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The Jewish Community of Metz


Capital of the Moselle department, France

21st Century

Communauté Israélite de Metz
39 rue du Rabbin Elie Bloch
57000 Metz


Even if Simon, Bishop of Metz in 350, was really of Jewish origin (as a later source affirms) this does not prove that Jews were present in the town during that period. However, their presence is confirmed from 888 at the latest; a church council held in Metz at that date forbade Christians to take meals in the company of Jews. There is a reference earlier than the 11th century to a Jew called David perhaps renting a vineyard. It was in Metz that the series of anti- Jewish persecutions accompanying the first crusade began, claiming 22 victims in the town in 1096. Among the scholars of the early middle ages, foremost was Gershom b. Judah ("light of the exile"); although he lived mainly in Mainz he was born in Metz, as was his disciple Eliezer b. Samuel. There was also the Tosafist David of Metz. The medieval Jewish community occupied a whole quarter, the vicus judaeorum, whose memory is perpetuated in the street named "jurue." in 1237 every Jew who passed through Metz was compelled to pay 30 deniers to the town, but was not permitted to live there. In the 15th century successive bishops, whose residence had been transferred to vic, tolerated the Jews under their jurisdiction and granted them privileges (1442). In Metz itself, however, the Jews were permitted to stay only three days.

After the French occupation (1552), the first three Jewish families were admitted to reside there as pawnbrokers (1565/67); they were followed by others, and in 1595, 120 persons established a community which henry iv and his successors took under their protection. Through the arrival of Jews from the Rhine areas, their number increased to 480 families in 1718 and almost 3,000 persons in 1748. Assigned to the Rhimport quarter, they governed themselves by elected trustees and levied numerous taxes, which grew more burdensome after the introduction of the Brancas tax (1715), originally gifts given by the community mainly to the duke of Brancas. The debts of the community became with the consent of the king, the chief rabbi - often renowned for his erudition like Jonah Teomim-Fraenkel of Prague (1660--69), Gabriel b. Judah Loew Eskeles of Krakow (1694-1703), and Jonathan Eybeschuetz (1742-1750) - was chosen from abroad. He judged lawsuits between Jews but from the 18th century the parliament sought to assume this right, and to this end ordered a compendium of Jewish customs to be deposited in its record office (1743).

From the beginning of the 17th century the community owned a cemetery, a synagogue, and an almshouse. In 1689 free and compulsory elementary schooling was introduced, and in 1764 a Hebrew press. The Jews were, however, hampered in their economic activities by legal disabilities. An oligarchy, at whom sumptuary laws were aimed, achieved great wealth. The poverty of the masses, however, increased. Hostility toward the Jews reached its peak at the time of the execution of Raphael Levy (1670) for alleged ritual murder, but before the revolution the jurists Pierre Louis Lacretelle (1751-1824) and Pierre Louis Roederer of Metz, future members of the national assembly, called for their emancipation. The latter organized the famous concourse of the academy of Metz on this subject (1785). In 1792 Lafayette, commanding the army at Metz, assured the religious freedom of the Jews, which was later suspended during the reign of terror (1794). The consistory created in Metz in 1808, which included Moselle and Ardennes, served 6,517 Jews. The yeshivah (Ecole centrale rabbinique), which was promoted to the status of rabbinical seminary of France in 1829, was transferred to Paris in 1859; the synagogue was rebuilt in 1850 and the almshouse in 1867. Debts arising out of taxes not abolished by the revolution devolved on the descendants of the former community. After the German annexation (1871) about 600 Jews moved to France, although immigrants soon arrived from other parts of Germany. After 1918, when the region reverted to France, there was a massive influx of immigrants from eastern Europe and the Saar region. The Jewish population of the city numbered about 2,000 in 1866; 1,407 in 1875; 1,900 in 1910; and 4,150 in 1931. Under German occupation in World War II, Metz, like the rest of Moselle and Alsace, was made judenrein following the flight of the population and particularly brutal expulsions after the entry of the Germans. About 1,500 Jews died after being deported, among them rabbis Bloch and Kahlenberg. The two synagogues and the workhouse were plundered and defiled. The great synagogue was used as a military warehouse. After the liberation the reorganized Jewish community was more united than before the war.

In 1970 Metz had about 3,500 Jews, including some 40 families recently arrived from North Africa, and a well-organized communal body. It was the seat of the consistory of Moselle, which comprised 24 communities with a total of about 5,500 Jews. The largest communities were Thionville with 450; Sarreguemines with 270; Sarrebourg with 180; and Forbach with 300. In Metz itself, in addition to the great synagogue (Ahskenazi rite) with a seating capacity of 700, there are four smaller places of worship, including one polish and one Sephardi. The community also ran a Talmud Torah center with 180 pupils from six to 13, a kindergarten with a kosher canteen, a workhouse, a mikveh, and a chevra kaddisha.

