Tag Archives: mahzorim

Hebrew Mss @ CUL: The Pope, the Sun King, and a Hebrew prayerbook in Southern France

Throughout the centuries leading up to the French Revolution, the Jews of France were alternatively expelled and invited back many times (the 14th and 17th centuries were particularly confusing in this regard).  Throughout this time, however, there were four cities that remained consistently safe for Jews.  Ironically (but perhaps not too surprisingly for those familiar with the history of the Jews of Rome), these were the papal territories of Avignon, Carpentras, Cavaillon, and Lisle-sur-Sorgue.  (While most remnants of these Jewish communities are gone today, the community of Carpentras is still known for the oldest synagogue in France.)

In gratitude to the various popes for allowing them to stay in their French territories, the Jews of these communities included a special prayer on Simhat Torah for the welfare of the Pope. 

[A bit of a tangent: Richard Gottheil, the first professor of Rabbinical Literature and the Semitic Languages at Columbia, would spend his summers in France, his wife’s homeland.  During his 1906 visit, Gottheil purchased some 32 mahzorim, 13 ketubot, and 11 community record books, all handwritten.  Columbia thus has a substantial collection of materials relating to these isolated communities.]

In 1688, due to various disagreements with Pope Innocent IX, King Louis XIV of France (also known as the Sun King), invaded the papal territories in southern France.  Thus it was that for two years, until Innocent died in 1689, the Jews prayed for the King rather than for the Pope.  A manuscript depicting this, from 1689, was recently up for auction.

Thanks to the generosity of the Alexander Foundation, you can now see this unique manuscript at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Columbia University.