The settlement of the Jews in Rouen dates back to the very first centuries of our era, in fact, to the Roman colonization of Gaul. Testifying to this rather long presence are the location of the Jewish district -right in the midst of the Roman Castrum- and that of the Jewish cemetery, next to the Roman graves discovered near the northern part of the surrounding wall. This settlement was encouraged by the Roman authorities who wanted to strengthen their military conquest of Gaul by means of demographic implantation.
Coming from Italy and, at an earlier date, from Palestine, which was then part of the Roman Empire, the Jews lived within semi-autonomous communities that had their own courts of justice and benefited from their own social institutions, and whose religion was recognized by the governing powers. The presence of the Communitas judaeorum in Rouen lasted for over a millennium, until Philip the Fair expelled the Jews from France in 1306. Thereafter it became more sporadic.
In the Middle Ages, Rouen was called Rodom, as is shown, by these two Carolingean coins of the Saint-Taurin treasure bearing the place-names ROTOM CIVIT and RODOM CIFIT.
It is thanks to the works of Norman Golb, a world-famous American historian and paleographer, that the fundamental part played in western Europe by the Jewish community of Rouen during the Middle Ages was discovered. A specialist in the study of Hebrew manuscripts, he has shown that the expulsion of the Jews from France in 1306 had the effect of making post-1306 Hebrew texts whose prototypes originated in France unreliable. He has also pointed out the constant misspelling of the word Rodom (= Rouen) in late Hebrew manuscripts and printed books -the main reason why the achievements of the community of Rouen had remained completely forgotten until he resuscitated that community first in a Hebrew work published in 1976 and there-after in his book entitled Les Juifs de Rouen au Moyen-Âge, portrait d’une culture oubliée, published in 1985. Drawing his material from numerous manuscripts that had never been fully studied, he has rescued the history of the Jewish community of Rouen from oblivion, paying special attention to the three centuries extending from the persecution of 1007 to the expulsion of 1306. His research preceded and then coincided with the discovery of two major buildings -one academic and spiritual and the other civil- during archeological excavations in Rouen that entirely corroborated his analyses.
The expulsion of the Jews from France in 1306 and the gradual change of the city’s name from Rodom to Rouen were salient factors in the subsequent deformation of RDWM (the Hebrew representation of the original name) and its eventual confusion and erroneous identification with towns such as Dreux (DRWS), Rodez (RDWS), and Troyes (DRWYS).
In a book authored by him and published in April 1976, Prof, Golb revealed that Rouen during the Middle Ages had been a leading center of Hebraic culture. Four months later, there was accidentally discovered, under the court-yard of the Palace of Justice, a romanesque edifice of the 12th century located just where, earlier on, he had theorized the Rabbinic School As early as 1976, he was able to identify a twelfth-century monumental building that had just been discovered by chance under the main courtyard of the Palace of Justice (Law Courts) in the northern part of the Rue aux Juifs as a school for higher rabbinic studies, and which is in fact the oldest Jewish monument of France.
Then in 1982, the imposing Hôtel de Bonnevie was discovered in the southern part of that same street. In the twelfth century, during the last days of the Plantagenets, this stone edifice had belonged to probably the most prestigious Jew of his time in Normandy. Here again, it is to Norman Golb that we owe the identification of the building.
A text based on the following works of Norman Golb :
Les Juifs de Rouen au Moyen-Âge, Portrait d’une culture oubliée
The Jews in Medieval Normandy : A Social and Intellectual History