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Rabbi and poet. Born in Metz, (now in France), he studied with his father, Baruch Ben Samuel of Mainz and with Eliezer Ben Samuel of Metz and lived in Bamberg, Germany. He enjoyed great esteem as a halakhic authority. Only excerpts of his religious works remain to prove his independent thought expressed in modest and austere style. He died in Bamberg, Germany.
Evenari, Michael (1904-1989), botanist, born in Metz, France, of German descent.He grew up as Walter Schwarz in the vicinity of Marburg, Germany, and studied botany at the universities of Frankfurt and Prague, Czech Republic. He carried our research in France, Czechoslovakia and Germany. He became a lecturer at the Technical High School in Darmstadt, Germany, but on account of his Jewishness ancestry he was dismissed from his position in April 1933 without notice. He emigrated to Palestine.

During World War II he served in the Jewish Brigade. When he was demobilised he lectured at universities in the USA and South America.

Evenari was appointed professor of botany at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and then, from 1952 to 1957, he was Dean of the Faculty of Science at the Hebrew University. Between 1953-59 he was vice president of the Hebrew University. In his research Evenari made a significant contribution to the development of farming in the Negev desert in Israel and, at the same time, he greatly increased the knowledge of desert ecology. To this end he studied the farming methods of the Nabateans, Romans and Byantines. He also studied the influence of red and infra-red light on the germination of seeds an the determination of the food value of algae for livestock and large scale cultivation. He established experimental farms in Shivta and Avdat, Israel, in order to check his findings. In 1977 he was awarded a Honorary doctorate from the Darmstadt Technical High School. In 1988 he was awarded the Otto Ludwig Lange prized for his contribution to productivity and ecology of plants, especially in arid zones. Evenari wrote many articles and a number of books on his speciality and served on several UNESCO bodies.

Solomon Ben Moses Lipschitz (1675-1758) Cantor. Born in Fürth, Germany, his father was cantor there between 1652-1731. He learned at the yeshiva of David Oppenheim in Micolsburg and studied cantorial music with his father. Lipschitz practiced his profession in several communities including Prague and Frankfurt before settling in Metz in 1715. His book TE’UDAT SHELOMO (1718) combines instructions and moral precepts for cantors with the writer’s own memoirs. He died in Metz (today in France).

Glueckel of Hameln (1645-1724), Yiddish memoir writer, Glueckel bat Yosef Leib Pinkerle, was born in Hamburg, Germany, at the time a city of more than 60,000 people and a commercial center with trade connections to many countries, which was frequently hostile to its Jews. Her father Judah Leib was a merchant of precious stones, one of the leading men of the Jewish community and her mother Bella was also a businesswoman. Glueckel had at least two brothers and two sisters, and all received a secular as well as a religious education. When Glueckel was a small child, the Jews were expelled from Hamburg. Most settled in the nearby town of Altona, where Jews enjoyed official "protected" status, and from where they were allowed to return daily to Hamburg to work. After eight years, the Jews were allowed to live again within the city, apparently because they were needed to help defend it against attack.

When she was aged 14, Glueckel was taken by her parents to the small town of Hameln, near Hanover, to be married to Chaim Segal Goldschmidt, a merchant a few years older than her. The couple lived in Hameln for a year and then moved to Hamburg, where they rented the house that Glueckel would live in until 1700. The couple would enjoy thirty years of happy marriage and fruitful partnership, build considerable wealth, raise twelve children, and arrange for them marriages of wealth and prestige. Glueckel and Chaim worked together running his business trading gold, silver, pearls, jewels, and money. Chaim travelled to England and Russia and throughout Europe selling his goods, with Glueckel advising him on his business dealings, drawing up partnership contracts, and helping keep accounts. As her older children grew up, Glueckel also became involved in arranging their marriages. This meant travel in Germany and abroad, and a fuller understanding of business affairs.

One evening in 1688 while travelling to a business appointment, Chaim fell on a sharp rock. He died several days later. Glueckel found herself responsible for her husband's business as well as for the future of her eight unmarried children. Demonstrating excellent business acumen and a sensible desire to stabilise her financial situation, Glueckel auctioned some of her husband's possessions, paid off his creditors and kept a significant amount for herself and the eight children still living at home. Then she slowly resumed Chaim's trade of pearls. When she saw that the business was successful she expanded it by opening a store. She then started to manufacture and sell stockings, the business began to sell imported and local goods and she began to lend money. She arranged the marriages of all but her youngest child. While expressing a desire to spend her last years in the Land of Israel, she opted instead for security. Her daughter Esther had married Moyse Abraham Schwabe, who lived in the French-controlled city of Metz. At her recommendation, Glueckel moved to Metz and at the age of 54 reluctantly agreed to marry widower Cerf Hertz Levy, a merchant who was wealthier than Chaim had ever been. Levy had seemed an attractive enough prospect: a wealthy businessman and community leader in Metz. Unfortunately, within two years the merchant was bankrupt, losing not only his money but Glueckel's as well. For ten years the merchant tried to recoup his losses, but never successfully. In 1712, Glueckel was again widowed, but this time she was 66 and in poor health. For three years she lived alone in Metz. Finally, she moved in with daughter Esther and stayed there until her death.

