The Jewish community was a specific component in the social fabric of southern medieval urban society. The history of the Jews in the South of France goes back to the beginning of Roman Gaul.
When the southern regions were united to the French kingdom, the status of the Jews was modified, leading to their banishment and to their outright expulsion. However, the Popes of Avignon welcomed and protected the Jewish communities expelled from the Languedoc and Provence areas.
Due to the considerable emigration towards France prior to 1789, and to the annexation of Avignon and the Comtat in 1790, the Jews from the Papal territories were rapidly integrated into the French community. The natives of the Comtat kept their own prayer rituals and their own judeo-provençal dialect. Many Jews from the south of France played an important part in pontifical life, in the artistic and literary spheres.In the middle Ages, the Jews were spread throughout all the towns in the Comtat. Later, towards the first half of the 17th Century, they became concentrated in Avignon, Carpentras, Cavaillon and Isle sur Sorgue. They were obliged to live in a closed off section which was later reduced to a single street known as the “carrière”.
The carrière was composed of a single street in the center of the medieval town, which was closed off by a chain each day at dusk. From the mid-15th Century on, the carriers were completely sealed off by a locked gate at night. They thus became like a miniature town within a town: the carrier’s entire existence revolved around the Synagogue. It was a place of worship, a meeting hall and a school. Other community functions, in particular the bakery for the unleavened bread and the ritual baths were most often grouped around this religious building.Residence in the carrière first became obligatory in Cavaillon, Carpentras, Avignon and Isle sur Sorgue. The rue Hébraïque in Cavaillon shows all the features of its old “carrière”.
The Synagogue and the Jewish Comtadin Museum
In the heart of the ancient center, a 17th century Synagogue, a very original edifice remarkly conserved and recently restored, is still situated in its original context, the ghetto. It is called the “Carrière”: this word comes from the Provençal word which means street.
The architectural and decorative vocabulary is inspired by Provence as it used to be. Wainscoting painted in grey, enlivened with blue and yellow, walls plastered and colored in deep rose, shell motifs; even so, gold underlines and magnifies the principal poles of the liturgy: rostrum and tabernacle. The upper room cannot be dissociated from the lower Synagogue, reserved for the women and used also as a bakery to which attests the presence of a marble kneading table and a bake-oven for unleavened bread.