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History of the Jews in France
The Jewish community in France presently numbers around 600,000, according to the World Jewish Congress and 500,000 according to the Appel Unifié Juif de France, and is found mainly in the metropolitan areas of Paris, Marseille, Strasbourg, Lyon, and Toulouse.
The history of the Jews of France dates back over 2000 years. In the early Middle Ages, France was a center of Jewish learning, but persecution increased as the Middle Ages wore on. France was the first country in Europe to emancipate its Jewish population during the French Revolution, but, despite legal equality anti-Semitism remained an issue, as illustrated in the Dreyfus affair of the late 19th century.
Today, French Jews are mostly Sephardi and Mizrahi and span a range of religious affiliations, from the ultra-Orthodox Haredi communities to the large segment of Jews who are entirely secular. France currently has the largest Jewish population in Europe.
- 1 Roman-Gallic epoch
- 2 The first capets (987–1137)
- 3 The Crusades
- 4 Expulsions and returns
- 5 Beginnings of emancipation
- 6 The Revolution and Napoleon
- 7 20th century
- 8 References
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), "The first settlements of Jews in Europe are obscure. From 163 B.C. there is evidence of Jews in Rome [...]. In the year 6 C.E. there were Jews at Vienne and Gallia Celtica; in the year 39 at Lugdunum [i.e. Lyon])." Further documents indicating the presence of Jews in France before the fourth century are as yet unknown. Hilary of Poitiers (died 366) is praised for having fled from the Jewish society. A decree of the emperors Theodosius II and Valentinian III, addressed to Amatius, prefect of Gaul (July 9, 425), prohibited Jews and pagans from practising law and from holding public offices ("militandi"), in order that Christians should not be in subjection to them, and thus be incited to change their faith. At the funeral of Hilary, Bishop of Arles, in 449, Jews and Christians mingled in crowds and wept, while the former sang psalms in Hebrew. From the year 465 the Church took official cognizance of the Jews. Jews were found in Marseille in the sixth century, at Arles, at Uzès, at Narbonne, at Clermont-Ferrand, at Orleans, at Paris, and at Bordeaux. These places were generally centers of Roman administration, located on the great commercial routes, and there the Jews possessed synagogues. In harmony with the Theodosian code, and according to an edict addressed in 331 to the decurions of Cologne by the emperor Constantine, the internal organization of the Jews seems to have been the same as in the Roman empire. They appear to have had priests (rabbis or ḥazzanim), archisynagogues, patersynagogues, and other synagogue officials. The Jews were principally merchants and slave-dealers; they were also tax-collectors, sailors, and physicians.
They probably remained under the Roman law until the triumph of Christianity, with the status established by Caracalla, on a footing of equality with their fellow citizens. The emperor Constantius (321) compelled them to share in the curia, a heavy burden imposed on citizens of townships. There is nothing to show that their association with their fellow citizens was not of an amicable nature, even after the establishment of Christianity in Gaul. It is known that the Christian clergy participated in their feasts; intermarriage between Jews and Christians sometimes occurred; the Jews made proselytes, and their religious customs were so freely adopted that at the third Council of Orléans (539) it was found necessary to warn the faithful against Jewish "superstitions", and to order them to abstain from traveling on Sunday and from adorning their persons or dwellings on that day.
In 629 King Dagobert proposed to drive from his domains all Jews who would not accept Christianity, from his reign to that of Pepin the Short no further mention of the Jews is found. But in the south of France, which was then known as "Septimania" and was a dependency of the Visigothic kings of Spain, the Jews continued to dwell and to prosper. From this epoch (689) dates the earliest known Jewish inscription relating to France, that of Narbonne. The Jews of Narbonne, chiefly merchants, were popular among the people, who often rebelled against the Visigothic kings.
It is certain that the Jews were numerous in France under Charlemagne, their position being regulated by law. Exchanges with the Orient strongly declined with the advent of the Saracen in the Mediterranean sea (Southern Italy), while oriental products such as gold, silk, black pepper or papyrus almost disappeared under the Carolingians. The only real link between the Orient and Occident was insured by the Radhanites Jewish traders.