In 1690 shortly after Chaim's death, Glueckel began to write her memoirs. The opening words of the memoirs were “In my great grief and for my heart's ease I begin this book the year of Creation 5451 [1690-91] — God soon rejoice us and send us His redeemer! I began writing it, dear children, upon the death of your good father, in the hope of distracting my soul from the burdens laid upon it, and the bitter thought that we have lost our faithful shepherd. In this way I have managed to live through many wakeful nights, and springing from my bed shortened the sleepless hours.” Clearly she considered the memoirs a kind of therapy after her husband's death, and she wished to tell her children (and their children) about her husband, herself, and their families, but she could not possibly have foreseen that they would comprise one of the most remarkable documents of the late 17th and early 18th century. Her memoirs, which describe her life as mother of fourteen children and as businesswoman and trader, has given scholars, students and laymen an invaluable document about Jewish life in Europe in the 17th century. The first five books of the work were apparently completed before her second marriage: she was sad at the loss of her beloved Chaim, but proud of her success at business and marriage arrangements and proud of her children (most of the time). The last two books were written after 1712, when she was again alone and much sadder. Glueckel's story, however, ends happily. She wrote that although she had obviously been loathe to give up her independence and to rely on her children, she willingly agreed to move in with her daughter Esther and son-in-law Moyse in Metz. The memoirs clearly show that as she watched a her children and grandchildren continue to marry well, have children, and prosper Glueckel lived out her remaining years in the shelter of her daughter and son-in-law's evident warm love and respect. As Glueckel put it, she was "paid all of the honors in the world." Most of the narrative ends in 1715, although a few anecdotes continue to 1719.

The original Yiddish manuscript of Glueckel's book is lost, but copies were made by one of her sons and by a great-nephew, and from these her work was published in 1896 as "Zikhroynes Glikl Hamel".
The synagogue in Metz, Lorraine, France.
Engraving, 19th century
Built at the beginning of the 17th century it was
reconstructed in 1850
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of T. Findling, Israel)
Kol Nidrei prayers, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)
Jewish soldiers in a military camp near Metz,
during the Franco-Prussian War
Metz, France, 1870
Postcard based on a painting by Hermann Junker
Frankfurt am Main, Germany, c. 1900
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
Dr. Paul Arnsberg Collection)

He was born in Krotoszyn and after studying in Prague was appointed rabbi of Kremsier, Moravia (1720-26) and then of Mannheim (1726-51), where he founded a yeshiva. In 1751 he succeeded Yonatan Eibescheutz as rabbi in Metz, remaining there for the rest of his life.He strongly opposed the followers of the pseudo-messiah Shabbetai Tsevi and when he was in Metz discovered five amulets written by Eibeschuetz that seemed to confirm his suspicion that Eibeschuetz was a secret Shabbatean, and - together with two other rabbis - excommunicated Eibeschuetz. He was the author of glosses to the Talmud.

Lazare Isidor (1814-1888), rabbi, born in Lixheim, Lorraine, France, who became Chief Rabbi of France in 1867. Isidor was born into a rabbinical dynasty dating back to the fifteenth century in Hesse-Nassau and Alsace, and which one of the most famous was his great-grandfather Naphtali Hirsch Katzenellenbogen.

He played an important role in the integration of the Jewish community in French civil society, first by initiating a new translation of the Hebrew Bible into French, which became the official Bible of the French Rabbinate, and the other, with the help of Adolphe Cremieux, in obtaining the abolition of the infamous oath "Judaico more" which Jews were forced to pronounce in a synagogue before giving evidence in a civil court. During his time at Pfalzburg he refused to allow a member of the congregation of Saverne to pronounce this oath, considering it an insult to his coreligionists. Isidor was prosecuted for his direction and brought to trial. After his acquittal the decree establishing the oath, the last measure against the Jews of France, was cancelled by a decision of the Court of Cessation.

In 1829 Isidor entered the rabbinical school of Metz, which a short time later became the Central Rabbinical School of France under government supervision. In 1837 he was appointed rabbi of Phalsbourg, a position he held for ten years. In 1844 Isidor went to Paris, where he was received with enthusiasm, and in 1847, at the early age of thirty-three, became Chief Rabbi of Paris, a position which he occupied for twenty years. In 1867 he became chief rabbi of France.

Thanks to his reputation and his personality he was able to maintain the unity of the community and to persuade some congregations to drop their demands for reform of the ritual. Isidor was also active in bringing the Algerian Jewish community under the umbrella of the French chief rabbinate.

Gabriel Ben Yehudah Eskeles (1655-1718), rabbi and communal leader, born in Krakow, Poland, and died in Nikolsburg (now Mikulov, in the Czech Republic). A pupil of Samuel Koidanover, it is known that in 1683 he was offered the position of rabbi in Prague, but it seems that he refused the offer. The following year he became rabbi of Olkusz near Krakow and the family name Eskeles was apparently derived from the name of the town. In 1695 he became rabbi of Metz, France, and in 1708 he was appointed the Landesrabbiner (chief rabbi) of Moravia, then part of the Hapsburg Empire, (now part of the Czech Republic), and then he became head of the yeshiva of Nikolsburg where there lived some 600 Jewish families makjng up about half of the town's population. He banned kabbalists and sabbatarians from the town. He wrote commentaries on tractates "Shabbat" and "Megilla" and also on "Perkey Avot".