Jewish Traveler in Provence
Provence, once a center for Jewish culture and history,
is a famous Religious tours
destination in France. You can visit Provence over and over again and
still want to come back. And as if Provence didn’t have enough to offer the
visitor, it also contains some of the oldest Jewish spiritual heritage sites in France.
Here Jewish culture and history has thrived
since the early Middle Ages. The Talmud was interpreted with uncommon skill,
and Jews from all over Europe sought out scholars from this religious heritage region in
France on matters of Jewish law. When Provence came under Catalonian
rule in the 12th century, the literature, science, poetry, and philosophy of
the Jews and non-Jews of Catalonia enriched the Jewish culture.
Come and take a driving religious heritage tour in
France through the Arba Kehilot (four holy communities)—Avignon,
Carpentras, Cavaillon and L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. The spiritual heritage in France driving tour can
be easily completed in a day. The roads are well marked and Michelin map #245
can be your guide.
The Vaucluse religious tours region in France,
known historically as the Comtat Venaissin, has always been a relatively safe
haven for Jews. Ceded to the Vatican in 1274, it remained in the Vatican’s
hands until 1791, when it reverted to France. Jews in the Comtat spoke a
Judeo-Provençal dialect and developed their own liturgy, known as Comtatdin.
Under the protection of the
Avignon Popes, the Jewish community flourished. Jews were permitted to live in
Avignon, Carpentras, Cavaillon, and L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, known at the time as
the Arba Kehilot. With the exception of L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, these old French cities still
contain fine vestiges of their old Jewish quarters.
To receive the free brochure The Road to Jewish Heritage in the South of France, contact the Vaucluse Department Tourist Office, B.P. 147, 84008 Avignon Cedex, tel. 04.90.80.47.00, www.provenceguide.com.
Start your drive in Avignon.
Tourist Office 41, cours Jean-Jaurès, 84000 Avignon, tel. 04.32.74.32.74, www.ot-avignon.fr
The Jewish community in Avignon
has roots that go back as the first century after the destruction of the Second
Temple in Jerusalem (70 AD). However, there are no written records of Jewish culture and history
prior to the 12th century.
The first Jewish quarter, or carrière, faced the Palais des Papes on Rue de
la Vieille Juiverie. By the early 13th century, the carrière was on Rue
Jacob and Place Jerusalem, where the present-day synagogue stands. This tiny
area, barely 100 square yards, was home to over 1,000 people. Living outside
the carrier was forbidden by law for Jews. Walls surrounded it and three locked
gates kept Jews from leaving this site for religious tours in France without permission. Even
when permission was granted the Roman Catholic Church collected tolls. And even
life within the walls of this religious heritage site in France was subject to many
restrictions and regulations.
Built in 1846, the current synagogue replaced one much older that burned down. Place Jerusalem, tel. 04.90.85.21.24
Avignon to Carpentras
From Avignon, head northeast for 25 km to Carpentras. In Avignon, use D225 along the southern bank of the Rhône River to get to D942 (8 km), a straight shot to Carpentras (17 km). At Carpentras, follow signs to the center of town. Street parking is difficult, so use the municipal parking lots.
Tourist Office Place Aristide Briand, 84200 Carpentras, tel. 04.90.63.00.78, www.ville-carpentras.fr
The plain façade of this religious heritage tours in
France monument conceals a Rococo sanctuary similar to Italian
synagogues of the same period.
Regulations in force at the time
made it illegal for synagogues to have exterior decoration.
Built during 1741–1743, the
structure of this spiritual
heritage monument in France contains parts of a 14th-century synagogue
that was on the same site. The present religious heritage structure was partially restored in 1930, 1953,
and 1959 and it has been designated a historic landmark and a spiritual religious heritage in
Inside, the Bimah, the raised
reading platform, is at the opposite end of the room from the Aron Kodesh, the
Holy Ark, the cabinet where the Torah scrolls are kept.
This is also characteristic of
the same Italianate style.
In Orthodox Judaism women are not
permitted to pray in the same room as men. Here and in most synagogues of that
era this separation was effected with a balcony or mezzanine that you see
But here in the 18th century,
women sat in the basement where a small window allowed them to hear the chants
and prayers. In addition there was an official known as the rabbi of women.
The basement also contains
remnants of a matzo oven and mikvah, a ritual bath. Place Maurice Charretier,
The medieval Jewish cemetery was destroyed in 1322, and the grave markers were used to build the town’s ramparts. The present-day cemetery was established in 1367, but as papal edict forbade tombstones in Jewish cemeteries, the earliest stones are from the 18th century. Arrange visits through the synagogue.