A formula for the Jewish oath was fixed by Charlemagne. They were allowed to enter into lawsuits with Christians, and in their relations with the latter were restrained only from making them work on Sunday. They were not allowed to trade in currency, wine, or corn. Of more importance is the fact that they were tried by the emperor himself, to whom they belonged. They engaged in export trade, an instance of this being found in the Jew whom Charlemagne employed to go to Palestine and bring back precious merchandise. Furthermore, when the Normans disembarked on the coast of Narbonnese Gaul they were taken for Jewish merchants. They boast, says one authority, of buying whatever they please from bishops and abbots. Isaac the Jew, who was sent by Charlemagne in 797 with two ambassadors to Harun al-Rashid, the fifth Abbasid Caliph, was probably one of these merchants. It is a curious fact that among the numerous provincial councils which met during Charlemagne's reign not one concerned itself with the Jews, although these had increased in number. In the same spirit as in the above-mentioned legends he is represented as asking the Baghdad calif for a rabbi to instruct the Jews whom he had allowed to settle at Narbonne (see History of the Jews in Babylonia). Louis le Débonnaire (814–833), faithful to the principles of his father, granted strict protection to the Jews, to whom he gave special attention in their position as merchants.
The first capets (987–1137)
First persecution of the Jews
In 1010 Alduin, Bishop of Limoges, offered the Jews of his diocese the choice between baptism and exile. For a month theologians held disputations with them, but without much success, for only three or four of the Jews abjured their faith; of the rest some fled into other cities, while others killed themselves. A Hebrew text also states that Duke Robert of Normandy having concerted with his vassals to destroy all the Jews on their lands who would not accept baptism, many were put to death or killed themselves. Among the martyrs was the learned Rabbi Senior. A rich and esteemed man in Rouen, Jacob b. Jekuthiel, went to Rome to implore the protection of the pope in favor of his coreligionists, and the pontiff sent a high dignitary to put a stop to the persecution. Robert the Pious is well known for his religious prejudice and for the hatred which he bore toward heretics; it was he who first burned sectarians. There is probably some connection between this persecution and a rumor which appears to have been current in the year 1010. If Adhémar of Chabannes, who wrote in 1030, is to be believed, in 1010 the Western Jews addressed a letter to their Eastern coreligionists warning them of a military movement against the Saracens. In the preceding year the Church of the Holy Sepulcher had been converted into a mosque by the Muslims, a sacrilege which had aroused great feeling in Europe, and Pope Sergius IV. had sounded the alarm. The exasperation of the Christians, it seems, brought into existence and spread the belief in a secret understanding between the Muslims and the Jews. Twenty years later Raoul Glaber knew more concerning this story. According to him, Jews of Orleans had sent to the East through a beggar a letter which provoked the order for the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Glaber adds that on the discovery of the crime the expulsion of the Jews was everywhere decreed. Some were driven out of the cities, others were put to death, while some killed themselves; only a few remained in all the "Roman world". Five years later a small number of those who had fled returned. Count Riant says that this whole story of the relations between the Jews and the Mohammedans is only one of those popular legends with which the chronicles of the time abound. Another violent commotion arose about 1065. At this date Pope Alexander II. wrote to the Viscount of Narbonne, Béranger, and to Guifred, bishop of the city, praising them for having prevented the massacre of the Jews in their district, and reminding them that God does not approve of the shedding of blood. A crusade had been formed against the Moors of Spain, and the Crusaders had killed without mercy all the Jews whom they met on their route.
During this period, which continues till the first Crusade, Jewish culture was awakening, and still showed a certain unity in the south of France and the north. Its domain did not embrace all human knowledge; it included in the first place poetry, which was at times purely liturgical—the echo of Israel's sufferings and the expression of its invincible hope—but which more often was a simple scholastic exercise without aspiration, destined rather to amuse and instruct than to move—a sort of dried sermon. Following this comes Biblical exegesis, the simple interpretation of the text, with neither daring nor depth, reflecting a complete faith in traditional interpretation, and based by preference upon the Midrashim, despite their fantastic character. Finally, and above all, their attention was occupied with the Talmud and its commentaries. The text of this work, together with that of the writings of the Geonim, particularly their responsa, was first revised and copied; then these writings were treated as a corpus juris, and were commented upon and studied both as a pious exercise in dialectics and from the practical point of view. There was no philosophy, no natural science, no belles-lettres, among the French Jews of this period.
