LUNEL , town in Hérault department, S. France, home of a medieval Jewish community renowned for its scholars. According to local tradition, the town was founded by inhabitants of Jericho who arrived there after the conquest of their native city. Tourist brochures also claim that this community was outstanding for its medical studies and that its physicians carried out the first surgical operation in Europe. The nearby remains of the synagogue seem to have greater historical validity. The earliest historical evidence on the Jewish community of Lunel is recorded by *Benjamin of Tudela (1159). The community had probably been founded some time before, because by then it numbered at least 300 persons (or perhaps 300 families). Scant information on the Jewish community appears in non-Jewish sources. Toward the close of the 12th century, a Jew of Lunel, David ha-Kohen, son of Solomon, granted a loan to Agnète, wife of Guilhem viii, lord of Montpellier. On the other hand, in 1293 the lord of Lunel sold part of the incomes from his barony to a Jew of Montpellier named Thauros. The existence of a cemetery is attested in documents dating from the end of the 13th century. On the eve of the expulsion in 1306, six Jews from Lunel were arrested and imprisoned in the Châtelet of Paris. The community must have been reconstituted after the return of the Jews to France in 1315 for, on Aug. 22, 1319, King Philip v the Tall ordered proceedings against the Jews of Lunel who, during Lent, had supposedly insulted the cross. A considerable amount is known about the Jewish scholars of Lunel. Benjamin of Tudela praised them for their erudition, piety, and generosity, not only toward the students who came to study at the yeshivah but also to every Jew in distress. *Meshullam b. Jacob was rosh yeshivah and a well-known halakhic authority. Of his five sons, the best known were Jacob, a commentator; *Aaron b. Meshullam of Lunel, impassioned defender of the philosophy of Maimonides; and *Asher b. Meshullam ha-Kohen of Lunel, a mystic and a brilliant talmudist. Meshullam b. Jacob's son-in-law, Moses b. Judah of Béziers, was living in Lunel at the time of Benjamin of Tudela's visit, as was Judah b. Saul ibn *Tibbon, who settled there after persecution forced him to leave Granada. Many scholars, such as Zerahiah b. Isaac ha-Levi *Gerondi and *Abraham b. David of Posquières, stayed in Lunel for varying periods of time. Others more intimately connected with the town included *Abraham b. Nathan ha-Yarḥi (second half of the 12th century); the talmudist *Jonathan b. David ha-Kohen of Lunel; Manoah, commentator on Maimonides' Mishneh Torah; and Abba Mari b. Moses, also known as *Astruc of Lunel, a halakhic authority and vigorous opponent of science and philosophy. His main supporters were Isaac b. Avigdor, Simeon b. Joseph of Lunel, and Meir b. Isaiah; and his staunchest adversary was Solomon b. Isaac of Lunel, referred to as Nasi, who lived in Montpellier. Meshullam b. Machir, also known as Don Bonet Crescas of Lunel (d. 1306), is the last scholar known to have been a native of the town. Throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, however, there were several scholars who bore the name "de Lunel" or "Ha-Yarḥi," especially in Provence. The name was later found among families in Comtat Venaissin and the author Armand *Lunel belonged to one of these.
Gross, Gal Jud, 277–90; T. Millerot, Histoire de la ville de Lunel (n. d.), 87, 96f., 113; A.A. Rouet, Etudes sur l'écolejuive de Lunel au Moyen Age (1878); G. Scholem, Ursprung und Anfaenge der Kabbala (1962), index.