France / Paris

The Marais

Agoudas Hakehilos Synagogue

10 Rue Pavée, 75004 Paris, France

Diasporama (Jewish art and music, religious articles)

20 Rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris, France


22 Rue des Ecouffes, 75004 Paris, France

Sacha Finkelsztajn

27 Rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris, France

Museum of Jewish Art and History

71 Rue du Temple, 75004 Paris, France

Memorial to the Unknown Jewish Martyr

17 Rue Geoffroy l'Asnier, 75004 Paris, France

Synagogue on rue Pavée © Yair Haklai – Wikimedia Commons

In the eighteenth century, the area around the Place Saint Paul was known as “the old Jewry”. Until the first years of the twentieth century, the square itself bore the name Place des Juifs. The narrow streets here are best explored on a Sunday morning, when everyday Jewish life has resumed after the Shabbat.

Rue Pavée is a few yards from the Saint Paul métro station. This is the pletzel, which is yiddish for small square. In this street, which runs perpendicular to rue des Rosiers, stands a surprising registered historical building in the “nouille” (noodle) style. This is the  synagogue designed in 1913 by Hector Guimard, then the leading exponent of Art Nouveau, who is responsible for Paris famous métro entrances.

Jews have lived on rue des Rosiers since the middle ages. When Charles VI expelled them from his kingdom, the street fell empty -or so it seemed. That the newly emancipated Jews came back in this same street after the French Revolution, some 400 years later, had led historians to suggest that Jewish families went on living here in secret during the intervening centuries. Thus, when the edict was revoked, it was natural for many of the returning Jews to join fellow believers.

Another world

“You cross the bridge, turn right behind the Hôtel de Ville, and there you are in another world. The street is too narrow, the houses too tall, and all of them cracked. Between the shops you glimpse gloomy courtyards with gloomy lights at the back. There are Hebrew words on the posters, on the signs, and even on the labels of the bottles in the wine merchant’s window. The secondhand man buys up old newspapers, rags, crusts of bread, metals, and tailors’ and cap-makers’ offcuts.”

Edmond Fleg, L’Enfant Prophète (The Child Prophet), Paris, Gallimard, 1926.

Jewish Museum © Wikimedia Commons (Mbzt)

In all likelihood an oratory was built on the upper floor at 17 rue des Rosiers a few years before the French Revolution. Unfortunately, the relevant archives were destroyed during the Nazi occupation.

Today, in spite of its many luxury stores, rue des Rosiers remains an important center of Parisian Jewish life with its  bookstores,  restaurants, and other typical emporia.

Many Jewish moneylenders lived on rue des Écouffes. In old French, escouffe was the word for a bird of prey, the kite, which was the symbol for pawnbrokers. The street name thus recalls the financial professions to which Jews were limited by the authorities.

Until the beginning of the twentieth century, rue Ferdinand Duval was called “rue des Juifs” (Street of the Jews). Realizing  that this moniker might be offensive, City Hall renamed it Ferdinand Duval, after a prefect of Paris.

Edouard Moyse, The Great Sanhedrin, 1867 © Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme, Paris

The Hôtel de Saint Aignan, a superb seventeenth century mansion, now houses the  Museum of Jewish Art and History (Musée d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaïsme) remarkable both for its collections and for its ambition. The museum is the fruit of a three way cooperation between the City of Paris, the Culture Ministry and community institutions. Items amassed by the conductor Isaac Strauss in the nineteenth century form the basis of the museum’s collection. Like his Viennese namesakes, the French Strauss composed waltzes that were popular with Second Empire society. His success soon reached beyond French Second Empire ballrooms and, on his travels around Europe, this keen student of Jewish history set out to acquire ritual objects from every period. In 1890 his remarkable collection was bought by Baroness Nathaniel de Rothschild, who donated it to the state. The museum also houses the objects formerly exhibited at the Musée d’art juif. Now closed, this museum was established in Montmartre at the end of World War II and contained wooden models of Polish synagogues made by students of the ORT trade school. In addition, the museum has the collections of the Consistory of Paris (Torah crown, Galicia, 1810) and those of the Fondation du judaïsme français, plus its own acquisitions (The Jewish Cemetery, a painting by Samuel Hirszenberg from 1892).

Holocaust Mémorial ©Guilhem Vellut – Wikimedia Commons

The visit starts on the first floor with the fundamental texts and symbolic objects. The rooms that follow reveal the diverse facets of Judaism. The medieval Jewries are represented by tombstones discovered in the nineteenth century when boulevard Saint Germain was built. Italy and its ghettos are represented by liturgical furniture (a circumcision chair [Kisei shel Eliyahu] from the early eighteenth century), silverware, and embroidery. Amsterdam, London and Bordeaux are evoked by objects and prints (a painting by Jean Lubin Vauzelle of the synagogue at Bordeaux, 1812) that exemplify integration of the Jews cast out of Spain. Considerable space is devoted as well to the celebrations that punctuate the Jewish year: Purim rolls, Hannukah lamps, a nineteenth century Austrian sukkah decorated with a view of Jerusalem.

Two sections, the Traditional Ashkenazic World and the Traditional Sephardic World, offer overall artistic and religious views of these two main ritual communities. A sequence entitled  “Emancipation: The French model” offers a historical vision from the French Revolution onward (an 1867 painting by Edouard Moyse shows the Great Sanhedrin of Paris), highlighting key moments of integration. The Jewish presence in twentieth century art presents works from the early decades of the last century. Underlying these runs the eternal question of Jewish expression in art through folklore, ornament, biblical sources and calligraphy.

The Shoah is commemorated by a kind of memorial, a break in the sequence. Last, this impressive complex has temporary exhibition rooms for contemporary artists, an auditorium for concerts, talks and film screenings, a library, a photo library, a video library, and a tearoom.

Synagogue rue des Tournelles © Flickr (Istvan)

The Memorial to the Unknown Jewish Martyr (Mémorial du Martyr Juif Inconnu) was built in 1953 by international subscription on land made available by the municipality. The facade presents texts in French, Hebrew, and Yiddish in remembrance of the victims of the Shoah. In front of the building, designed by the architects Georges Goldberg and Alexandre Persitz, there is a symbolic basin inscribed with the names of the main Nazi camps and the Warsaw ghetto. It serves as a light well for the underground crypt with its perpetual flame. The upper floor os the building has rooms for temporary exhibits on the war and its genocide. The Center for Contemporary Jewish Documentation (CDJC) library and archives are wholly dedicated to the Nazi period.

As you walk toward the Place des Vosges, there is a  synagogue on rue des Tournelles. The original building, from 1861, was burned down during the Paris Commune of 1871. It was rebuilt following a design by Marcellin Varcollier in a style close to that of the synagogue on rue de la Victoire. The facade features the Tablets of the Law and the Paris city coats of arms. Consecrated in 1876, this synagogue has a visible metal inner structure built in the workshops of Gustave Eiffel more than ten years before his famous Tower. The two rows of galleries, made entirely of iron and cast iron, provide both support and ornament.