Europe: a continent that is immensely rich in Jewish heritage. It has a history with the Jews that goes as far back as the rise of the Romans — or perhaps even before that.

It is why we here at Kosher River Cruise are always happy to take you with us on our Jewish cruises along the most majestic waterways. There are so many things to learn about on each trip, and we’d love to learn them together with you.

Like on the Rhone, for instance. One of Europe’s major rivers, it rises from the Swiss Alps and flows through southeastern France, right in the heart of Provence. Isn’t it a wonderful coincidence that this province has quite the colorful Jewish history? In fact, we’d like to share with you some interesting tidbits about the Jews who lived along the cities of the Rhone — like Avignon.

The bridge of Avignon

A Refuge For French Jews

During the 14th Century, a time when most French towns wanted the Jews out (or worse, killed), the Avignon Popes of the Holy Roman Empire welcomed them instead. Jews were allowed to live in Avignon and the nearby towns of Carpentras, Cavaillon, and L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

These four cities have been nicknamed the Arba Kehilot. This is in reference to the four “holy cities” of Israel: Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed, and Tiberias, which were the centers of Jewish life and culture after the Ottoman Turks conquered the Levant in the 1500s.

Relative Safety and Security

Not long after, the Jews of Avignon became quite prosperous compared to their contemporaries in other French towns. Some of them worked for the popes themselves — one Jew became a tailor, and another a bookbinder, for Pope Gregory XI. Many would become merchants, traders, and lenders.

During the spread of the Black Death, for which Jews all over Europe were made scapegoats and persecuted, the Jews who lived in Avignon were kept safe from the people’s anger, thanks to the intervention of Pope Clement VI.

Though they found refuge in Avignon and achieved commercial success, the Jews weren’t truly free citizens. Just how well they were treated depended on the current pope, giving them the nickname, “The Pope’s Jews”. It was only after the French Revolution in the 18th century that they gained true independence.

There’s More To Learn About!

But that’s not all there is to know the Avignon Jews. Curious about just how they truly lived in the past? Then join us as we embark on a kosher tour of a lifetime to the cities of the river Rhone and discover the Jewish heritage of Provence!