March 18, 2007


Napoleon, the Jews and French Muslims (Michael Goldfarb, March 18, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

To find out if there was something in Jewish law and custom preventing integration, Napoleon summoned a council of Jewish leaders and put to them 12 questions about Jewish laws and customs. To modern eyes, these questions combine ignorance, condescension and insensitivity. One was: Are Jews allowed to have more than one wife? Another: Can a Jew marry a Christian?

But the more important questions related to the transition a marginalized people were making to a new idea of citizenship: Jews born in France were treated by the law as citizens, did they regard France as their country? Did they feel they had an obligation to defend it?

In response to Napoleon's questions, 200 years ago this month, a group composed of 71 leading rabbis and businessmen met in the Hotel de Ville in Paris to deliberate on their responses and present them to the emperor. Their answers stated what is now considered obvious, that there was nothing inherent in the religion preventing full integration of the Jewish community into French life. Twelve months later, by imperial decree, the Jewish confession was brought under state control. Jews were obligated to take French names and had to apply annually for a license to do business.

And here is where the story is relevant to our times. French public opinion about Muslims today echoes public opinion about Jews 200 years ago.

Of course, despite that statist solution, the French still shipped Jews East to the camps as fast as folks turned them in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 18, 2007 2:50 PM

...and Prescott Bush laughed all the way to the bank.

Posted by: gupta at March 18, 2007 3:15 PM

True Gupta, tragic mistake that Prescott Bush didn't quit his job with the Democrat Averill Harriman and instead decided to do his bidding at Union Bank.

Posted by: h-man at March 18, 2007 3:34 PM

Life must be easy as a troll. Whenever someone makes a comment, just flip through your list of pre-approved slogans and bumpersticker comebacks and find one that isn't too far off the subject.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at March 18, 2007 3:43 PM

It's hard to believe that a troll would try to paint Republicans as war profiteers and anti-Semites when their comrades have won the gold in those categories for at least a hundred years.

Posted by: erp at March 18, 2007 4:25 PM

The attempted connection between French anti-Semitism and contemporary resistence to the jailhouse is misplaced.

Actually, the French, going back to Napoleon have a record of medization which existed alongside their anti-Semitism.

The phenomenon is described in Maya Jasonoff's Edge of Empire, discussed here

Posted by: Lou Gots at March 18, 2007 5:03 PM

They're the archetype of Rationalism--racist/nationalist--they can't assimilate.

Posted by: oj at March 18, 2007 5:25 PM

Interestingly, though tragically, Prescott Bush did help save France in WWI.

Posted by: oj at March 18, 2007 6:56 PM

To modern eyes, these questions combine ignorance, condescension and insensitivity.

And, no doubt, Napolean would have been drummed out of Harvard for having even dared to ask them....

However (since we are talking about the early 19th Century), and since Jews, in many places, were not only mostly insular and relegated to low-caste status but were believed to be capable of all kinds of vileness, trickery and treachery (and still are, of course); and since he most likely didn't know too many Jews himself, he didn't know the answers to those questions about which he wanted information; and so (gasp! choke!) he asked.

That is, he asked some of the people he thought might be able to give him reliable answers.

(Or just maybe, clever chap that he was, he wanted to get the Rothschilds on board.... Whatever the case, no wonder he never managed to land a job in academia....)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 19, 2007 2:12 AM