The Jews of France do not seem to have suffered much during the Crusades, except, perhaps, during the first (1096), when the Crusaders are stated to have shut up the Jews of Rouen in a church and to have exterminated them without distinction of age or sex, sparing only those who accepted baptism. According to a Hebrew document, the Jews throughout France were at that time in great fear, and wrote to their brothers in the Rhine countries making known to them their terror and asking them to fast and pray. In the Rhineland thousands of Jews were killed by the crusaders (see German Crusade, 1096).
Expulsions and returns
Expulsion from France, 1182
The First Crusade led to nearly a century of accusations of Jewish ritual murder against the Jews, many of whom were burned or attacked in France. Immediately after the coronation of Philip Augustus on March 14, 1181, the King ordered the Jews arrested on a Saturday, in all their synagogues, and despoiled of their money and their vestments. In the following April, 1182, he published an edict of expulsion, but according the Jews a delay of three months for the sale of their personal property. Immovable property, however, such as houses, fields, vines, barns, and wine-presses, he confiscated. The Jews attempted to win over the nobles to their side, but in vain. In July they were compelled to leave the royal domains of France (and not the whole kingdom); their synagogues were converted into churches. These successive measures were simply expedients to fill the royal coffers. The goods confiscated by the king were at once converted into cash.
During the century which terminated so disastrously for the Jews their condition was not altogether bad, especially if compared with that of their brethren in Germany. Thus may be explained the remarkable intellectual activity which existed among them, the attraction which it exercised over the Jews of other countries, and the numerous works produced in those days.
Recalled by Philip Augustus, 1198
This century, which opened with the return of the Jews to France proper (then reduced almost to the Isle of France), closed with their complete exile from the country in a larger sense. In July 1198, Philip Augustus, "contrary to the general expectation and despite his own edict, recalled the Jews to Paris and made the churches of God suffer great persecutions" (Rigord). The king adopted this measure from no good will toward the Jews, for he had shown his true sentiments a short time before in the Bray affair. But since then he had learned that the Jews could be an excellent source of income from a fiscal point of view, especially as money-lenders. Not only did he recall them to his estates, but he gave state sanction by his ordinances to their operations in banking and pawnbroking. He placed their business under control, determined the legal rate of interest, and obliged them to have seals affixed to all their deeds. Naturally this trade was taxed, and the affixing of the royal seal was paid for by the Jews. Henceforward there was in the treasury a special account called "Produit des Juifs," and the receipts from this source increased continually. At the same time it was to the interest of the treasury to secure possession of the Jews, considered as a fiscal resource. The Jews were therefore made serfs of the king in the royal domain, just at a time when the charters, becoming wider and wider, tended to bring about the disappearance of serfdom. In certain respects their position became even harder than that of serfs, for the latter could in certain cases appeal to custom and were often protected by the Church; but there was no custom to which the Jews might appeal, and the Church laid them under its ban. The kings and the lords said "my Jews" just as they said "my lands", and they disposed in like manner of the one and of the other. The lords imitated the king: "they endeavored to have the Jews considered an inalienable dependence of their fiefs, and to establish the usage that if a Jew domiciled in one barony passed into another, the lord of his former domicil should have the right to seize his possessions." This agreement was made in 1198 between the king and the Count of Champagne in a treaty, the terms of which provided that neither should retain in his domains the Jews of the other without the latter's consent, and furthermore that the Jews should not make loans or receive pledges without the express permission of the king and the count. Other lords made similar conventions with the king. Thence-forth they too had a revenue known as the "Produit des Juifs," comprising the taille, or annual quit-rent, the legal fees for the writs necessitated by the Jews' law trials, and the seal duty. A thoroughly characteristic feature of this fiscal policy is that the bishops (according to the agreement of 1204 regulating the spheres of ecclesiastical and seigniorial jurisdiction) continued to prohibit the clergy from excommunicating those who sold goods to the Jews or who bought from them.
Under Louis VIII
Louis VIII of France (1223–26), in his Etablissement sur les Juifs of 1223, while more inspired with the doctrines of the Church than his father, Philip Augustus, knew also how to look after the interests of his treasury. Although he declared that from November 8, 1223, the interest on Jews' debts should no longer hold good, he at the same time ordered that the capital should be repaid to the Jews in three years and that the debts due the Jews should be inscribed and placed under the control of their lords. The lords then collected the debts for the Jews, doubtless receiving a commission. Louis furthermore ordered that the special seal for Jewish deeds should be abolished and replaced by the ordinary one.
