Growth of Jewish Communities in France and Germany

Even during the Gaonic era, new Jewish communities were arising and achieving prominence. In the Eighth Century, Emperor Charlemagne asked the Caliph of Babylonia to send him a Torah scholar to strengthen European Jewish spiritual life. Acquiescing to this request, the Caliph sent Rabbi Machir to Narbonne, France. Rabbi Machir and his descendants then proceeded to build Narbonne into a major Torah center that lasted hundreds of years. (According to some historians, one of the Four Captives also strengthened the French Jewish community.) In the 10th Century, Charlemagne's grandson Charles imported from Italy to Germany Rabbi Moshe of the famous Kalonymous family. Aside from Cyrus the Great, these are the only two instances of non-Jewish rulers inviting Jews to their countries in order to improve Jewish spiritual life. Usually, Jews were welcomed to a new land only for the economic boon that they could bring.


Jews came to Italy during the time of Roman rule of Eretz Israel. After Churban Bayis Sheni, Titus also brought successive waves of Jews as prisoners and slaves. A considerable number of these Jews subsequently gained their freedom, and became the nucleus of many Jewish communities throughout Italy. Strangely enough, despite dwelling in the center of Roman and later Catholic rule, it appears that the Jews of Italy fared better than those of outlying areas. A famous Italian Jewish family, for example, the Kalonymous clan, spanned several hundred years. Members of this family wrote numerous piyutim, which figure prominently in the Ashkenazic Yom Kippur rite. Most famous of these is the lengthy description of the Kohen Gadol's Temple service (the Avodah), which is recited during Mussaf.

The Jews Come to Spain

Although Jewish legend has Jews arriving in Spain at Churban Bayis Rishon, or even during the reign of King Solomon, historians feel that they arrived at the time of Churban Bayis Sheni. Indeed, a third-century gravestone has been found in Spain bearing the unmistakably Jewish name Salomonula. Until the Fifth Century, Spain was under Roman rule, and conditions for Jews were benign. However, the situation changed drastically with the Visigoth conquest, which brought strict Christian rule to Spain. In the Seventh Century, the Visigoths decreed that all Jewish children must be raised as Catholics, and in an ominous portent of events 900 years in the future, declared that only Catholics might reside in Spain. Plans were made to confiscate the Jews' property and sell them into slavery.

However, a providential event took place that dramatically changed the course of Jewish history. The Moorish Arabs conquered Spain in 711, bringing a welcome respite for the Jews. While the Muslims swept through Spain with ease, driving the Christians in a headlong retreat into the northern mountains, the Moors committed a fatal mistake when they did not completely expel the Christians from Spain. Brooding in their mountain redoubts, the Christians planned the Holy Reconquista, or reconquest, of Spain for Christianity. For hundreds of years, this vision was tenaciously transmitted to successive generations. Over an 800-year period, the Christians slowly drove the Muslims from the land, culminating with the conquest in 1492 of Granada, the last Arab stronghold.