Settled in the 3rd century B.C.E. by the Parisii tribe, the island of the city of Paris was conquered by the Romans in the 1st century C.E.. Along with the Romans came an assortment of individual Jews, lone merchants and artisans, that slowly grew into a small community. The original settlement was in the area now called the 5th arrondissement, and the first Parisian synagogue is believed to have been built in this locale.
With the fall of Rome and the rise of the Christian feudal system, Jews throughout France faced a cycle of protection and persecution, invitation and expulsion. Nevertheless, there were many renowned scholars who dwelled in Paris during the Middle Ages and the 12th century traveler and writer Benjamin of Tudela described Paris as: “...the great city...scholars are there, unequalled in the whole world, who study the law day and night. They are charitable and hospitable to all travelers and are as brothers and friends unto all their brethren the Jews.”
While there were several different Jewish communities around the city, the primary Jewish neighborhood developed in the district of Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissements). Known in early times as La Juiverie (The Jewry), it is today nicknamed the Pletzel, which is Yiddish for the Place. Jews first settled in the Marais area in the 13th century. After being expelled from France in 1394, the Jews did not officially return to Paris until the 18th century. When they did return, the Marais area once again became a central part of the Jewish community.
The French Revolution and the Napoleonic era that followed, which began in 1789, changed life for Jewish Paris, as it did for all citizens of France. While Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite did not rid the country of anti-Semitism, a baseline of rights was established.
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