Community in France - World Jewish Congress

France is home to the third largest Jewish community in the world, behind Israel and the United States, with around 500,000 Jews. France has been home to Jews since the early Middle Ages. During that time, the country gained international recognition for the caliber of its Torah scholars, particularly Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki. Rabbi Yitzchaki, popularly known as "Rashi," is well known for his vast commentary on the Bible and Talmud, which have been studied for more than a millennium by both experts and laypeople. Though antisemitism has endured for centuries, France was the first country in Europe to emancipate its Jews after the French Revolution. Leon Blum became the first Jewish prime minister of France in 1936.

The French affiliate of the World Jewish Congress is the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France (CRIF – Representative Council of Jews of France).

WJC Affiliate
Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France - Representative Council of Jews of France

Robert Ejnes

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+33 1 42 17 11 13

Social Media:
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President: Yonathan Arfi, CRIF President & WJC Vice-President

Jews have lived in France since the early Middle Ages, although there is evidence that Jewish settlement can be dated back to the Roman period. During the Carolingian Period, Jews were employed as merchants and were considered the direct property of the Crown. Following the First Crusade in 1096, the Jews of France were subject to a century of violence and blood libel accusations, culminating in their expulsion by King Philip Augustus in 1182; the Jews were only allowed to return 16 years later. Over the centuries, various repressive measures would be enacted against French Jewry, including arrests and property seizures, leading to another expulsion, this time by Phillip the Fair, in 1306. Nine years later, Jews were again allowed to return, only to be expelled again in 1394, although they continued to live in Provence. However, Jewish life only began reestablishing in the rest of France in the early 17th century.
Following the French Revolution, France became the first European nation to emancipate its Jews, a practice it followed as it exported its revolution across Europe, abolishing ghettos wherever its forces went. However, despite the Jews’ newfound freedom, a debate raged in France regarding their integration into French society. Complaining that Jews were not integrating quickly enough, Napoléon Bonaparte convened an assembly of important leaders of the Jewish community first to clarify their political and religious allegiances and loyalties in 1806, followed up a year later by the so-called Great Sanhedrin, leading to the establishment of the Consistoire Central Israélite de France (Central Consistory of French Jews) as the representative body of the Jewish community.

While French Jewry began integrating into the mainstream of society over the 18th and 19th centuries, antisemitism remained a persistent problem. In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery officer, was arrested and convicted of spying for Germany on trumped-up charges, leading to a massive, decade-long scandal. This period was marked by intense antisemitic sentiment as well as by a well-organized campaign for Dreyfus’ release by figures such as the writer Emile Zola, who famously wrote “J’accuse!,” an open letter in which he accused the government of antisemitism. Although Dreyfus was eventually exonerated, his public shaming inspired Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodore Herzl to decide that assimilation was an inadequate solution to antisemitism and, as a result, to establish the Zionist movement.

French Jews have long been involved in their country’s political, economic, and cultural life. Adolphe Crémieux, a Consistoire Central Israélite de France vice president, was the Minister of Justice in 1848 and again from 1870 to 1871. Louis-Lucien Klotz served as Finance Minister from 1910 to 1913 and again from 1917 to 1920. In 1936, Léon Blum became France's first Jewish prime minister; subsequent Jewish prime ministers include Pierre Mendès-France and René Mayer. The French branch of the Rothschild banking family has been a major economic and financial force in France since the early 19th century; today, Baron David de Rothschild serves as Chairman of the WJC’s Governing Board.

French Jewish Nobel Prize laureates have included: Henri Moissan (Chemistry, 1906), Gabriel Lippmann (Physics, 1908), François Jacob and André Michel Lwoff (Medicine, 1965), René Cassin (Peace, 1968), Claude Cohen Tannoudji (Physics, 1997), Serge Harouche (Physics, 2012), and Patrick Modiano, the son of a Jewish father (Literature, 2014).

The Years of the Holocaust

Before World War II, 300,000 Jews were living in France. In 1940, the Nazis invaded the country and, with the help of the collaborationist Vichy regime, began rounding up the country’s Jews. In July 1942, the French Police organized a round-up that came to be known as the “Raffle du Vel d’Hiv,” in which the Jews of Paris were temporarily confined in the city’s bicycle velodrome. More than 13,000 people were arrested, including 4,000 children.

In 1942, the Vichy Regime established the Drancy Internment Camp near Paris as a detention camp for Jews slated for deportation to the Eastern death camps; Drancy was under the direct control of the French police. 67,400 people were sent to the death camps from Drancy, including 6,000 children. In the unoccupied Vichy zone, the French authorities willingly collaborated with the Germans. In recent years, France has been forced to confront its record of this collaboration, and in 1995, President Jacques Chirac admitted the state’s complicity in the imprisonment and mass deportation of French Jews.

