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BÉZIERS (formerly Bediers, Beders, Besers, and Bezares; Hebr., , ):

Earliest Mention.

Town of France in the department of Hérault. The date of the settlement of the Jews in Béziers is lost in antiquity. Two letters of Sidonius Apolonarius and the canons of the council held at Agde in 506 establish the existence at that time of numerous and prosperous Jewish communities in the province of Languedoc (Vaissète, i. 243; Sidonius Apolonarius, iii., epistle 4; iv., epistle 5). The Jews of Béziers did not escape the fate of the other Jewish communities in this province, which had to endure the most violent persecutions during the reign of the Visigoths. Afterthe defeat of the Saracens by Charles Martel in 732, the condition of the Jews of Béziers, as that of those of other towns, became more favorable; and this state lasted during the reign of the Carlovingians. In the eleventh century the Jews of Béziers were affected by the persecutions that broke out in western France.

Albigenses.

But the Jews of Béziers were fortunate in comparison with those of other towns. The viscounts cherished the most kindly feelings for them, and the greater part of the Christian inhabitants, being Albigenses, lived on friendly terms with their Jewish fellow-citizens. Even the restrictions gradually disappeared and were transformed into taxes imposed for the benefit of the princes or of the bishops, which they had to pay in addition to the poll-tax common to all the inhabitants. Thus, through the intervention of the viscount Raymond Trencaval, the bishop Guillaume abolished, in 1160, the custom of throwing stones at the Jews during Holy Week, and substituted a yearly payment of two hundred melgorian sous and a yearly tax of four livres of the same coinage. The good-will of the viscounts of Béziers displayed itself far beyond mere toleration; they even entrusted the Jews with important public offices. The Jews, on their side, were attached by bonds of gratitude to the viscounts and did not participate in the plot which, in 1167, brought about the assassination of Raymond Trencaval. They were therefore excluded from the massacre of the inhabitants that Roger II., with the help of his Aragonian allies, perpetrated in order to avenge this crime.

Roger II. gave the Jews numerous tokens of his confidence and favor. He took the notables among them under his personal protection. Thus in 1172 he interceded in behalf of the Talmudist Abraham ben David (RABaD), and, having taken him from the prison into which the lord of Posquières had thrown him, granted him shelter in Carcassonne. The functions of bailiff, under his government, were often entrusted to Jews. A Jew called Nathan figures with the title of bailiff as a witness to a deed of Roger II. Raymond Roger, the successor of Roger II., followed the example given by his father and assigned for his Jewish bailiffs a distinguished rank among the barons of his court. A Jew of Béziers, called Samuel, figures, together with the barons, on a deed by which Raymond Roger granted the bishop many rights.

In the Thirteenth Century.

The prospects of the Jews of Béziers darkened in the thirteenth century. In the bloody crusade that the pope undertook against the Albigenses, the Jews had their share of suffering. The ambitious Count Simon de Montfort marched against Raymond Roger, who was doubly hated by the pope for his secret friendship with the Albigenses and his protection of the Jews. On July 22, 1209, Béziers was stormed and the inhabitants massacred. Two hundred Jews lost their lives in this massacre, and a large number were driven into captivity. In consequence of the victory over Raymond Roger, the Church acquired a supremacy which it often used to molest the Jews. The council of Avignon (1209) and the Lateran council (1215) had prescribed various restrictions upon the Jews; and the council held at Béziers in 1246 prohibited them from practising medicine. But these restrictive measures were not always carried out, and the Jews of Béziers could evade them more easily than those of other towns, since the Christian inhabitants of Béziers were more accustomed to tolerance; but as that evasion required heavy pecuniary sacrifices, this formerly flourishing community became gradually impoverished, and Philip le Bel in banishing them, Sept., 1366, in order to get hold of their property, must have been disappointed.

Jewish Scholars.

Béziers was a focus of Jewish learning. Abraham ibn Ezra visited it, and about 1155 wrote there his work, "Sefer ha-Shem" (Book of the Name), in which he mentions the names of the scholars Abraham ben Ḥayyim and Isaac ben Judah, to the latter of whom he gives the title "Prince." Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Béziers in 1165, praises the scholars Solomon Ḥalafta and Joseph Nathan. The Talmudist Meshullam ben Moses, the author of "Sefer ha-Hashlamah" (Book of Completeness), lived in Béziers in the first half of the thirteenth century. In a responsum drawn up at Béziers, Solomon ben Asher and Joseph ben Gerton are mentioned as colleagues of Meshullam. Solomon ben Joseph ibn Ayub, settled at Béziers at the request of several notables of the town, and translated from Arabic into Hebrew many philosophical works. The cabalist Jacob Cohen of Segovia stayed at Béziers at the end of the thirteenth century. Poetry was represented there in the persons of Abraham ben Bedersi, who derived his name from the town, his son Jedaiah, Don Astruc Eleazar Azobi, and Meshullam Azobi.

Bibliography:
  • Vaissète, Hist. Gen. de Languedoc, i. 274, 350, 360, 522; ii. 151, 418; iii. 119, Paris, 1730-1745;
  • Saige, Les Juifs du Languedoc, pp. 77 et seq.;
  • Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, vi. 175, 201, vii. 9, 37, 48;
  • Ibn Verga, Shebeṭ Yehudah, ed. Hanover, p. 112;
  • Gross, Gallia Judaica, pp. 96-105.
G. I. Br.
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