BéZiers

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BÉZIERS

BÉZIERS (Heb. בדרש; based on the Latin form), city in the department of Hérault, France. Natives of the city were known as ישרדב normally transliterated as "Bedersi." An estate near Béziers belonging to Jews (Guardia Judaica) is mentioned in a document of 990. In the 11th century, the Jews lived in both parts of the city, which was divided between the bishop and the count. They paid the count taxes on honey, cinnamon, and pepper. The synagogue was built in 1144 or 1164 in the present rue de la Promenade. Its mosaic pavement, with Hebrew inscriptions and its foundation stone, were discovered in the first half of the 19th century. The cemetery was situated outside the city walls to the east and two Hebrew tombstones have been discovered there. A rue de la Juiverie recalling one of the medieval Jewish quarters still exists. Both the count and the bishop made use of Jewish commercial and financial agents. In 1160 the bishop abolished the ancient local custom of stoning the houses of the Jews on the Sunday before Easter. In return, the Jews undertook to pay an annual tax. Count Roger ii was kindly disposed toward the Jews, even entrusting them with administrative functions. The Christian inhabitants of Béziers, who had *Albigensian leanings, were also, as a rule, favorably disposed. About 200 Jews were among the victims of the massacre of the Albigenses in Béziers in 1209. Most of the Jewish population had previously fled from the city. Some of the refugees settled in Narbonne; some apparently in *Gerona, Spain; an inscription apparently intended for the synagogue they founded there has been discovered in Gerona. The revenues formerly derived by the counts of Béziers from the Jews now went to the king. The bishop however retained his right, and even built a new synagogue in the part of the city under his jurisdiction in an effort to attract Jews from the area. In 1278, however, the king compelled him to destroy the synagogue and ordered the Jews who had moved to the bishop's territory to return.

Béziers was known to the medieval Jews as "the little Jerusalem." Abraham *Ibn Ezra stayed there for some time in about 1155; he dedicated his Sefer ha-Shem to two scholars of Béziers. *Benjamin of Tudela, visiting the town in about 1165, remarked on "a congregation of learned men." The best known of these are the liturgical poet Abraham b. Isaac *Bedersi, his son *Jedaiah ha-Penini, and *Meshullam b. Moses. The poets Eleazar Hanan Ezobi, Astruc of Béziers, and Meshullam Ezobi also lived in Béziers. Samuel Ibn *Tibbon lived there for some time. Solomon b. Joseph ibn Ayyub of Granada and Jacob b. Moses, translators of Arabic works into Hebrew, settled at Béziers.

The Jews were expelled from Béziers in 1306. An indication of the scope of the Jewish settlement there is provided by three deeds of sale which have been preserved concerning the subsequent liquidation of their real estate on the king's behalf. The documents mention at least 13 houses which had belonged to some ten Jews. In 1367 the community was renewed by an agreement made by a number of Jews with the bishop. The general expulsion of the Jews from France in 1394 again forced them to leave. During World War ii, 300 Jewish refugees stayed in Béziers, where they had two prayer rooms at their disposal, until 1943. A new community was formed after the war which in 1968 comprised some 400 persons, mostly from North Africa.

bibliography:

Graetz, Hist, 6 (1949), index; Roth, Dark Ages, 136, 146; Gross, Gal Jud, 96–105; Z. Szajkowski, Franco-Judaica (1962), no. 309; idem, Analytical Franco-Jewish Gazetteer (1966), 198; Millás Vallicrosa, in: Sefarad, 10 (1950), 341–3; Catane, in: Tarbiz, 24 (1954/55), 232f.; H. Vida, Episcopatus… Béziers (1951).

[Zvi Avneri]