Burgundy, France

posted 3 Apr 2018, 12:47 by Lodzer Shabbat-Bulletin

Where in the World is Rabbi Eli

Burgundy, France

First specifically documented Burgundian mention of Jews - in this case, farming communities - belongs to the 11 c. of the common era. However, it is quite obvious that by that time Jews dwelled throughout Burgundy, we find Jewish cemeteries and synagogues from that period. They had two whole quarters to themselves in the capital, Dijon alone, with a yeshivah in each.

At the end of the Middle Ages, the dukes of Burgundy figured out the simple and foolproof way of getting rich at the Jewish expense. Firstly, Jews were banned from owning lands (as was the case throughout Europe). That forced those of them who had money to make it work for them in other ways; the obvious alternative to real estate was banking, i.e. money-lending. Whenever the debts of the dukes would reach a certain critical mass (for which the Jews would actually get land as collateral from both the Church and civilian powers), an edict would be issued expelling Jews from their lands, banning them from Burgundy and expunging their debts. Of course, after that there was nobody to borrow from, so the Jews were soon "forgiven" and kindly permitted to return.

Thus, the timeline of Jewish presence in Burgundy looks like a ghastly zebra; black line, white line, black line, white line...

Jews were expelled by ducal edicts in 1306, 1348 (following a pogrom after they were blamed for bringing the plague to the country), 1397, 1431 (thanks to duke Philip III "The Good" who kicked every last Jew out of Burgundy, including his personal doctor, Hakin of Vesoul), and on, and on...

In 1730, the parliament of Dijon accepted a resolution allowing Jewish merchants to stay in town for one month during the annual fair. Yet a year later, the verdict was reversed, and the Jews again were to be expelled from the country as "persons conducting trade unhealthy for the local municipalities".

And so, renting a medieval castle in Burgundy for our clientele this Passover caused me mixed feelings initially. The flavour of the project gets even more interesting, as most of the customers on this project are Jews from France and other Western European countries who have recently made Aliyah. Why did they want to come back to France for the yontef? - Some come every year to visit family and friends, some still have business interests here, and some told me they did it on purpose, to show that even if their ancestors were not good enough for the local aristocracy, they will come back as free people as they please, and let the descendants of those dukes and barons to be the ones found wanting.

You should see their passion, mixed wry humour, as they sing during Seder: "For in each generation, there would be those who rise against us to swallow us, for God to save us from their hands". And, as they sing: "Le-Shanah ha-ba'ah bi'Yrushalayim", you know what they are thinking; the vacation will be over, and they'll be in Jerusalem next week, not just next year...

Our program for Chol ha-Mo'ed includes tasting of products of the local kosher wineries. There is no small amount of irony in the fact that kosher wine production in France coincided with one of the greatest waves of Jewish emigration from here. Or, perhaps, the two are at least somewhat related; in large part, the French aliyah is responsible for teaching Israelis to appreciate good wine.

Most of those wines are exported nowadays to Israel, UK, US, and other corners of the planet. A glass of Bordeaux, anyone?

Meanwhile, I've been trying to follow Canadian news, as usual. That's how I learned of apparently sincere but misguided effort of Manitoba NDP caucus to issue Pesach congratulations, which ended with a sweet picture of a Challah baking family, and on the note: "Happy Passover". (You have at least to give them some credit for trying, if not for doing their homework)

If you, too, have non-Jewish friends who have trouble remembering the difference between Easter and Passover customs, here's a simple rule of thumb:

Wishing you Chag Kasher ve-Sameach,

Rabbi Eli