Under Louis IX
In spite of all these restrictions designed to restrain, if not to suppress money lending, Louis IX of France (1226–70), with his ardent piety and his submission to the Church, unreservedly condemned loans at interest. He was less amenable than Philip Augustus to fiscal considerations. Despite former conventions, in an assembly held at Melun in December 1230, he compelled several lords to sign an agreement not to authorize Jews to make any loan. No one in the whole kingdom was allowed to detain a Jew belonging to another, and each lord might recover a Jew who belonged to him, just as he might his own serf (tanquam proprium servum), wherever he might find him and however long a period had elapsed since the Jew had settled elsewhere. At the same time the ordinance of 1223 was enacted afresh, which only proves that it had not been carried into effect. Both king and lords were forbidden to borrow from Jews.
In 1234, Louis freed his subjects from a third of their registered debts to Jews (including those who had already paid their debts), but debtors had to pay the remaining two-thirds within a specified time. It was also forbidden to imprison Christians or to sell their real estate to recover debts owed to Jews. The king wished in this way to strike a deadly blow at usury.
In order to finance his first crusade Louis ordered the expulsion of all Jews engaged in usury and the confiscation of their property, for use in his crusade, but the order for the expulsion was only partly enforced if at all. Louis left for the Seventh Crusade in 1248.
However, he did not cancel the debts owed by Christians. Later, Louis became conscience-stricken, and, overcome by scruples, he feared lest the treasury, by retaining some part of the interest paid by the borrowers, might be enriched with the product of usury. As a result, one-third of the debts was forgiven, but the other two-thirds was to be remitted to the royal treasury.
In 1251, while Louis was in captivity on the Crusade, a popular movement rose up with the intention of traveling to the east to rescue him; although they never made it out of northern France, Jews were subject to their attacks as they wandered throughout the country (see Shepherds' Crusade).
In 1257 or 1258 ("Ordonnances," i. 85), wishing, as he says, to provide for his safety of soul and peace of conscience, Louis issued a mandate for the restitution in his name of the amount of usurious interest which had been collected on the confiscated property, the restitution to be made either to those who had paid it or to their heirs.
Later, after having discussed the subject with his son-in-law, Thibaut, King of Navarre and Count of Champagne, Louis decided on September 13, 1268 to arrest Jews and seize their property. But an order which followed close upon this last (1269) shows that on this occasion also Louis reconsidered the matter. Nevertheless, at the request of Paul Christian (Pablo Christiani), he compelled the Jews, under penalty of a fine, to wear at all times the rouelle or badge decreed by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. This consisted of a piece of red felt or cloth cut in the form of a wheel, four fingers in circumference, which had to be attached to the outer garment at the chest and back.
The Medieval Inquisition
The Inquisition, which had been instituted in order to suppress the heresy of the Albigenses, finally occupied itself with the Jews of southern France who converted to Christianity. The popes complained that not only were baptized Jews returning to their former faith, but that Christians also were being converted to Judaism. In March 1273, Gregory X formulated the following rules: relapsed Jews, as well as Christians who abjured their faith in favor of "the Jewish superstition", were to be treated by the Inquisitors as heretics. The instigators of such apostasies, as those who received or defended the guilty ones, were to be punished in the same way as the delinquents.
In accordance with these rules, the Jews of Toulouse, who had buried a Christian convert in their cemetery, were brought before the Inquisition in 1278 for trial, with their rabbi, Isaac Males, being condemned to the stake. Philip the Fair, as mentioned above, at first ordered his seneschals not to imprison any Jews at the instance of the Inquisitors, but in 1299 he rescinded this order.
The Great Exile of 1306Toward the middle of 1306 the treasury was nearly empty, and the king, as he was about to do the following year in the case of the Templars, decided to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. He condemned the Jews to banishment, and took forcible possession of their property, real and personal. Their houses, lands, and movable goods were sold at auction; and for the king were reserved any treasures found buried in the dwellings that had belonged to the Jews. That Philip the Fair intended merely to fill the gap in his treasury, and was not at all concerned about the well-being of his subjects, is shown by the fact that he put himself in the place of the Jewish moneylenders and exacted from their Christian debtors the payment of their debts, which they themselves had to declare. Furthermore, three months before the sale of the property of the Jews the king took measures to insure that this event should be coincident with the prohibition of clipped money, in order that those who purchased the goods should have to pay in undebased coin. Finally, fearing that the Jews might have hidden some of their treasures, he declared that one-fifth of any amount found should be paid to the discoverer. It was on July 22, the day after Tisha B'Av, a Jewish fast day, that the Jews were arrested. In prison they received notice that they had been sentenced to exile; that, abandoning their goods and debts, and taking only the clothes which they had on their backs and the sum of 12 sous tournois each, they would have to quit the kingdom within one month. Speaking of this exile, a French historian has said,
The expulsion of 1306 was, taking all things into account, practically the revocation of the Edict of Nantes issued by the Louis XIV of the Middle Ages [i.e., Philip the Fair]. In striking at the Jews, Philip the Fair at the same time dried up one of the most fruitful sources of the financial, commercial, and industrial prosperity of his kingdom.
