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The Jews of France

The Jews of France: A History from Antiquity to the Present

Esther Benbassa
Translated by M. B. DeBevoise
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 304
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    The Jews of France
    Book Description:

    In the first English-language edition of a general, synthetic history of French Jewry from antiquity to the present, Esther Benbassa tells the intriguing tale of the social, economic, and cultural vicissitudes of a people in diaspora. With verve and insight, she reveals the diversity of Jewish life throughout France's regions, while showing how Jewish identity has constantly redefined itself in a country known for both the Rights of Man and the Dreyfus affair. Beginning with late antiquity, she charts the migrations of Jews into France and traces their fortunes through the making of the French kingdom, the Revolution, the rise of modern anti-Semitism, and the current renewal of interest in Judaism.

    As early as the fourth century, Jews inhabited Roman Gaul, and by the reign of Charlemagne, some figured prominently at court. The perception of Jewish influence on France's rulers contributed to a clash between church and monarchy that would culminate in the mass expulsion of Jews in the fourteenth century. The book examines the re-entry of small numbers of Jews as New Christians in the Southwest and the emergence of a new French Jewish population with the country's acquisition of Alsace and Lorraine.

    The saga of modernity comes next, beginning with the French Revolution and the granting of citizenship to French Jews. Detailed yet quick-paced discussions of key episodes follow: progress made toward social and political integration, the shifting social and demographic profiles of Jews in the 1800s, Jewish participation in the economy and the arts, the mass migrations from Eastern Europe at the turn of the twentieth century, the Dreyfus affair, persecution under Vichy, the Holocaust, and the postwar arrival of North African Jews.

    Reinterpreting such themes as assimilation, acculturation, and pluralism, Benbassa finds that French Jews have integrated successfully without always risking loss of identity. Published to great acclaim in France, this book brings important current issues to bear on the study of Judaism in general, while making for dramatic reading.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2314-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Translator’s Note
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Note to the French Edition
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xv-xx)
  6. Foreword
    (pp. xxi-2)
    Aron Rodrique

    This book is both an overall synthesis of the history of the Jews of France from the period of Late Antiquity to the present and a reinterpretation of this history. Esther Benbassa has rendered a signal service to the general reader and the specialist by exploring all the themes that have marked the French Jewish experience with a fine eye for nuance and detail, and to have presented the most up-to-date, salient, and important findings of scholarship on this subject in one volume that is destined to remain a book of reference for a long time to come. The result...

  7. CHAPTER ONE The Origins of the Jewish Presence in Gaul
    (pp. 3-12)

    Due to the absence of documents, it is difficult to attest the beginning of the Jewish presence in Gaul with certainty. The Bible makes no reference to this region. One does find in it the wordTsarfat, but this term designates the town of Zarephath (also called Sarepta) in Phoenicia, and only later came to be applied to France, as in Israeli Hebrew today.¹

    Stretching from Antibes to Toulouse and, toward the north, as far as the vicinity of Lyons, the Midi found itself under Roman domination from 125–122 b.c.e. From the time of its conquest, in 58–51...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Nobles’ Jews, Kings’ Jews
    (pp. 13-25)

    In less than a century, in the north of France, in Flanders, and in the western provinces, the dissolution of the Carolingian Empire led to a crumbling of authority and the emergence of large territorial principalities whose rulers, marquises, counts, and dukes refused to pay homage to the king, with certain provinces seceding. The power of the feudal lords, ecclesiastic and secular, was due to the size of their fiefs and the number of their clients. The first, weak Capetian kings, proprietors of a narrow domain composed of their personal holdings (Paris, Étampes, Orléans, Melun) and Carolingian heritages in the...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Jewish Life in the Middle Ages
    (pp. 26-40)

    The history of the Jews of France cannot be reduced to a series of expulsions. Nor can one speak in their case of a uniform history, but rather of a history that varies from one region to another, from one regime to another, with the gap between north and south becoming more pronounced from the thirteenth century. The great expulsions from the kingdom in the fourteenth century reinforced this regionalization. During this period, the Jews may be divided into two distinct groups: those of thelangue d’oïl, in the center and the north of the kingdom, and those of the...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR The Jews of the South
    (pp. 41-57)

    The successive expulsions from the kingdom, and then from those areas that subsequently came under its sovereignty, in principle closed the doors of France to the Jews. In the sixteenth century, they were encountered in small numbers only in a few areas, typically in the south and east, under certain regimes and particular conditions. Their fate remained tied to circumstances and whatever usefulness they might offer. The long Middle Ages, which for the Jews lasted until the final decades of the Ancien Régime, was no longer marked by the same pace of cultural development as in preceding centuries. By virtue...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE The Jews of the East and of Paris
    (pp. 58-72)

    As the communities of New Christians who had fled Portugal were establishing themselves in the southwest, in the second half of the sixteenth century, an initially quite minor resettlement of Jews was occurring at the same time in Metz, after a long absence of more than three centuries.

