views updated May 21 2018


METZ (Heb. מיץ), capital of the Moselle department, in the northeast of France. Even if Simon, bishop of Metz in 350, was really of Jewish origin (as a later source claims), it does not prove that Jews were present in the town during that period. However, their presence is confirmed from at least 888; a *Church Council held in Metz at that date forbade Christians to take meals in the company of Jews. There is a reference that predates 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. Foremost among the local scholars in the early Middle Ages 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. Another local scholar was the tosafist David of Metz. The medieval Jewish community occupied its own separate 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 remain 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 allowed 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 soon followed by others, and in 1595, 120 persons established a community that Henry iv and his successors took under their protection. Thanks to the influx of Jews from the Rhine areas, the community increased to 480 families in 1718 and almost 3,000 persons in 1748. Assigned to the Rhimport quarter, it established a self-governing body with elected trustees. Community officials levied numerous taxes that grew more burdensome after the introduction of the Brancas tax (1715), which had originated as gifts given by the community mainly to the duke of Brancas. The debts of the community became enormous, reaching 500,000 livres at the time of the French Revolution. With the consent of the king, community leaders chose a chief rabbi who was often renowned for his erudition. Among the rabbis invited to lead the community were Jonah Teomin-Fraenkel of Prague (1660–69), Gabriel b. Judah Loew *Eskeles of Cracow (1694–1703), and Jonathan Eybeschuetz (1742–50) – chosen from abroad. The chief rabbi judged lawsuits between Jews but from the 18th century the parliament sought to assume this right. To this end, it 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 a poorhouse. In 1689 free and compulsory elementary schooling was introduced, and in 1764 a Hebrew press began publishing. The Jews were restricted in their economic activities by legal disabilities, however. While an oligarchy developed that achieved great wealth, the masses remained mired in poverty. Hostility toward the Jews reached its peak at the time of the execution of Raphael *Lévy (1670) for alleged ritual murder. Nevertheless, before the Revolution the jurists Pierre Louis Lacretelle (1751–1824) and Pierre Louis *Roederer of Metz, future members of the National Assembly, called for granting Jews full rights. The latter organized the famous concourse of the academy of Metz on this subject Jewish emancipation (1785). In 1792 Marquis de Lafayette, who commanded the army at Metz, proclaimed the religious freedom of the Jews. The proclamation 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 became the Rabbinical Seminary of France in 1829, was transferred to Paris in 1859. The synagogue, which had been destroyed earlier, was rebuilt in 1850, as was the almshouse in 1867. After the German annexation of Alsace-Lorraine (1871) about 600 Jews immigrated to France. Immigrants soon arrived from other parts of Germany as well. After 1918, when the region reverted to France, there was a massive influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe and from 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.

[Gilbert Cahen /

David Weinberg (2nd ed.)]

Hebrew Printing

In 1764 Moses May set up a Hebrew printing press in Metz. In association with the royal printer Joseph Antoine, May published a Yiddish translation of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1764) and the first edition of Bezalel *Ashkenazi's Asefat Zekenim (Shitah Mekubbeẓet, to tractate Beẓah, 1765). These works were followed by a large number of rabbinic and liturgical works, including the outstanding rabbis of Metz, such as Aryeh Leib b. Asher's novellae Turei Even (1781). May's effort to publish a small-scale edition of various talmudic tractates from 1768 onward led to his financial ruin. His son-in-law and successor Godechau-Spire printed several volumes of "enlightened" literature in Hebrew, such as a volume of riddles by Moses Ensheim (1787). May and his successors were active until 1793. Other Hebrew printers in Metz were Ephraim Hadamar and Seligmann Wiedersheim and successors. The Wiedersheim press continued to publish until 1870, when the German annexation of Alsace-Lorraine led to its closure.

Holocaust Period and After

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 the particularly brutal expulsions carried out by German troops. About 1,500 Jews died after being deported, among them rabbis Bloch and Kahlenberg. German soldiers plundered and defiled the two synagogues and destroyed the workhouse. The great synagogue was used as a military warehouse. After the liberation, the reorganized Jewish community began a slow process of reconstruction. In 1970 Metz had about 3,500 Jews (including some 40 families recently arrived from North Africa) and a well-organized communal body. Metz 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 (Ashkenazi 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, a kindergarten with a kosher canteen, a workhouse, a mikveh, and a ḥevra kaddisha. In 1987, the Jewish population of Metz was estimated to be about 4,000.


Gross, Gal Jud, 346ff.; R. Anchel, Juifs de France (1946), 153–212; N. Netter, Vingt siècles d'histoire… (1938); J. Schneider, La ville de Metz… (1950), 288f.; R. Clement, Condition des juifs de Metz… (1903); A. Cahen, in: rej, 7 (1883), 103–15; 204–26; 8 (1884), 255–74; 12 (1886), 283–97; 13 (1886), 105–26; Germ Jud, 2 pt. 2 (1968), 228ff.; H. Contamine, Metz et la Moselle…, 1 (1932), 44–46; 2 (1932), 352–9; A. Hertzberg, French Enlightenment and the Jews (1968), index, add. bibliography: Guide du judaîsme français (1987), 39.


views updated May 11 2018

Metz City on the River Moselle; capital of Moselle department, ne France. One of Roman Gaul's chief cities, it was burned by Vandals (406) and by Huns (451). After the 8th century, the Bishops of Metz ruled a vast empire. As a free imperial city in 12th century, Metz enjoyed considerable prosperity. Seized by France in 1552, it became part of Germany in 1871, after the Franco-Prussian War. The Treaty of Versailles (1919) restored it to France. Industries: metals, machinery, tobacco, wine, tanning, clothing. Pop. (1999) 123,704.