Although the history of the Jews of France in a way began its course again a short time afterward, it may be said that in reality it ceased at this date. It was specially sad for them that during the preceding century the kingdom of France had increased considerably in extent. Outside the Isle of France, it now comprised Champagne, the Vermandois, Normandy, Perche, Maine, Anjou, Touraine, Poitou, the Marche, Lyonnais, Auvergne, and Languedoc, reaching from the Rhône to the Pyrénées—Provence, as the Jews called it. The exiles could not take refuge anywhere except in Lorraine, the county of Burgundy, Savoy, Dauphiné, Roussillon, and a part of Provence. It is not possible to estimate the number of fugitives; that given by Grätz, 100,000, has no foundation in fact.
Return of the Jews to France, 1315
Nine years had hardly passed since the expulsion of 1306 when Louis X of France (1314–16) recalled the Jews. In an edict dated July 28, 1315, he permitted them to return for a period of twelve years, authorizing them to establish themselves in the cities in which they had lived before their banishment. He issued this edict in answer to the demands of the people. Geoffroy of Paris, the popular poet of the time, says in fact that the Jews were gentle in comparison with the Christians who had taken their place, and who had flayed their debtors alive; if the Jews had remained, the country would have been happier; for there were no longer any moneylenders at all (Bouquet, xxii. 118). The king probably had the interests of his treasury also in view. The profits of the former confiscations had gone into the treasury, and by recalling the Jews for only twelve years he would have an opportunity for ransoming them at the end of this period. It appears that they gave the sum of 122,500 livres for the privilege of returning. It is also probable, as Vuitry states, that a large number of the debts owing to the Jews had not been recovered, and that the holders of the notes had preserved them; the decree of return specified that two-thirds of the old debts recovered by the Jews should go into the treasury. The conditions under which they were allowed to settle in the land are set forth in a number of articles; some of the guaranties which were accorded the Jews had probably been demanded by them and been paid for. They were to live by the work of their hands or to sell merchandise of a good quality; they were to wear the circular badge, and not discuss religion with laymen. They were not to be molested, either with regard to the chattels they had carried away at the time of their banishment, or with regard to the loans which they had made since then, or in general with regard to anything which had happened in the past. Their synagogues and their cemeteries were to be restored to them on condition that they would refund their value; or, if these could not be restored, the king would give them the necessary sites at a reasonable price. The books of the Law that had not yet been returned to them were also to be restored, with the exception of the Talmud. After the period of twelve years granted to them the king might not expel the Jews again without giving them a year's time in which to dispose of their property and carry away their goods. They were not to lend on usury, and no one was to be forced by the king or his officers to repay to them usurious loans. If they engaged in pawnbroking, they were not to take more than two deniers in the pound a week; they were to lend only on pledges. Two men with the title "auditors of the Jews" were entrusted with the execution of this ordinance, and were to take cognizance of all claims that might arise in connection with goods belonging to the Jews which had been sold before the expulsion for less than half of what was regarded as a fair price. The king finally declared that he took the Jews under his special protection, and that he desired to have their persons and property protected from all violence, injury, and oppression.
Expulsion of 1394
On September 17, 1394, Charles VI suddenly published an ordinance in which he declared, in substance, that for a long time he had been taking note of the many complaints provoked by the excesses and misdemeanors which the Jews committed against Christians; and that the prosecutors, having made several investigations, had discovered many violations by the Jews of the agreement they had made with him. Therefore he decreed as an irrevocable law and statute that thenceforth no Jew should dwell in his domains ("Ordonnances," vii. 675). According to the "Religieux de St. Denis," the king signed this decree at the instance of the queen ("Chron. de Charles VI." ii. 119). The decree was not immediately enforced, a respite being granted to the Jews in order that they might sell their property and pay their debts. Those indebted to them were enjoined to redeem their obligations within a set time; otherwise their pledges held in pawn were to be sold by the Jews. The provost was to escort the Jews to the frontier of the kingdom. Subsequently the king released the Christians from their debts.