    This return coincided with the entry of French troops into the city in 1552, which established the authority of the king of France, Henri II, over the Three Bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, united to France permanently in 1648; and subsequently with the establishment in Metz of a large garrison, numbering...

  12. CHAPTER SIX On the Way to Emancipation
    (pp. 73-83)

    How were Jews perceived by non-Jews at the end of the Ancien Régime? Gentile feeling was no more uniform than the Jewish community in France itself, a socially and culturally diverse population. Perceptions depended on the region, how many Jews lived there, and their social visibility. Often they amounted to nothing more than a mythical picture constructed from prejudices. Depending on whether it was a nonobservant Jew from Bordeaux who was relatively well integrated in a city where certain eminent Jewish figures lived like the local burghers; a traditionalist Alsatian Jew settled in a rural area; or a Jew of...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN New Perspectives
    (pp. 84-95)

    The integration and acculturation of the Jews in France was the result of a long process of adjustment to new conditions and preparation for joining the society that henceforth welcomed them. Jewish “regenerators” appropriated the discourse of those who promoted emancipation in representing integration and acculturation as the sole path to becomingFrançais-israélites—French citizens of the Jewish faith. But resistance on the part of the receiving society was not altogether absent. In the nineteenth century this came to take the form of anti-Semitism under circumstances favorable to its continued development that revealed how fragile Jewish integration still was at...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT Entry into French Society
    (pp. 96-113)

    The integration and advancement of the Jews did not come about at once under the influence of emancipating legislation. Some time was yet needed to absorb the repercussions of the past and to adjust to the new order of things under changing circumstances. Once more it is difficult to speak of uniform progress; there were steps both forward and back. The First Empire, with its exceptional measures, constituted a ten-year period of stagnation. The Bourbon Restoration, by not renewing the infamous decree on its expiration in 1818, lifted the last restrictions weighing upon the Jews. Under the July Monarchy, the...

  15. CHAPTER NINE Advancement and Identity
    (pp. 114-133)

    Education very quickly became inseparable from the advancement of the Jew in French society. Study had always occupied an essential place in Jewish life. The changed circumstances of the nineteenth century brought with them a new hurdle to be cleared—secularization. Jewish leaders very early took an interest in this aspect of the question. The first modern Jewish school for boys (particularly from the poorer classes) was opened in Paris in 1819 and the first school for girls in 1822. These leaders, who were themselves a direct product of the program of regeneration that they wished to apply to their...

  16. CHAPTER TEN Breaches in Franco-Judaism
    (pp. 134-147)

    Marked by the massive arrival of new immigrants, the birth of modern anti-Semitism, the Dreyfus affair, and the emergence of Zionism, the end of the nineteenth century destabilized the model of Franco-Judaism that until then had been inseparable from integrationà la française.

    The assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 and the pogroms that slaughtered the Jews in its wake, the restrictive measures adopted in Romania, then the Kishinev pogrom in 1903 and the crushing of the Russian Revolution of 1905 triggered very large waves of emigration. Of the 3.5 million Jews who left central and eastern Europe between...

  17. CHAPTER ELEVEN Between the Wars
    (pp. 148-165)

    In the interwar period, the scale of Jewish immigration from eastern Europe to France increased owing to the fact that the United States, in 1924, closed its borders—a move soon imitated by other countries in the Americas and by South Africa. France subsequently became the favored country for immigration, recording its highest influx ever in the 1920s; after 1924 it received about 200,000 foreigners per year, whereas the United States until that time had an annual inflow of only 170,000.¹ Among the Jewish arrivals were Russians fleeing the Revolution of 1917 as well as Poles, who accounted for the...

  18. CHAPTER TWELVE The Dark Years
    (pp. 166-178)

    In 1939, the number of Jews in metropolitan France was estimated at about 300,000 to 330,000. One year later, this figure had grown by 10 percent owing to the dislocations brought about by the war.¹ About 90,000 of them were French-born—Alsatians, Lorrainers, and the descendants of Jews originally from Portugal and the Comtat; the rest had come with various modern waves of immigration. Almost eight inhabitants out of a thousand in France were Jews (or nearly 0.8 percent of a total population of 43 million).² With the declaration of war, on 3 September 1939, they displayed the same patriotism...

    (pp. 179-200)

    At the end of 1944, France was almost entirely liberated from the German occupation. The French Jewish collectivity was exhausted. It numbered no more than between 180,000 and 200,000.¹ It had lost roughly a third of its members, owing to deportation to Germany and also to deaths in internment camps in France, combat, and execution. Very few showed an interest after the war of departing for the Americas or Palestine. Institutional, economic, and demographic recovery was urgent. The survivors had lived through the tragedy of the occupation; it now remained for them to find a normal life once again.


  20. Chronology
    (pp. 201-220)
  21. Notes
    (pp. 221-240)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-270)
  23. Index
    (pp. 271-281)