History of the Jews in France

The history of the Jews in France deals with Jews and Jewish communities in France since at least the Early Middle Ages. France was a centre of Jewish learning in the Middle Ages, but persecution increased over time, including multiple expulsions and returns. During the French Revolution in the late 18th century, on the other hand, France was the first European country to emancipate its Jewish population. Antisemitism still occurred in cycles and reached a high in the 1890s, as shown during the Dreyfus affair, and in the 1940s, under Nazi occupation and the Vichy regime.

French Jews
  • Juifs français (French)
  • יהדות צרפת (Hebrew)
  • פראַנצויזישע יידן (Yiddish)
Total population
Core Jewish population:
480,000–550,000[1][2][3][4][5]
Enlarged Jewish population
(includes non-Jewish relatives of Jews):
600,000[6][7]
Regions with significant populations
    Languages
    Traditional Jewish languages
    Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, and other Jewish languages (most endangered and some now extinct)
    Liturgical languages
    Hebrew and Aramaic
    Predominant spoken languages
    French, Hebrew, Judeo-Arabic, Yiddish, and Russian
    Religion
    Judaism or no religion
    Related ethnic groups
    Sephardi Jews, Mizrahi Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, other ethnic divisions

    Before 1919, most French Jews lived in Paris, with many being very proud to be fully assimilated into French culture, and they comprised an upscale subgroup. A more traditional Judaism was based in Alsace-Lorraine, which was taken by Germany in 1871 and recovered by France in 1918 following World War I. In addition, numerous Jewish refugees and immigrants came from Russia and eastern and central Europe in the early 20th century, changing the character of French Judaism in the 1920s and 1930s. These new arrivals were much less interested in assimilation into French culture. Some supported such new causes as Zionism, the Popular Front and communism, the latter two being popular among the French political left.

    During World War II, the Vichy government collaborated with Nazi occupiers to deport a large number of both French Jews and foreign Jewish refugees to concentration camps.[8] By the war's end, 25% of the Jewish population of France had been murdered in the Holocaust, though this was a lower proportion than in most other countries under Nazi occupation.[9][10]

    In the 21st century, France has the largest Jewish population in Europe and the third-largest Jewish population in the world (after Israel and the United States). The Jewish community in France is estimated to number 480,000–550,000, depending on the definition being used. French Jewish communities are concentrated in the metropolitan areas of Paris, which has the largest Jewish population (277,000),[11] Marseille, with a population of 70,000, Lyon, Nice, Strasbourg and Toulouse.[12]

    The majority of French Jews in the 21st century are Sephardi and Mizrahi North African Jews, many of whom (or their parents) emigrated from former French colonies of North Africa after those countries gained independence in the 1950s and 1960s. They span a range of religious affiliations, from the ultra-Orthodox Haredi communities to the large segment of Jews who are entirely secular and who often marry outside the Jewish community.[13]

    Approximately 200,000 French Jews live in Israel. Since 2010 or so, more have been making aliyah in response to rising antisemitism in France.[14]


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