The south façade, flanked on two levels, is refined ; it thus harmonizes with the urban fabric.
High constructions were favoured in the narrow streets of the time. The main place of worship is on the first storey ; it is reserved for men. The interior of the high-ceilinged room is richly decorated.
The rococo style superimposes a mix of two cultures, Jewish and Provençale. The rabbi's rostrum rises between two stairs, with a sumptuos wrought-iron balustrade.
On the ground floor, the room reserved for women is more sober, a space only just letting them glimpse the sacred books. This room also served as a bakery, in particular at Passover, as the oven where they baked the unleavened bread will testify.
Add to this the ritual bath : a large pool permitting the women to "purify" themselves.
Since 1960, the bakery houses a museum testifying, through many objects, to life in the carrières.
Paradoxically the sumptuous décor of the Cavaillon synagogue shows nothing of the hard life of the carrières, of the ghetto Jews of Provence under the Ancien Régime.
At the end of the 14th century, in 1394, the Jewish communities, expelled frm the French kingdom, took refuge in the Comtat Venaissin, an independent state belonging to the papacy from the 13th to the 18th century.
They were called "the Pope's Jews" by the local population, because they were dependent upon the Pope as their host, but the Pope's tolerance was relative :
In the 15th century, the Jews of Cavaillon were forced to live in a ghetto of a few streets ("carriero" in Provençal), closed each evening for the night.
In the 17th century, with the Counter-Reformation, this measure intensified. Exclusion, insecurity, promiscuity and hygiene problems were part of every day life for the inhabitants.
The humiliations were many for this small community, neighbour of a few kilometers to those of Carpentras, Avignon, and Isle sur la Sorgue, other ghettos. If the right to their religion and to self-government was recognized, Jewish men were obligated to wear a yellow hat when they went out. They had to pay particualr taxes. They also had to listen to Christian sermons calling on them to convert, etc. Only professions authorized by the Pope were open to them. The inhabitants of the carrières thus specialized in the rag trade and moneylending.
Excluded from the rest of society, the carrière organized itself. It had its rules and its leader. Life revolved around the synagogue, the place where prayers, education and meetings took place.
The carrières were only abolished after the French Revolution, in 1790-1791. The synagogue in Cavaillon is the only truly preserved testimony to the life shared in these carrières.
For the Church, the keeping of a small group of Jews wretched and humble must testify to the fate of Israel, punished for having refused Christianity.
The repetition over the ages of restrictive measures is, however, an indication that they were, in reality, not implemented much.
The "Pope's Jews", as they were to be called, seemed to have had good relations with their fellow, Christian citizens.
During the 18th century, the economic situation of the Jews improved. The Comtadins travelled extensively throughout all of Southern France, some settling permanently in Nîmes, Montpellier, etc...
Evidence of this new prosperity: the construction of the splendid synagogue in Cavaillon. And yet, daily life could scarcely reflect the enrichment of the Pope's Jews, who could not settle outside of the overpopulated "carrières", where houses of six or seven stories appeared to travellers arriving in Cavaillon as veritable skyscrapers.
The French Revolution, with the incorporation of Avignon and the Comtat Venaissin into France, marks for the Jews a true liberation. Despite an opposition (hardly virulent, for that matter) by some, the Pope's Jews became French citizens. Within a few years, the carrières emptied. The Jews took an active part in revolutionary events, in particular in Nîmes, and spread to all the big cities of the South, and even to Paris.
Ancient photos of Jews in Provence
Old photos of Jews in the Synagogue of Cavaillon
Oven of the bakery of the Synagogue of Cavaillon
Historical heritage of the Synagogue de Cavaillon
Old books at the Synagogue of Cavaillon
Synagogue de Cavaillon - Rue Hébraïque - 84300 Cavaillon
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