History of the Jews in Switzerland

History of the Jews in Switzerland

Swiss Jews have a long and varied history. The 2000 census reports close to 18,000 Jews (that is, adherents of Judaism) living in Switzerland.


The first Jews could have reached the area of what is now Switzerland during imperial Roman times but proofs are missing. The Encyclopaedia Judaica mentioned a first documentation in 1214. In the Middle Ages, as in many places in Europe, they frequently suffered persecution, for example in 1294 in Berne, when many Jews of the city were executed and the survivors expelled under the pretext of the murder of a Christian boy.

Jews were banished from Swiss towns in the 1620s, and from 1776, they were allowed to reside exclusively in two villages in what is now the canton of Aargau, Lengnau and Oberendingen. At the close of the 18th century, the 553 Jews in these villages represented almost the entire Jewish population in Switzerland. An important source for the situation of Swiss Jews in the 18th century is the 1768 "Sammlung Jüdischer Geschichten" by Johann Caspar Ulrich.

The right to settle freely was not restored to Jews with the Swiss constitution of 1848, and was only granted with the revised constitution of 1874.


Jews living in the Surb Valley once spoke a dialect of Western Yiddish, traces of which can be still found today in the region. Western Yiddish is mainly a mixture of High German dialects, with Hebrew and Aramaic words, and inklings of Romance languages, distinguished from Eastern Yiddish in that it has far fewer Slavic loanwords ("see Yiddish"). Unlike Eastern Yiddish, which is spoken to some degree by Polish and American Jews, Western Yiddish has almost disappeared. Today there are only a few, mostly elderly Jews who know the dialect of the Surb Valley Jews, and the Sound Archives at the University of Zurich have begun recording what is left of the dialect.

Equal Rights

Legal freedom was granted to all religious communities by the 1874 Constitution, of which article 49 recognizes the freedom of belief. After this emancipation, the Jews of the Surb Valley immigrated to larger Swiss cities. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many Jews from Alsace, Germany and Eastern Europe added to this core group. In 1920, the Jewish population had reached its peak at 21,000 people (0.5% of the total population), a figure that has remained almost constant ever since.


According to the 2000 census, the Jewish population of Switzerland was at 17,914 (0.2% of the total population). Although the number of Jews has remained fairly stable since the thirties, their percentage of the Swiss population has fallen considerably. This plateau is due to immigration, without which Swiss Jews could not have prevented a demographic setback, linked to an aging population and the many mixed marriages. Among the Cantons of Switzerland, only Zurich, Basel-City, Geneva and Vaud have a Jewish community exceeding 1,000 people. One third of Swiss Jews reside in the Canton of Zurich (6,252 people).

Ruth Dreifuss

Ruth Dreifuss is a former member of the Swiss Federal Council, is a member of Switzerland's Jewish community. Dreifuss served on the Federal Counsel from 1993 until 2000.



ee also

*Religion in Switzerland
*Switzerland during the World Wars

External links

* [http://www.chabad.org/centers/default_cdo/country/Switzerland/jewish/Chabad-Lubavitch.htm Chabad-Lubavitch centers in Switzerland]
* [http://www.jcpa.org/JCPA/Templates/ShowPage.asp?DRIT=0&DBID=1&LNGID=1&TMID=111&FID=623&PID=0&IID=2606&TTL=Muslims_and_Jews_in_Switzerland Muslims and Jews in Switzerland - Simon Erlanger] , [http://www.jewishaffairs.org Institute for Global Jewish Affairs]

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