In the beginning of the 17th century Jews began again to reenter France. This resulted in a new edict of April 23, 1615 which forbade Christians, under the penalty of death and confiscation, to shelter Jews or to converse with them. Violent anti-Semitic riots broke out in Provence, resulting in Jews migrating to northern France.
Alsace and Lorraine were the home of a significant number of Jews. In annexing the provinces in 1648, Louis XIV was at first inclined toward the banishment of the Jews living in those provinces, but thought better of it in view of the benefit he could derive from them. On September 25, 1675, he granted these Jews letters patent, taking them under his special protection. This, however, did not prevent them from being subjected to every kind of extortion, and their position remained the same as it had been under the Austrian government.
Beginnings of emancipation
In the course of the 18th century the attitude of the authorities toward the Jews was modified. A spirit of tolerance began to prevail, which corrected the iniquities of the legislation. The authorities often overlooked infractions of the edict of banishment; a colony of Portuguese and German Jews was tolerated at Paris. The voices of enlightened Christians who demanded justice for the proscribed people, began to be heard. An Alsatian Jew named Cerf Berr, who had rendered great service to the French government as purveyor to the army, was the interpreter of the Jews before Louis XVI. The humane minister Malesherbes summoned a commission of Jewish notables to make suggestions for the amelioration of the condition of their coreligionists. The direct result of the efforts of these men was the abolition, in 1785, of the degrading poll-tax and the permission to settle in all parts of France. Shortly afterward the Jewish question was raised by two men of genius, who subsequently became prominent in the French Revolution—Count Mirabeau and the abbé Grégoire, the former of whom, while on a diplomatic mission in Prussia, had made the acquaintance of Moses Mendelssohn and his school (see Haskalah), who were then working toward the intellectual emancipation of the Jews. In a pamphlet, "Sur Moses Mendelssohn et la Reforme Politique" (London, 1787), Mirabeau refuted the arguments of the German anti-Semites like Michaelis, and claimed for the Jews the full rights of citizenship. This pamphlet naturally provoked many writings for and against the Jews, and the French public became interested in the question. On the proposition of Roederer the Royal Society of Science and Arts of Metz offered a prize for the best essay in answer to the question: "What are the best means to make the Jews happier and more useful in France?" Nine essays, of which only two were unfavorable to the Jews, were submitted to the judgment of the learned assembly.
The Revolution and NapoleonMeanwhile the French Revolution broke out. The fall of the Bastille was the signal for disorders everywhere in Alsace. In certain districts the peasants attacked the dwellings of the Jews, who took refuge in Basel. A gloomy picture of the outrages upon them was sketched before the National Assembly (Aug. 3) by the abbé Henri Grégoire, who demanded their complete emancipation. The National Assembly shared the indignation of the prelate, but left undecided the question of emancipation; it was intimidated by the anti-Semitic deputies of Alsace, especially by a certain Rewbell, who declared that the decree which granted the Jews citizens' rights would be the signal for their destruction in Alsace. On December 22, 1789, the Jewish question came again before the Assembly in debating the question of admitting to public service all citizens without distinction of creed. Mirabeau, Count Clermont Tonnerre, and the abbé Grégoire exerted all the power of their eloquence to bring about the desired emancipation; but the repeated disturbances in Alsace and the strong opposition of the deputies of that province and of the clericals, like La Fare, Bishop of Nancy, the abbé Maury, and others, caused the decision to be again postponed. Only the Portuguese and the Avignonese Jews, who had hitherto enjoyed all civil rights as naturalized Frenchmen, were declared full citizens by a majority of 150 on January 28, 1790. This partial victory infused new hope into the Jews of the German districts, who made still greater efforts in the struggle for freedom. They won over the eloquent advocate Godard, whose influence in revolutionary circles was considerable. Through his exertions the National Guards and the diverse sections pronounced themselves in favor of the Jews, and the abbé Malot was sent by the General Assembly of the Commune to plead their cause before the National Assembly. Unfortunately the grave affairs which absorbed the Assembly, the prolonged agitations in Alsace, and the passions of the clerical party kept in check the active propaganda of the Jews and their friends. A few days before the dissolution of the National Assembly (September 27, 1791) a member of the Jacobin Club, formerly a parliamentary councilor, named Duport, unexpectedly ascended the tribune and said,
I believe that freedom of worship does not permit any distinction in the political rights of citizens on account of their creed. The question of the political existence of the Jews has been postponed. Still the Moslems and the men of all sects are admitted to enjoy political rights in France. I demand that the motion for postponement be withdrawn, and a decree passed that the Jews in France enjoy the privileges of full citizens.This proposition was accepted amid loud applause. Rewbell endeavored, indeed, to oppose the motion, but he was interrupted by Regnault de Saint-Jean, president of the Assembly, who suggested "that every one who spoke against this motion should be called to order, because he would be opposing the constitution itself".