The Post-World War II Years

In the decades following World War II, as France pulled out of its overseas colonies, it experienced a large influx of North African Jews. This wave of immigrants doubled the Jewish population of France. The arrival of Jews from North Africa coincided with a parallel influx of Muslim migrant laborers. While there were occasional clashes between these two immigrant populations, Jewish and Muslim immigrants often lived side-by-side in the early years in the same areas.

Beginning in the 1980s, however, tensions began to emerge, especially as the government failed to fully integrate the Muslim community into French society. Those tensions were only intensified by the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Since the early 2000s, there has been a significant escalation in domestic antisemitism linked to global Islamic terrorism, with attacks launched against synagogues and Jewish residents. Recent incidents have included the torture and murder of Ilan Halimi in 2006, the 2012 Toulouse school massacre that killed four people, and the 2015 attack on Paris’ HyperCacher kosher grocery store, which also killed four people. As a result, French immigration to Israel has risen in recent years.


As of 2016, Sergio DellaPergola, a demographer from Hebrew University, projected that between 453,000 and 600,000 French Jews were living in France. The majority of Jews in France reside in Paris and its surrounding areas, with sizable Jewish populations also found in Marseilles, Lyons, Toulouse, Nice, Strasbourg, Grenoble, Metz, and Nancy. There are about a dozen smaller Jewish communities spread out over the nation, each with about 2,000 members. In France, there are about 230 Jewish communities in total. Hundreds of thousands of Jews from North Africa arrived in France throughout the 1950s and 60s, causing a significant demographic shift in the country's predominately Ashkenazi community; now, French Jewry is approximately 60% Sephardic as a result.

Community Life

The Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France (CRIF - Representative Council of Jews of France), the country’s Jewish political representative organization, was established in 1944. In 1986, the CRIF became the French affiliate of the World Jewish Congress. Today, the CRIF is the official organization representing French Jewry vis-à-vis the government, representing more than 70 organizations. Despite its size, the CRIF does not handle religious issues, which are still, according to the model set down by Napoleon, the responsibility of the Consistoire Israelite de France.

Religious and Cultural life

Modern Orthodoxy is the predominant organized religious group in France, however, there are also a substantial amount of secular and traditional Jews. Five percent of French Jews are thought to be Conservative or Reform, while seven percent are thought to be ultra-Orthodox. Alongside assimilation, there is also a noticeable tendency toward religious revival, including a growing ultra-Orthodox community.

There are several symposia and seminars on Jewish topics; an intellectual colloquium, Jewish Book Week, and Jewish Music Week are held each year. There are also plenty of active Jewish theater and dance organizations.

Kosher Food

Paris now has more than 120 kosher dining establishments.

Jewish Education

In Paris alone, there are more than 20 Jewish day schools, as well as multiple kindergartens and religious seminaries. There are also Jewish schools in Strasbourg, Nice, Toulouse, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Metz, and Aix-les-Bains. Most French universities offer courses in Judaic studies, including Yiddish, Ladino, and Hebrew. The Mercaz Rashi (Rashi Center) provides courses for academics and students. There is also a Rabbinical Seminary which ordains rabbis to serve in French-speaking countries. The Alliance Israelite Universelle oversees and funds an international network of French-oriented schools abroad.


All the major Zionist organizations are active in France and there are several local youth movements. Despite the variety of outlets for Jewish expression, only around 40% of the community is officially affiliated with, or members of, synagogues or Jewish organizations. 

Jewish Media

A lively Jewish press exists in France, featuring two weeklies and many monthly journals. Weekly Jewish programs are broadcast on both radio and television, and several local Jewish radio stations broadcast from Paris and in other major cities.

Information for Visitors

France is full of Jewish points of interest, including Paris’ Monument of the Deportation, the Marais District, the Jewish Documentation Center and Holocaust Memorial, the Museum of Jewish Art and History, and the synagogues of Hector Guimard and Gustave Eiffel. Visitors with more historical or religious interests will want to visit Rashi’s study hall in the medieval city of Troyes. Alsatian villages like Bouxwiller, Pfanhoffen, Ettendorf, Hagenau, Marmoutier, Goxwiller, and Wasellone feature cemeteries, old synagogues, and museums.

Relations with Israel

Statistics show an increase in Aliyah and tourism to Israel in recent years. Israel and France have maintained diplomatic relations since 1949.
Israel Embassy
3 rue Rabelais
75008, Paris
Telephone: +33 (0)1 40 76 5500
Fax:  +33 (0)1 40 76 5555

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