Rites and Passages

Rites and Passages: The Beginnings of Modern Jewish Culture in France, 1650-1860

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 344
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    Rites and Passages
    Book Description:

    In September 1791, two years after the Revolution, French Jews were granted full rights of citizenship. Scholarship has traditionally focused on this turning point of emancipation while often overlooking much of what came before. In Rites and Passages, Jay R. Berkovitz argues that no serious treatment of Jewish emancipation can ignore the cultural history of the Jews during the ancien régime. It was during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that several lasting paradigms emerged within the Jewish community-including the distinction between rural and urban communities, the formation of a strong lay leadership, heightened divisions between popular and elite religion, and the strain between local and regional identities. Each of these developments reflected the growing tension between tradition and modernity before the tumultuous events of the French Revolution. Rites and Passages emphasizes the resilience of religious tradition during periods of social and political turbulence. Viewing French Jewish history through the lens of ritual, Berkovitz describes the struggles of the French Jewish minority to maintain its cultural distinctiveness while also participating in the larger social and economic matrix. In the ancien régime, ritual systems were a formative element in the traditional worldview and served as a crucial repository of memories and values. After the Revolution, ritual signaled changes in the way Jews related to the state, French society, and French culture. In the cities especially, ritual assumed a performative function that dramatized the epoch-making changes of the day. The terms and concepts of the Jewish religious tradition thus remained central to the discourse of modernization and played a powerful role in helping French Jews interpret the diverse meanings and implications of emancipation. Introducing new and previously unused primary sources, Rites and Passages offers a fresh perspective on the dynamic relationship between tradition and modernity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0015-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book delves deeply into the dynamics of Jewish society and culture in an era when, according to most accounts, the most interesting events and developments were taking place outside the Jewish community. Accordingly, the history of European Jewry has focused mainly on the process leading to the attainment of citizenship, on what was expected of Jews in order to gain acceptance in their host countries, on the resistance they frequently encountered, and on the case or difficulty they experienced in their efforts to integrate into the society around them. Selected aspects of this extremely complex social, political, and cultural...

  4. I. Leadership, Community, and Ritual in the Ancien Régime
    • Chapter 1 Communal Authority and Leadership
      (pp. 13-34)

      The wealth of theories seeking to establish when the modern era began reflects a wide range of historical methodologies and considerable disagreement on the essence of modernity itself. In view of the panoply of political, cultural, social, and economic conditions affecting Jewish life in Europe, historians have understandably found it difficult to concur on the types of sources and data they consider reliable or on the interpretative models they employ. For cultural historians, the roots of modernity—whether humanism, rationalism, or the decline of rabbinic hegemony—are located in either the sixteenth or the seventeenth centuries. Others have stressed the...

    • Chapter 2 Secularization, Consumption, and Communal Controls
      (pp. 35-58)

      If the autonomous kehillah was the last bastion of tradition, the strict regulation of public life would appear to be its most abiding feature. Each community determined modes of acceptable social and religious conduct by striking a balance between its recourse to the medieval rabbinic tradition, on the one hand, and the exigencies of public policy on the other. Recorded as by-laws in the communal register, the administrative protocols known as lakkanol ha-kahal served effectively as the constitution of the community; their purpose was to maintain social and economic stability, preserve correct relations with the neighboring gentile population, and prevent...

    • Chapter 3 Ritual and Religious Culture in Alsace-Lorraine
      (pp. 59-86)

      Rituals observed during the ancien régime served discrete social and cultural purposes, though the two realms were hardly unconnected. Biblical and talmudic Judaism prescribed strict social separation from the potentially harmful cultural influences of neighboring peoples. This demand was amplified in medieval rabbinic literature to include restrictions on the consumption of food and wine prepared by gentiles, the appropriation of non-Jewish folkways and rituals, and the emulation of gentile dress. How rigorously these restrictions were applied and how successfully they limited the relations between Jews and non-Jews would depend on the intensity of social and economic relations in any particular...