During the Reign of Terror
Judaism in France thus became, as the Alsatian deputy Schwendt wrote to his constituents, "nothing more than the name of a distinct religion". However, the reactionaries did not cease their agitations, and the Jews were subjected to much suffering during the Reign of Terror. At Bordeaux Jewish bankers, compromised in the cause of the Girondins, had to pay considerable sums to save their lives; in Alsace there was scarcely a Jew of any means who was not mulcted in heavy fines. Forty-nine Jews were imprisoned at Paris as suspects; nine of them were executed. The decree of the convention by which the Catholic faith was annulled and replaced by the worship of Reason was applied by the provincial clubs, especially by those of the German districts, to the Jewish religion. Synagogues were pillaged, the celebration of Sabbath and festivals interdicted, and rabbis imprisoned. Meanwhile the French Jews gave proofs of their patriotism and of their gratitude to the land which had emancipated them. Many of them fell on the field of honor in combating in the ranks of the Army of the Republic the forces of Europe in coalition. To contribute to the war fund candelabra of synagogues were sold, and many Jews deprived themselves of their jewels to make similar contributions.
Attitude of Napoleon
Though the Revolution had begun the process of Jewish emancipation, Napoleon spread the concept across Europe, liberating Jews from their ghettos and establishing relative equality for them in the lands he conquered. Despite the positive effect, it is unclear whether Napoleon himself was disposed favorably towards the Jews, or merely saw them as a political tool. The net effect of his policies, however, significantly changed the position of the Jews in Europe. Starting in 1806, Napoleon passed a number of measures supporting the position of the Jews in the French Empire, including assembling a representative group elected by the Jewish community, the Sanhedrin. In conquered countries, he abolished laws restricting Jews to ghettos. In 1807, he made Judaism, along with Roman Catholicism and Lutheran and Calvinist Protestantism, official religions of France. Napoleon rolled back some reforms in 1808, declaring all debts with Jews annulled, reduced or postponed, which caused the Jewish community to nearly collapse. Jews were also restricted in where they could live, in hopes of assimilating them into society. Many of these restrictions were eased again in 1811.
After the Restoration
The restoration of Louis XVIII did not bring any change in the political condition of the Jews. Such of their enemies as cherished the hope that the Bourbons would hasten to undo the work of the Revolution with regard to the Jews were soon disappointed. Since the emancipation the French Jews had made such progress that the most clerical monarch could not find any pretext for curtailing their rights as citizens. They were no longer poor, downtrodden peddlers or money-lenders, with whom every petty official could do as he liked. Many of them already occupied high positions in the army and the magistracy, and in the arts and sciences. And a new victory was won by French Judaism in 1831.
Of the faiths recognized by the state, only the Jewish had to support its ministers, while those of the Catholic and Protestant churches were supported by the government. This legal inferiority was removed in that year, thanks to the intervention of the Duke of Orleans, lieutenant-general of the kingdom, and to the campaign led in Parliament by the deputies Rambuteau and Viennet. Encouraged by these prominent men, the minister of education, on November 13, 1830, offered a motion to place Judaism upon an equal footing with Catholicism and Protestantism as regards support for the synagogues and for the rabbis from the public treasury. The motion was accompanied by flattering compliments to the French Jews, "who", said the minister, "since the removal of their disabilities by the Revolution, have shown themselves worthy of the privileges granted them". After a short discussion the motion was adopted by a large majority. In January 1831, it passed in the Chamber of Peers by 89 votes to 57, and on February 8 it was ratified by King Louis Philippe, who from the beginning had shown himself favorable to placing Judaism on an equal footing with the other faiths. Shortly afterward the rabbinical college, which had been founded at Metz in 1829, was recognized as a state institution, and was granted a subsidy. The government likewise liquidated the debts contracted by various Jewish communities before the Revolution.
