France / Lorraine


Synagogue of Metz. Photo by Fab5669 – Wikipedia

The Jewish presence in Metz probably dates from the first centuries of the Common Era. Nevertheless, the first administrative certificates are listed in the 9th century.

The first major local Jewish figure was Rabbi Gershom Ben Yehuda (960-1028), a symbol of the important place devoted to study in the region and who was nicknamed “Light of Exile”. Ben Yehuda was notably known for his decision to ban polygamy among Jews living in Europe. He will become an essential rabbinical authority in Mainz but also in the Ashkenazi world in general. Among the other scholars of the time, Eliezer Ben Samuel, the pupil of Ben Yehouda and the Tossafist David of Metz, but also Judah of Metz and Samuel ben Salomon of Falaise. The “scholars of Lorraine” maintained many intellectual exchanges with both French and German thinkers.

Portrait of Father Grégoire by Pierre Joseph Célestin François

Between the Crusades (including that of 1096 which resulted in the massacre of 22 Jews in Metz), expulsions and resettlement, the stability of Jewish life in Metz did not materialize until the 16th century, when they were officially allowed to live there. There were hardly any Jews for two and a half centuries, until 1552. Thus, in 1595, 120 Jews lived in the city. A figure which increased with the arrival of Jews from the Rhine during the following two centuries, the Jewish population rising to 3000 in 1748.

In the 17th century, the city of Metz therefore had its own synagogue (built in 1619), as well as a  Jewish cemetery. Heavy taxes were often imposed on the city’s Jews, as were restrictions on access to employment. In 1670, Raphaël Lévy was tried and executed in Glatigny, accused of ritual murder. Anti-Jewish measures are taken in this impetus. Raphaël Lévy will be rehabilitated by the municipality of Glatigny in 2014.

Shortly before the French Revolution, Pierre Louis de Lacretelle and Pierre-Louis Roederer pledged for the emancipation of the Jews of Metz. The latter organized in 1787 the competition of the Royal Society of Arts and Sciences of Metz around the question “Is there a way to make the Jews happier and more useful in France?” Among the award winners is Father Grégoire, an iconic figure in the struggle for the emancipation of the Jews, also leading the fight against black slavery.

Jewish cemetery of Chambieres-Metz. Photo by Aimelaime – Wikipedia

Following the Revolution, the Jews of Metz obtained French nationality in 1791 and their freedom of worship was recognized in 1792. The Talmudic School, created in 1821, became the Rabbinical School of France in 1829, a symbol of the great place still attributed to scholarship in the region. She will be transferred to Paris thirty years later.

The  synagogue which was destroyed before was rebuilt in 1850 by the architect Nicolas-Maurice Derobe in a neo-Romanesque style. The Jews lived mainly around the synagogue and in  Jurue, street of the Jews. The conflict of 1870 as well as the First World War encouraged the arrival of Jewish refugees in Lorraine, in particular in Metz. Thus, the Jewish population increased from 2000 in 1866 to 4150 in 1931.

Other important figures in the city include Rabbi Nathan Netter and Rabbi Elie Bloch. The latter was deported with his wife and child during the Shoah. With the help of Father Jean Fleury, the Gypsy chaplain of the Poitiers camp, he organized the flight of many families into the countryside. The  street where the Metz synagogue is located has since been named after him. 2,000 Metz Jews perished during the Shoah.

The Jewish community rebuilt with difficulty after the war, having lost many of its members. In the 1960s, Jews from North Africa took part in this second wind.