in Catalan. In direct relationship with the royal family of the kingdom of Majorca, Jewry benefited from their protection and lived almost normally until 1493, the date in which the Majorcan kingdom folded and applied the decree of Isabella's Inquisition. Today, the community of Perpignan numbers many families and spreads across Catalonia and influences across the Spanish border to Barcelona. Mostly, these Jews are of Sephardic origin, with many from Algeria. However, before 1962, the Jewish community already was important in Perpignan. In all Catalonia, we find relics of the Jewish community during the Middle Ages. So in Gérone, a city located in Catalonia about a hundred of kilometers south of Perpignan is the Centre Bonastruc, located right in the center of "CALL", the Jewish quarter of Gérone. Thanks to recent searches, the medieval mikvah was found. Synagogues: ACIP: 54, rue François Arago - 66000 PERPIGNAN, Tél: 04-68-34-75-81 and AJPO: 14, rue du Castillet - 66000 PERPIGNAN, Tél 04-68-34-58-25 / 06-63-85-45-55. Centre Communautaire David Mordoch at 5, rue Montescot, Tél 04-68-66-91-67. Sources: Jewish Encyclopedia and others. [January 2008]

Past cemeteries: The Jews possessed several cemeteries or "fossar." The site of the one which existed in 1279 cannot now be ascertained. That of 1310 was situated on the right bank of the river Tet, opposite the present gate of Canet. In 1400 the cemetery was beside the Pont de la Pierre, near the Maison de St. Lazare. [January 2008]

Cimetière du Sud: Chemin Mas Bresson, Tél 04-68-55-35-01. [January 2008]

Cimetière St-Jacques - Rue Paul-Rubens, Tél. 04 68 67 50 91 [January 2008]


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