The Jews of the South of France

  • This is a translation of Armand Lunel, Juifs du Languedoc, de la Provence et des États français du Pape. (Présences du Judaïsme.) Paris: Albin Michel, 1975.
  • Armand Lunel
  • Translated by Samuel N. Rosenberg
  • Foreword by David A. Jessula
  • Published in the Hebrew Union College Annual 89 (2018 [published in 2019])
  • Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, pp. 1-158
  • Annual (hardcover): ISSN 360-9049 and ISBN 978-0-87820-166-2
  • Image: Title page of offprint

Armand Lunel’s book is a history of a Jewish community of the South of France, the Midi, from their arrival in pre-Christian times to the 1970s. (Indeed, the Lunels—a family of scholars—have belonged to this community for many centuries.) The book opens with a rather brief account of the earliest knowable period, followed by a chronological presentation of increasingly detailed chapters; the final and most tightly focused chapter tracing the development and culture of the Papal enclave, i.e., the part of the Midi that was governed by the Pope rather than the King of France. Jews persecuted elsewhere in France found that the Church offered them an enduring haven they could find nowhere else. It was an imperfect haven, marked by many and varied restrictions and prohibitions, including a ghetto in each of its four towns, but it offered a guarantee of survival, a kind of limited internal freedom, and the chance to develop a coherent independent culture. The Papal enclave became the seat of a unique Jewish community that maintained its special, protected status right up to the Revolution of 1789, when its members—despite ongoing discrimination—became full-fledged citizens of a unified French nation.

Specifically, the Papal enclave comprised the city of Avignon and a region called the Comtat Venaissin, which included the cities of L’Isle-sur-Sorgue, Cavaillon, and Carpentras. Together with Avignon, these cities constituted southern Judaism’s four “holy communities.” Throughout the area, Jews of course formed a distinct minority, the most populous community being the one in Carpentras. Several languages were in concurrent use in the Papal states: Latin, Provençal, French, and also, among the Jews, Hebrew and a vernacular called Judeo-Comtadin. This everyday spoken language of the Jewish community was basically Provençal, but with a notable admixture of Hebrew. In writing, the Jews used Provençal or, depending on their intended readership, either Hebrew or Provençal spelled out in Hebrew characters.

This historical narrative, backed by solid erudition, is also highly personal for Lunel, with scattered but frequent reminders of Lunel’s family relation to that which he reports. Many passages suggest a memoir no less than an academically grounded work of history.

Lunel’s work was published in 1975, the first book-length study devoted to this previously neglected Jewish community. For an extensive scholarly study of this community in the 17th and 18th centuries, see René Moulinas, Les Juifs du Pape en France: Les communautés d’Avignon et du Comtat Venaissin aux 17e et 18e siècles (Paris: Privat, 1981) or the abridged version, Les Juifs du Pape: Avignon et le Comtat Venaissin (Paris: Albin Michel, 1992).

“Do the Jews of the south of France, one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, fit comfortably into this formulation? That is the subject of Armand Lunel’s magisterial Juifs du Languedoc, de la Provence et des États Français du Pape, published in 1977 after his death in Monaco, where (after four years of army service) he had been a professor for thirty years. Although subsequently honored by the Grand Prix Gobert of the French Academy and the Grand Prix National des Lettres, the book has only now been made available in English, in a superb translation by Samuel N. Rosenberg of Indiana University. Professor Rosenberg has not only conveyed the warmth and eloquence of Lunel’s prose, but also provided the annotation needed by a book that sometimes tends to be allusive rather than expository in style.”

Edward Alexander in Source. He is emeritus professor of English at University of Washington. Among his books are Lionel Trilling and Irving Howe: A Literary Friendship and Jews Against Themselves.


