City and county of France, in the department of Doubs. Although no mention is made of this city in Jewish sources, it is known that it had a prominent part in the history of the Jews and was also of some importance even from a literary point of view. By his marriage with Jeanne of Burgundy, Philip the Tall, king of France, became ruler of this province in 1316. In a letter of Dec. 14, 1321, he gave to the queen the spoils from the Jews, who he had driven from his territory. Some years afterward they were recalled, but when in 1348 the Black Plague broke out, the inhabitants accused the Jews of being the cause, persecuted them, and had many of them executed, and finally (1360) the wretched survivors who had escaped the massacres were exiled from the province by a decree of Princess Marguerite.
There is no mention of Jews in the city of Besançon (which is the capital of the county) before 1320, when, in the depth of winter, they were driven from the environs, and knocked at the gates of this free city, which was under the patronage of the emperor of Germany. Five of them, on account of previous commercial relations, having succeeded in entering the city, asked permission to remain at least until the end of the winter. The leading men of the city, in order to please the barons D'Arlay, who were favorably inclined toward the Jews, gave their consent that the fugitives should reside among them.
The new inhabitants of Besançon, however, paid for their right to remain by many and burdensome obligations. They were required to pay a heavy poll-tax every month to the city treasury, were forbidden to appear in the city without a white and red cloth attached to the breast, and were ordered to dwell in a specified street, the gates of which were closed every evening. The street which they inhabited is now called "Rue Richebourg"; and it is said the Jews' sojourn there gave rise to this name. A piece of land, chosen by the leading men of the city, was assigned to them as a burial-place. The Jews acquired free access from the city and province only after the French Revolution.
As a matter of interest to the student of Jewishhistory, it may be mentioned that the library of the city contains a manuscript copy of the Hebrew Bible (2 vols. folio) with curious illuminations, showing that the manuscript, which is not dated, and is written in square characters, emanates from the fourteenth century. Moreover, it appears from a Judæo-Arabic inscription on the initial page that the manuscript was sold in Yemen in Iyyar, 5252 (May, 1492). After various transfers it came during the Revolution from the Benedictine abbey into the city library of Besançon.
As regards administration, the Jewish community of Besançon belonged formerly to the jurisdiction of the consistorial district of Nancy, having as its spiritual head Solomon Wertheimer. Since 1858 it has been reattached to the jurisdiction of the district of Lyons which in that year was made a consistorial department. Since the death of Wertheimer, in 1865, J. Auscher has served as pastor, first with the title of rabbi, and later as consistorial chief rabbi; for, in 1872, after the emigration of the Jews from Alsace and the redistribution of the districts following the Franco-German war, the community of Besançon became the seat of a consistory. It now (1902) includes the following Jewish communities: Dôle, Baume-les-Dames, L'Ile sur Doubs, and Montbéliard.
- Alfred Lévy, Les Isr. de la Franche-Comté au XIVe Siècle, in Arch. Isr. xxx. 182 et seq., 214, 345;
- J. Auscher, Les Isr. de Besançon, et de la Comté, ib. xxxi. 440, 472, 592;
- Catal. Général des MSS. des Départements, xxxii. 1;
- Rev. Et. Juives, xlii. 111-118.