The Emancipation of the Jews 1789

The Revolt of the Jews of Avignon
or, the Dark plot against the vice-legate, followed by what happened in that city on September 15, written by a notable burgher of the city.

Source: La Révolte des juifs d’Avignon. Chez Momoro, Paris, 1789;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2010.

Translator’s note: It is hard to know what to make of this strange text. Its tale of a murderous plot by the Jews of Avignon to free themselves from Papal rule is pure invention. The printer of this pamphlet, Antoine Momoro, the self-described “first printer of liberty,” was militantly anti-religious, so this was perhaps a factor a factor in this fabrication. The first steps towards full emancipation of the Jews were taken in the fist year of the Revolution, so it might well be the expression of a “great fear” striking parts of the French populace, who might have been willing to believe that there was an armed body of 20,000 Jews waiting to seize Avignon at a time when there were only 50,000 Jews in all of France. In any event, there’s not a shred of truth to this pamphlet.

On the 15th of this month the Jews, long worn down by the onerous yoke imposed on them by the court of Rome in order that they might be suffered to remain in its states, and wishing to give themselves to France, planned a conspiracy to slaughter the vice legate of the pope, the archbishop of Avignon, the inquisitor, the municipal officers, and all the priests of the city, with the exception of the nuns, who these wretches planned to use for their pleasures by forcing them to apostatize.

In order to succeed in their project on September 1 the main rabbi of the synagogue of Avignon, a very wise man, assembled all the rabbis of Carpentras, Cavaillon, L’Ille, and Vaison, larges cities of the Venaissian county where there is both a bishop and a rabbi.

After having harangued these Jewish priests, having laid out for them the tyranny of the pope, and the freedom their nation would have under the French government, the rabbi ended his speech by saying: “ What better circumstances could we hope for than the present ones for escaping the slavery we are held in by the churchmen? Since the edict of Louis XVI we are free to settle in France. Let us massacre these enemies of the Law of Moses who charge us with deicide in order as to call down upon us the horror of all nations. Our wealth is in money and paper, so it is easy for us to decamp. Let us purchase arms from the neighboring provinces, and in one night we will be more than 20,000 armed men gathered from each of the four synagogues, plus that of Avignon. We don’t need nearly this many to rid ourselves of this mass of poltroons. If France refuses our giving back to it one of the most beautiful provinces of its kingdom, where there are from ten to thirty-two cities, about thirty villages, and situated in a fertile country crossed with rivers, we will go over to Germany: our wealth and our industry will make us loved everywhere. The pope usurped this lovely domain of Comtat from the last countess of Provence who, dying without a successor, made a gift of all her estates to the then king of France. How did Louis XIV, who loved conquests, not make the Holy Father submit to this dismemberment of Provence?”

All the rabbis took the speech of the rabbi of Avignon, their leader, to their synagogues. They procured arms and the day of the massacre was fixed for the night of the 15th. Fortunately, one of the principal Jews, quite rich and a friend of the vice-legate, and who for political reasons wanted to change religions in order to be granted an office, knowing all the secrets of the project revealed them to the vice-legate on September 13. This prince armed all the Christians of the Comtat, who soon filled Avignon, and the main plotters were arrested. Providence was thus watching over these ecclesiastics, as it did over the Parisians the night of last July 12, an event the news of which traveled around the world and caused all peoples to arm themselves.

The vice-legate immediately sent the Jew who had given the warning to Rome under a heavy escort in order to protect him from the vengeance of his fellow Jews. The five principal rabbis of the five synagogues were executed by a torture called in Avignon “le massoulement.” The eyes of the kneeling criminal are blindfolded and with two blows of a club to his temples he is laid out dead at the feet of the executioner, who with an axe separates the head and all the members of the body, which he then scatters around the gallows on hooks placed there expressly for this purpose so that it looks like a horrible butcher shop. The church, which hates blood, thought up this torture, which is more frightful for the spectators than cruel for the criminal, who often falls dead at the first blow and as a result hardly suffers.

Ten of the principal – and wealthiest – Jews, who had provided the funds for the arms, suffered the same torture and all the other Jews were confined in their quarter, whose gates were reinforced with iron and guarded by 6,000 armed men during the execution. Two of the guilty invoked the Christian God; this was the conversion of the thief on the cross.

The next day the vice-legate, the archbishop, the clergy, the city bodies, the notables and all the burghers participated in a solemn mass and te deum celebrated by the vice-legate and sung by his choir, one of the best of Europe. Afterwards there was a grand gala in his palace; all the streets of Avignon were illuminated and magnificent fireworks were set off before the Hotel de Ville.

The vice-legate mandated impositions; the court of Rome always sends to Avignon men it wants to make wealthy, and he taxed the five synagogues for the sum of 2,000,000 livres each as punishment for their horrible plot. The city body demanded that the Jews be decimated, that is that one out of every ten be condemned to death, drawing lots to decide who will perish. The vice legate rejected this opinion, for it would have caused the death of too many and it would have brought him nothing, while following the path he had chosen he saved many and filled his coffers. The Jews of the Venaissain county were made to swear loyalty under severe penalties if they failed to comply, and a troop of 6,000 burghers was established.

This is what happened this month on September 15 in Avignon, and which I affirm to be true.

Martin, ex-consul of the city of Avignon.