The Four Holy Communities:
The Jewries of Medieval Provence
These . . . cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger. . . . -Numbers 35:15
LIKE Canaan, Provence is eloquent with sunlight. The landscape, harsh, dry, and brilliant, with white vestiges of antique civilizations, recalls Biblical Palestine: olive trees spring from the rocky hillsides, and the vines, like those in the Old Testament, are heavy with grapes. Irrigation canals, branching from the Rhone and its tributaries, filter through fields and orchards which yield melons, asparagus, apricots, and berries that are the primeurs of France. Yet much of Provence remains desert, a land swept by sun and wind, and alive with color.
Governing the region with the authority of Sinai, six thousand feet above the plain, is the bluish peak of Mount Ventoux-the “Mountain of All Winds,” including the wicked mistral. But the mistral rarely blows in summer, when the hot countryside undulates as in a Van Gogh; and then the mountain looks down on the cities of the plain with the same austere kindness as when, from the 14th to the 18th centuries, this corner of southern France provided refuge for the children of Israel.
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