  • Foreword: A Glance at My Grandfather’s Legacy, by David A. Jessula
  • Translator’s Preface
  • Translator’s Introduction
  • Other Works about Armand Lunel and the Jews of the South of France
  • Table of Currencies


  • Chapter 1. The Most Distant Past
  • Chapter 2. The Golden Age of the Jews of the Midi
    • A statute of tolerance
    • A prospering economy
    • A surprising spiritual climate
    • Jews and Cathars
    • End of the Golden Age
  • Chapter 3. Provençal Vicissitudes
    • Provence open to Israel
    • Dark spots in the picture
    • Good King René!
    • Religious life
    • Literature
    • The disaster
  • Chapter 4. An Aristocracy of Hebrew Origin
    • A whole cycle of conversions
    • A new nobility
    • Indictment by a General Prosecutor
    • Malherbe, a foe of the Jews
    • Alleged correspondence between the Jews of Arles and those of Constantinople
    • The Register of the Noble Class of Provence by Barcilon de Mauvans
    • An edict of appeasement and the survival of prejudices
  • Chapter 5. The Pope’s Jews
    • 1. Pontifical Asylum
      • Centuries of relative security
      • The high cost of asylum
    • 2. Jewish Quarters
      • The Four Holy Communities
      • The lovely Jewish women of Avignon
      • The strange Carrière of Carpentras
      • Marks of infamy
    • 3. Synagogues
      • The Synagogue of Carpentras
      • The Synagogue of Cavaillon
      • A religious art in keeping with the region
    • 4. Poll-tax Republics
      • The prayer for the Pope
      • Elections and duties of the Baylons
      • Crushing taxes
      • Extraordinary authoritarianism
    • 5. Commerce
      • A whole series of restrictions
      • Final development of business
    • 6. Daily Life
      • A schedule determined by ritual
      • Circumcision
      • Marriage
      • Some relaxation of discipline
      • Pleasures of intimacy
      • Provençal color
    • 7. One-way Solidarity
      • Keeping outsiders out
      • Trouble at L’Isle-sur-Sorgue
      • Extraordinary precautions
      • Religious exemptions for the rabbinate
      • Comtadins and Bordelais: similarities
    • 8. Jews and Christians as Neighbors
      • Preventive measures variously respected
      • Jewish influences in folklore
      • Jews subjected to violence, cruelty, and harassment
      • How the Jews managed to take revenge
    • 9. The Problem of Conversions
      • Forced preaching
      • Conversion through music
      • A rabbi from Metz converted in Carpentras
      • Questionable apostates
      • Conversions as a response to plague
      • Child snatchers
      • A few more notable conversions
      • Lavish celebration of baptisms
    • 10. Cultural Panorama
      • The Hebrew-Comtadin patois
      • Patois theater
      • Vestiges of Judeo-Comtadin
      • Treasures of religious inspiration
      • Two moving lyric poems
      • A note on liturgy
    • 11. The End of a Small World
      • The Edict of Tolerance and departures from the Carrières
      • Gradual emancipation
      • Attitude and role of the Judeo-Comtadins under the Revolution
      • Liquidation of the debts of the old Communities
      • Adolphe Crémieux succeeds in having the more judaico oath abrogated
      • Final memories of the Four Holy Communities

Related publications

Susan L. Einbinder and Samuel N. Rosenberg, “A Hebrew Piyyut and Its Old French Translation.” In Jews and Christians in Thirteenth-Century France, ed. Elisheva Baumgarten and Judah D. Galinsky (New York and Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 249-257.

Samuel N. Rosenberg, trans., Translation of Mahieu le Juif, “Por autrui movrai mon chant” and “Par grant franchise me covient chanter,” Metamorphoses 23.1 (2015), 118-125.

Samuel N. Rosenberg, “French Songs in Occitan Chansonniers: Mahieu le Juif in ms. O.” In “De sens rassis”: Essays in Honor of Rupert T. Pickens, ed. Keith Busby, Bernard Guidot, and Logan E. Whalen (Series: Faux Titre, 259) (Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2005), 567-575.

Samuel N. Rosenberg, “The Medieval Hebrew-French Wedding Song,” Shofar—An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 11.1 (Fall 1992), 22-37.

S. N. Rosenberg, “Judaeo-Italian Elegy (Text and Translation),” Midstream 13.3 (March 1967), 57-65.