BRITTANY (French, Bretagne):
Ancient province of France corresponding to the present departments of Finistère, Côtes-du-Nord, Morbihan, Ile et Vilaine, and Loire-Inférieure. The name occurs in Hebrew writings under various forms, such as . Little information can be gathered concerning the epoch of the settlement of Jews in Brittany, where they were never numerous. The first official documents referring to the Jews there date from the beginning of the thirteenth century. These are two charters, one dated April, 1209, and the other March, 1235. In the first the Jews are indirectly mentioned as creditors of Guillaume de Mareil; the second is a receipt delivered to the prior of Donege discharging him from all debts to the Jews Creisson and Bonastru of Guérande.
There were Jews also at Clisson, Aucenis (where a street still exists called "Rue de la Juiverie"), Segré, and Nantes, the last-named place being, according to Michael Guimar, the center of the Jews of Brittany. There they possessed a large synagogue in the street above-mentioned, and their own tribunal, where disputes among themselves were adjusted according to the Mosaic law. The chief occupation of the Jews of Brittany was money-broking, and many interested parties eagerly sought a pretext to rid themselves of their creditors. This pretext soon presented itself in the new crusade preached by Gregory IX. in 1235. In order to win believers, Gregory granted the crusaders and the promoters of the crusade full indulgence, and forbade their creditors, both Jews and Christians, to take any interest from them. The crusaders of Brittany, however, not willing to pay even the principal, demanded the banishment of the Jews. They not only forbade them to claim what was due, but forced them to return the goods given in pledge; then, in order to make sure of their complete riddance of these creditors, they massacred most of the Jews in 1236, soon after Easter. Three years later, at the request of the barons and prelates, Duke Jean le Roux issued a decree enacting the following: (1) the banishment of the Jews from Brittany, and prohibition of their entering his lands or those of his subjects; (2) the abolition of all debts, of whatever nature, contracted with Jews; (3) the return to the debtors or their heirs of both personal property and real estate given in pledge; (4) the interdiction of commitment for trial on the charge of having murdered a Jew; (5) the confirmation of this decree by the king of France. The duke engaged himself by an oath to observe the provisions of this decree during his life, and bound his successors to a similar fulfilment.
Some years later, however, it seems that Jews again settled in Brittany, and were banished thence only in 1391, when Brittany became a definite French province. In the early part of the seventeenth century, Jews, and especially Portuguese Maranos, sojourned there notwithstanding the decree of their banishment issued April 23, 1615, by Louis XIII.
- Depping, Histoire des Juifs au Moyen Age, p. 200;
- Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, vii. 308;
- Brunswig, in Rev. Et. Juives, xiv. 80 et seq.. xvii. 125 et seq., xix. 294 et seq.;
- Gross, Gallia Judaica, pp. 126-128.