Located in the heart of the old "carrière", which means street in Provençal, the synagogue is remarkably well preserved. The architectural formula of the Comtat synagogues, only preserved in Cavaillon and Carpentras, is unique in the world.
In the Comtat Venaissin and in Avignon, the Papacy allowed Jews to be respected and protected in the closed quarters of four cities: Avignon, Carpentras, Cavaillon and Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (a reference, for the Jewish communities, to the four holy cities of Israel (Arba kehilot): Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias.
From 1452 onwards, confinement in the "quarries" was imposed. In Cavaillon, the Jews gathered in a dead end of the city centre (the rue Hebraïque) which was closed until the 18th century by a wall to the north and a large door to the south (according to the same principle as a ghetto).
This status, a mixture of tolerance and exclusion, so specific to the "Jews of the Pope", ended with the French Revolution, more precisely with the opening of the "quarries" when Avignon and the Comtat Venaissin were attached to France in 1791.
Today, only Cavaillon has the memory of its "quarry". The others have disappeared with time and urbanisation.
Located in the heart of the former quarry, classified as a Historic Monument since 1924, the synagogue was a major element in the life of the community. It was built at the end of the 15th century on the foundations of an old house, and was used as a place of prayer, a meeting place and a school.
Only part of the lower room and the stair tower remain from that period. Partly rebuilt above the rue Hébraïque between 1772 and 1774, the synagogue is designed on two superimposed levels and its layout is specific to the communities of the Comtat Venaissin and Avignon.
The remarkable architectural and ornamental vocabulary of this synagogue was found in the four synagogues of Comtat in the 18th century.
The layout of the synagogue is specific to the communities of Comtat Venaissin and Avignon:
- a two-level elevation: the men's prayer room at the top, the women's room at the bottom (also used as a ritual bakery).
- a raised platform reserved for the officiants (minian) and the rabbi. Equipped with a large reading table (bimah or tebah) surmounted by a baldachin, it is located opposite the tabernacle.
- a miniaturisation of the prophet Elijah's chair. Placed on a console in the shape of a cloud, it is symbolically located high up on the right of the tabernacle.
The architectural and ornamental vocabulary of this synagogue is inspired by the baroque style of Louis XV. The gold leaf is very present and magnifies the liturgical poles. There are also Provençal and Christian influences with decorative motifs that one might find in the living room of a private mansion or in a church.
The upper room of the synagogue was completely restored in 1985-1986 to its original interior decoration.
An essential element in the life of the Jewish community, a ritual bath (mikveh) is preserved under one of the old houses in the quarry, adjoining the synagogue. Inaccessible to the public for security reasons, this ritual bath was classified as a Historic Monument in December 2007, after an archaeological study of the site.
The synagogue houses the Musée juif comtadin (Musée de France) which has a rich collection of religious objects and manuscripts that bear witness to the collective life of the "Jews of the Pope".
This collection is essentially made up of manuscripts and printed material from the former community of Cavaillon, most of which came from the guenizah, a sort of cemetery for religious objects, located in the roof of the synagogue. It was discovered during the restoration work of 1929-1930 and these exceptional finds, handed down to us thanks to the care of the Jouve family, now form part of the museum's collection.
In addition to this collection of prayer books, there is a unique collection of furniture and other religious objects from the 16th to the 20th century.
When the museum was founded in 1963, donations from descendants of the Pope's Jews and grave markers from the former cemetery, which had been disused since the 1950s, were added.
The collection has since been enriched by numerous donations and acquisitions.
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