Carpentras to Cavaillon
Turn south on D938 for the 31-kilometer trip via L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue to Cavaillon. Cavaillon, noted for its wonderful melons, is typical of small towns in Provence—sleepy and colorful. Walk around, drink in the atmosphere and stay for awhile. Chances are you’ll get used to it and won’t want to leave.
Tourist Office Place François-Tourel, 843000 Cavaillon, tel. 04.90.71.32.01, www.cavaillon-luberon.com
The old Jewish quarter is on Rue Hébraïque, just off the main street and behind the tourism office.
Above a passageway between Rue Hébraïque and Rue Chabran, the restored synagogue overlooks the old carrière. Smaller than the one in Carpentras, but no less elaborate, the synagogue, now a national historic monument, is no longer in use.
Musée Judéo-Comtadin The museum in the synagogue’s basement (at street level), but separate from the synagogue, once housed a matzo bakery. Today, displays depict the community’s history and contain Torah scrolls, ritual objects, and historical documents. Though small, the exhibit is a fascinating look at French Jewish life in the town and in the region. 6, rue de Chabran, tel. 04.90.76.00.34
You’ll want to continue your drive into the Bouches-du-Rhône and Alpilles for visits to St-Rémy-de-Provence and Arles. From Cavaillon, turn southwest D99 for the easy trip to St-Rémy-de-Provence (19 km).
Tourist Office Place Jean-Jaurès, 13210 St-Remy-de-Provence, tel. 04.90.92.05.22, www.saintremy-de-provence.com
The Jewish cemetery dates back to the Middle Ages, with tombstones from before 1400. Open once a year, during the Journées du Patrimoine (Heritage Days), usually the first or second weekend in September, when there are guided visits. Located next to the Plateau des Antiques.
From St-Rémy-de-Provence, take D5 south to Maussane-les-Alpilles (11 km) and turn right on D117 straight to Arles (19 km).
Tourist Office Boul. des Lices, 13200 Arles, tel. 04.90.18.41.20, www.tourisme.ville-arles.fr
During the Middle Ages, the Jewish community lived along Rue de la Juiverie, now called Rue du Docteur Fanton. In 1495 all Jews were expelled from the region, the Jewish quarter was destroyed, and the district was incorporated into the city.
The Musée Arlatan contains Jewish ritual and historical objects from Provence. Open daily (except Monday in October through June), 9:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m.–6 p.m. 29, rue de la Republique, tel. 04.90.93.58.11
Tourist Office 4, La Canebière, 13001 Marseille, tel. 04.91.13.89.00, www.Marseille-tourisme.com
France’s second largest Jewish community lives in France’s second largest city, Marseille, which Jews have called home since the sixth century, when an already existing community provided refuge to Jews fleeing forced conversions in Clermont-Ferrand. The Jews of Marseille were scholars, merchants, laborers, coral craftsmen, and brokers. Benjamin of Tudela, the 12th-century traveler who chronicled the Jewish world of the time, provides a description of scholars, philosophers, and psalmists who lived among the Marseille Jews. The present community dates back to 1760.
Grande Synagogue Breteuil: Not far from Marseille’s Old Port is the Grande Synagogue. Constructed in 1864, it also contains the offices of the Consistoire de Marseille and other Jewish religious organizations. The interior is typical of French synagogues constructed in the early and mid-19th century following Jewish emancipation. 117, rue de Breteuil, tel. 04.91.37.49.64
Union Libérale Israélite de France 21, rue Martiny, tel. 04.91.71.97.46
Centre Communautaire Edmond Fleg 4, impasse Dragon, Tel. 04.91.37.42.01
Davi's Café 7, rue Rouget de l'Isle, tel. 04.91.54.85.64. Meat
Emma Lisa 1, avenue St-Jean, tel. 04.91.90.77.72. Meat
Erets 205, rue de Rome, tel. 04.91.92.88.73. Meat
L'Avant-Scène 35, rue St-Suffren, tel. 04.91.81.13.68. Dairy
Pizz’Atikva 43, ave. des Chartreux, tel. 04.91.50.40.30. Pizza
Le Sheraton 17, rue de Village, tel. 04.96.12.40.38. Meat
Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France 4, impasse Dragon, tel. 04.91.57.03.35, www.crif-marseilleprovence.com
Institut Méditerranéen Mémoires et Archives du Judaïsme www.immaj.org