In the 1930s, the Jewish-French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas described the climate of those pre-war times as “an inaudible hissing in our common ear.” Fast-forward to recent events and that hissing is no longer inaudible. French Jews trapped inside a synagogue while an angry mob howls outside. Jews lambasted with violent epithets while they walk down the street. It all sounds eerily familiar.
But there is another reason why some 75 percent of French Jewry said in a recent survey that they were considering leaving France: the bad economy. For students of French history, this explosive combination of financial woes and rising anti-Jewish sentiment not only echoes the 1930s, but leads all the way back to November 1394, when Jews were expelled from medieval France for the final time.
Yes, the final time.
Why did Jews keep returning to France, and what made them finally say, “Enough!”? In this two-part series, we’ll take a look at both medieval France and France in more modern times to see if those Jews of long ago have something to say about the situation in France today.
It was a land of opportunity, a place where someone who wasn’t afraid of a little hard work, or the challenges of adapting to a different climate and culture, could prosper. No, this land wasn’t America in the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. It was a large tract of land that straddled what is today northern France and Germany. Towards the end of the 10th century, this untamed wilderness began to awaken from its slumber. Small cities sprang up. Commerce began to develop. And since, as the Talmud tells us, “one who has 100 wants 200,” the rulers of the area began to look around to see how they could increase their wealth.
Some of the Christian leaders extended an invitation to Jewish merchants living in areas that bordered the Mediterranean, where commerce had flourished since ancient times. Others tried to entice Jews who had already made the northward trek to move to their towns, offering better conditions. Many Jews accepted these invitations.
Read the rest of the article at The Jewish Press.