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Jewish Community of Metz, France

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Early Conditions. German fortified city in Lorraine; in 1900 it had a population of 58,462, including 1,451 Jews. According to ancient chronicles, Jews had settled in Metz in the year 221; they enjoyed municipal freedom, and lived on very good terms with the Christians. It is stated also that when St. Eucaire, Bishop of Toul, had undertaken to convert the Jews, the emperor Julian, who was at Metz at the time, condemned the bishop to prison for his untimely zeal. Under the Merovingians and Carlovingians there were Jews at Metz, engaged as agriculturists, merchants, artisans, and especially as goldsmiths and physicians. Jews and Christians formed intimate friendships; the clergy dined in the homes of the Jews, and more than one intermarriage resulted from this friendly intercourse. The cordiality of these relations was increased by the efforts made by the Church councils to disturb it. At a council held at the monastery of St. Arnould at Metz May 1, 888, at which Balbodus, Archbishop of Trèves, presided, and which was attended by Dadou, Bishop of Verdun; Arnold, Bishop of Toul;and Robert, Bishop of Metz, on the complaint of the dean of the cathedral Jews were forbidden to drink or eat with, or to marry, Christians.

These vexations lasted but a short time; under the successors of Charles the Bald, Jews might own real estate, and this would lead to the supposition that they had other municipal rights. Bishop Adalberon in 945 commanded David, a Jew of the diocese of Metz, to restore to the monastery of St. Glossinde a vineyard of which he had secured possession. This Adalberon, who occupied the episcopal see until 984, was always very favorable to the Jews, who revered him. According to the chronicles, at his death "the Jews wept aloud; and mourned and lamented." Some years later they showed similar feeling at the obsequies of another virtuous and tolerant archbishop—Mattard. The dukes of Lorraine also took them under their protection and treated them with the greatest consideration. Thanks to this social peace, they devoted themselves to study, and among them were scholars called "the sages of Lorraine" (); celebrated rabbis, such as R. Simon ha-Gadol, R. Machir, Leontin, R. Eliezer (the author of the "Sefer Yere'im"), and especially Rabbenu Gershom Me'or ha-Gadol.

Period of Persecution. Persecutions, especially during the Crusades, scattered the Jews of Metz. Those who afterward returned found a refuge there, for which they were obliged to pay thirty-four deniers, levied on them when they entered the city. Nevertheless, in 1365 they were expelled by the magistrates, who assigned their presence as the cause of the destruction by lightning of twenty-two houses.

Under French Rule. In 1567, after France had taken possession of Metz, some Jewish families were again admitted with the consent of the marshal of Vieilleville, and less than thirty years later they were organized into a community. In 1595 they met in general assembly and elected a communal board, to which they delegated all power and all authority in everything concerning administration and police, and the jurisdiction of civil cases. Of the six men composing this council the following three were rabbis: Isaac, son of Lazare Levy; Joseph Levy; and Solomon, son of Gershon Zay. The proceedings of this assembly, as well as those of the election, were submitted for the approval of the higher authorities, who on July 12, 1595, "by the grace of God, and with the consent of his majesty, and of Monsieur, the Duke of Epergnan," recognized those elected as the official representatives and the regularly appointed intermediaries of the Jewish community of Metz.

The community developed in influence and numbers; in 1614 it numbered 500; in 1624 there were 120 families, consisting of more than 600 individuals. The rabbi at that time was Moses Cohen of Prague. His nomination was confirmed by the Duke de Valette, peer and colonel-general of France and commanding general of the king in the city and citadel of Metz, "to undertake the above-mentioned charge and functions of rabbi." A fact that should be noticed is that throughout the Middle Ages the nomination of the rabbi required ratification by the state. In 1650 the rabbi was Moses Nerol; contrary to custom, and for some unknown reason, the council of the community did not ask the government to confirm his nomination. Louis XIV., during his visit to Metz Sept. 25, 1657, visited the synagogue and gave audience to the council of the trustees of the community as well as to the rabbi. The same day he signed letters patent for the privileges of the Jews, in which he warned them that in the future they would not be allowed to choose a rabbi without obtaining his consent.

As early as March 24, 1603, and Oct. 18, 1605, Henry IV. had granted the Jews letters patent, according to which he "took them under his protection, and permitted them to trade according to their franchises, liberties, and ancient customs." These letters patent were maintained, and the Jews' privileges were even increased, by Louis XIII. (Jan. 24, 1632), by Louis XIV., and by Louis XV. (July 9, 1718). Louis XIII. "rewarded them for their devotion and charity," and granted them a new law to remove all difficulties between them and the inhabitants of the city, in consideration of the services they had rendered the garrison of Metz during the civil wars. The letters patent granted by Louis XIV. and Louis XV. were ratified and registered by the Parliament of Metz (Sept. 3, 1718). Those of May 7, 1777, gave the Jews still greater liberties and spoke of them as citizens of the land. In 1782, when the Count of Provence, afterward Louis XVIII., went to Metz, he visited the synagogue, and the chief rabbi, Lion Asser (Aryeh Loeb ben Asher), in the name of the community, assured him of his homage and bestowed upon him the priestly benediction. This made a profound impression upon the count, and those about him were astonished to hear him praise the Jew. "Jew or Christian," he said, "what is the difference? I honor virtue wherever it is found."

The French Revolution was greeted with enthusiasm by the Jews of Metz. In 1792 the chief rabbi himself, Uri Cohen, already advanced in years, offered an example of patriotism by tendering his services for the defense of the city. It was he, also, who, after the victory of Valmy, set out at the head of the defenders of Thionville and, with Rolley, mayor of Metz, led them before the Ark, where, in an enthusiastic speech, he extolled the bravery of the Jews and declared the country had the right to count upon the cooperation of all its citizens. During the Reign of Terror the synagogue was closed, the sacred utensils used in the services were put under seal, and the courtyard was used for a pasture; the tombstones were taken from the cemetery and used for building purposes.

By the decrees of 1806 and of March 7, 1808, the Jewish creed was officially recognized, and in the creation of the seven consistories and grand rabbinates the district of Metz and the community of the city of Metz are mentioned.

In Recent Times. The first chief rabbi was Mayer Charleville, who was followed by Joseph Gougenheim, Wittersheim, Aaron Worms, Lyon Lambert, and Lippmann. After the war of 1870 Lippmann, who was unwilling to surrender his allegiance to France, resigned his post. He was subsequently made chief rabbi at Lille. During this period Louis Morhange, formerly professor at the rabbinical school in Metz, served as chief rabbi until the installation of Bigard. In 1885 the latter was succeeded by Isaac Weill,who in 1890 succeeded Arnold Aron as chief rabbi at Strasburg. His successors at Metz were Adolphe Ury and the present (1904) incumbent, Nathan Netter.

By the royal decree of 1824 the rabbinical school that was transferred to Paris in 1859 was established at Metz. The synagogue was erected in 1840 and dedicated in 1845. The community possesses communal schools, an infant school, a hospital, a maẓẓah bakery, and numerous charitable societies, including a society of young people, which is recognized by the state and which gives aid without distinction as to creed.

Bibliography: A. Kahn, Les Rabbins de Metz, in R. E. J. xii. 295; Schwab, Répertoire.