Strangely enough, while the Jews had been thus placed in every point the equals of their Christian fellow citizens, the oath "More Judaico" still continued to be administered to them, in spite of the repeated protestations of the rabbis and the consistory. It was only in 1846, owing to a brilliant speech of the Jewish advocate Adolphe Crémieux, pronounced before the Court of Nimes in defense of a rabbi who had refused to take this oath, and to a valuable essay on the subject by a prominent Christian advocate of Strasburg, named Martin, that the Court of Cassation removed this last remnant of the legislation of the Middle Ages. With this act of justice the history of the Jews of France merges into the general history of the French people. The rapidity with which many of them won affluence and distinction in the nineteenth century is without parallel. In spite of the deep-rooted prejudices which prevailed in certain classes of French society, many of them occupied high positions in literature, art, science, jurisprudence, the army—indeed, in every walk of life.
In the last decade of the nineteenth century the reactionaries, having failed in every attempt to overthrow the republic, had recourse to anti-Semitism, by means of which they maintained a persistent agitation for over ten years. The Jews were charged with the ruin of the country and with all the crimes which the fertile imagination of a Drumont (founder of the Antisemitic League of France) or a Viau could invent; and as the accused often disdained to answer such slanderous attacks, the charges were believed by a great number of people to be true. A campaign was started against Jewish army officers, which culminated in the Dreyfus affair, during which a Jewish officer, Alfred Dreyfus, was accused of treason in favour of the German Empire, before being exonerated at the turn of the century.
At the turn of the century, the 1905 law on the Separation of the Church and the State put an end to state religion in France, all religions and philosophies being considered by the state a matter of privacy, tolerance and of freedom of thought.
Before World War II
By the early 1900s, the conditions of the Jews improved and a wave of Jewish immigration arrived in France, mostly fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe. Immigration temporarily halted during World War I, and Jews fought in French forces, but resumed afterwards. Jews were prominent in art and culture during this period—such as at the turn of the century, with such artists as Modigliani, Soutine, and Chagall. France was also the first country to elect a Jewish Prime Minister, Léon Blum (Benjamin Disraeli, Britain's 19th century Prime Minister, had Jewish parents but had been baptised in the Church of England), during the Popular Front in 1936. Blum, however, was attacked by segments of the French far-right, for his Jewishness, while the Action française monarchist movement, far-right leagues and the Cagoule terrorist group engaged in anti-Semitic propaganda.
French Jews during WWII
In 1940, early in World War II, France and its allies in the Low Countries were defeated by Germany, and some Jews were sent to concentration camps. As early as October 1940, without any request from the Germans, the Vichy government began passing anti-Jewish measures (the Statute on Jews), prohibiting them from moving, and limiting their access to public places and most professional activities. In 1941, the Vichy government established a Commissariat General aux Questions Juives which worked with the Gestapo to begin rounding up Jews for the concentration camps. Between 1942 and July 1944, nearly 76,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps from France. Drancy, outside of Paris, was the primary camp for Jews being deported to camps in Poland and Eastern Europe. It is interesting to note, however, that the majority of Jews deported from France were non-French Jews. Until severe pressure was brought to bear by Germany, Vichy sought in many instances to protect its native French-born Jews, especially those who had assimilated into the culture or converted to Catholicism.
Late 20th Century
In the 1940s and 1950s Jewish refugees from Europe resettled in France. They were later joined by large numbers of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews from France's North African colonies who quickly assimilated in France, their numbers increased after French decolonization of its territories abroad and anti-Semitism in these newly formed nation-states.
France initially supported Israel, voting for its formation and supporting it militarily and technically. After the Six-Day War in 1967, however, France progressively shifted towards a more pro-Arab view.
- Henri Pirenne, Mahomet et Charlemagne, pages 123-128 (Pirenne, Henri (2001). Mohammed and Charlemagne. Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-42011-6. A recent reprint of the 1937 classic).
- L'affaire de la "consonnance israélite" du nom de famille - Journal d'un avocat