The Pope's Jews and the Synagogue of Cavaillon

From the medieval synagogue, there is still a turret to the north. This vestige is probably the survival of the staircase of a synagogue whose proportions can be imagined.

Partly rebuilt above Hebraïque Street between 1772 and 1774, the synagogue is designed in two superimposed volumes, connected by an external staircase. The architectural formula of the synagogues of Comtat, only preserved in Cavaillon and Carpentras, is unique in the world.

The Torah, the foundation of belief, is read on a platform facing the tabernacle where the most prominent male members, including the officiant, are gathered.

Another specific feature is the insignia role given to the prophet Elijah, represented in the form of an armchair, treated in a symbolic fashion, perched on a cloud. The decorative vocabulary is inspired by that of the then Provence, translated by painted wood paneling, gray enhanced with blue and yellow and coated and colored walls, in deep pink. Gold leaf highlights the major centres of the liturgy: tribune and tabernacle.

Two seven-pointed candlesticks stand out from the ironwork railing. The chandeliers are reused from the previous building. Autographed, they often testify to an act of piety. The upper room cannot be dissociated from the lower synagogue, reserved for women, also serving as a bakery, as the marble kneading table and the unleavened bread oven still attest.

This is where the collections are currently presented, either from “the cemetery of books”, discovered in the 1930s, or, at the time of the creation of the museum in 1963, from funerary steles and donations of descendants of Jews of the Pope. It is also the headquarters of their cultural association. A prefiguration of a real journey in the heart of the old quarry, ritual baths are currently visible during the Heritage Open Days in mid-September.

As in Carpentras, Avignon or Isle sur la Sorgue, the Jewish community of Cavaillon has lived since 1624, in a separate district, a ghetto. It is called the quarry, from the Provençal term which means the street. This situation of exclusion and mixed tolerance, specific to the Papal States, is known by the texts in Cavaillon from the end of the 15th century.

In Vaucluse, it remains today the only one still readable in the Ancien Comtat. The quarry was strictly delimited: to the south on Fabricis Street, current Rue de la République, where until the 18th century its only entrance was located, closed every night and on the occasion of major Christian religious holidays.

In the north, recent excavations have revealed, since the end of the Middle Ages, the persistence of a small square adjoining the synagogue, whose turret to the northeast is undoubtedly a deliberate vestige. The superb polychrome wooden doors of the tabernacle, preserved in the Comtadin Jewish Museum, by their module allow to restore a modest volume.

In the 18th century, the community never exceeded 200 people.

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