  5. II. Revolution, Régénération, and Emancipation
    • Chapter 4 The Ordeal of Citizenship, 1782–1799
      (pp. 89-114)

      Heightened anxiety within the Jewish communities of France in the last years of the ancien régime grew in anticipation of the turbulent changes widely expected to transform society at large. Jews encountered pressing demands from diverse quarters to redefine their relationship to the society around them and prove themselves capable of meeting new and unprecedented obligations to the patrie. In the minds of many, this would require a reformulation of Judaism in dramatically new terms and would involve a new attitude toward the Jewish past and a reprioritization of Jewish commitments. For the Jews, as for their fellow countrymen, the...

    • Chapter 5 Religion, State, and Community: The Impact of Napoleonic Reform
      (pp. 115-143)

      Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the persistence of anti-Jewish discrimination and the occasional outbursts of violence against Jews coexisted alongside France’s steadfast commitment to their civic equality. This unwavering pledge has endured because the emancipation of the Jews has remained interwoven with the revolutionary legacy. Their experience in modern France has nonetheless involved an unceasing struggle to balance the competing demands of religion and state. Efforts to resolve this struggle, with all its implieations and paradoxes, are at the heart of modern jewish consciousness. Its evolution has been guided by the progressive interpretation of the legacy...

    • Chapter 6 The “Jewish Question” During the Bourbon Restoration
      (pp. 144-162)

      With the restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy in 1815, an era of renewed confidence in France’s commitment to its revolutionary heritage began to reverberate distinctly within the Jewish community.¹ In the political arena and at the communal level, French Jewry displayed a consciousness of the dramatic changes precipitated by the Revolution and a vitality that contrasted sharply with the lethargy of the preceding twenty-five years. The 1816 ordinance on primary education provided the legal foundation for the establishment of modern Jewish schools in the spirit of the Haskalah; the first Jewish periodical to appear in French, L’lsraélite français (1817–18),...

  6. III. Transformations in Jewish Self-Understanding
    • Chapter 7 Scholarship and Identity: La Science de Judaïsme
      (pp. 165-190)

      In a letter to Leopold Zunz in the fall of 1822, French orientalist Sylvestre de Sacy predicted that the important work of Wissenschaft des Judentums would never gain the appreciation it deserved in France because the Jewish community there showed so little interest in intellectual affairs.¹ Two decades later, commenting on the failure of French Jews to embrace ritual reform, as did their German coreligionists, Abraham Geigcr went a step further, holding the paucity of Jewish intellectual life responsible for the disappointing lack of progress in the realm of religion. With impassivity rampant, he was convinced that only a movement...

    • Chapter 8 Rabbinic Authority and Ritual Reform
      (pp. 191-212)

      The battle lines separating reformers and traditionalists in nineteenth-century Europe are commonly assumed to be clear and well defined. From 1817, with the establishment of the New Israelite Temple Association in Hamburg, the nascent Reform movement broke progressively with the normative halakhic tradition. Almost immediately, reformers encountered vehement resistance and criticism on the part of their traditionalist opponents. Appalled by each of the proposed liturgical and synagogue reforms, stalwart defenders of orthodoxy argued that change of any sort threatened to undermine the integrity of Halakhah and the authority of its rightful interpreters.¹ While the conflict was undeniably fierce, it has...

    • Chapter 9 Patrie et Religion: The Social and Religious Implications of Civic Equality
      (pp. 213-231)

      Even after nearly a half-century had elapsed since the Revolution of 1789, several fundamental questions concerning the compatibility of Judaism with citizenship remained unresolved. No longer was the issue whether ritual observance impeded the fulfillment of civic duties. Rather, an internal Jewish debate centered on how much of the legacy of traditional Judaism ought to be preserved in an age when social and cultural barriers were being dissolved. Certainly in northeastern France but elsewhere as well, Jewish life revolved around a distinct calendar, history, religious culture, and vision of messianic redemption. Could citizens, in good conscience, remain committed to the...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 232-240)

    Nowhere was the transition from ghetto to emancipation more dramatic, or more celebrated, than in France. Some two years after the storming of the Bastille, the National Assembly formally removed all disabilities pertaining to the Jews and declared them citizens of France. In response, French Jews identified enthusiastically with the fledging republic. In Paris about one hundred individuals—20 percent of the community—joined the National Guard even before they were admitted to citizenship, and others helped thwart royalist attacks in the early 1790s. From the start, the Jews of France viewed themselves as enfants de la palrie, to borrow...

  8. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 241-242)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 243-300)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 301-320)
  11. Index
    (pp. 321-330)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 331-333)