Hîstôry¯a yêhûdît = Jewish history

, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 47–56 | Cite as

Conversion in nineteenth-century France: Unusual or common practice?

  • Richard I. Cohen


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  1. 1.
    Simon Debré, “The Jews of France,”Jewish Quarterly Review 3 (1891):393–94. On Debré see Robert Debré,L'honneur de vivre (Paris, 1974); Arielle Rein, “Histoire familiale et intégration juive en France à la fin du dix neuvième siècle: Le cas Robert Debré,”Proceedings of the Tenth World Congress of Jewish Studies, Division B, II (Jerusalem, 1990), 267–74; more extensively in idem, “Les voies d'intégration d'un juif alsacien à Paris; le cas Robert Debré” (M.A. thesis, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1986).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Jonathan Helfand, “Passports and Piety: Apostasy in Nineteenth-Century France,”Jewish History 3 (1988):59–83.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See, for example, Frank Bowman,Le Christ des barricades, 1789–1848 (Paris, 1987); Edward Berenson,Populist Religion and Left-Wing Politics in France, 1830–1852 (Princeton, 1984); idem, “A New Religion of the Left. Christianity and Social Radicalism in France, 1815–1848,” inThe Transformation of Political Culture, 1789–1848, vol. 3 ofThe French Revolution and the Creation of Modern Culture, ed. François Furet and Mona Ozouf (Oxford and New York, 1989):543–60, and see literature there. Also K. Steven Vincent,Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and the Rise of French Republican Socialism (New York and Oxford, 1984).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See, for example, Bernard Wasserstein,The Secret Lives of Trebitsch Lincoln (New Haven and London, 1988).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    This observation is borne out by several recent studies on conversion. See Mel Scult,Millennial Expectations and Jewish Liberties. A Study of the Efforts to Convert the Jews in Britain, up to the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Leiden, 1978), whose remarks on the London society seem to be appropriate for many analogous societies: “a fantastic exercise in futility ⋯ [that] persisted with such vehemence in the face of so little success” (p. 97). A similar approach appears in Todd Endelman, ed.,Jewish Apostasy in the Modern World (New York and London, 1987); idem,Radical Assimilation in English Jewish History (Bloomington, IN, 1990). Many different studies on missionaries in Palestine in the nineteenth century corroborate this position. See also my review essay “The Trials and Tribulations of Conversion,” inStudies in Contemporary Jewry 7, ed. J. Frankel (New York, 1991), 292–97.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Élie Szapiro, “Le prosélytisme chrétien et les juifs à Toulouse au xixe siècle,”Archives juives 15 (1979):52–57.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Robert Darnton, “What is the History of Books,”Daedalus 111 (1982):65–83.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    According to Szapiro, “Le prosélytisme,” the mission's archive has not been uncovered.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Scult,Millennial Expectations, 123.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Interestingly enough, W. Gidney makes a similar argument with regard to the founding of the London Society, commenting on their unique attempt to create an nondenominational society. Eventually the union fell apart. See W. T. Gidney,The History of the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews, from 1809 to 1908 (London, 1908), 34–36.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Further examples are discussed by Jay R. Berkovitz,The Shaping of Jewish Identity in Nineteenth-Century France (Detroit, MI, 1989), 235–40.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Helfand, “Passports and Piety,” 60; ibid, 73: “In their desire to adjust and integrate into French society,many young Jews chose conversion to the majority religion as the means to achieve their goal” (my emphasis).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    See Phyllis Cohen Albert,The Modernization of French Jewry. Consistory and Community in the Nineteenth Century (Hanover, NH, 1977), 19.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Christine Piette,Les Juifs de Paris (1808–1840). La Marche vers l'assimilation (Quebec, 1983), 146–58.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    See Paula Hyman,The Emancipation of the Jews of Alsace: Acculturation and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century (New Haven, forthcoming); idem, “Emancipation and Cultural Conservatism: Alsatian Jewry in the Nineteenth Century” [in Hebrew],Umah v'Toldoteha 2 (Jerusalem, 1984):39–48.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    See Frances Malino,The Sephardic Jews of Bordeaux. Assimilation and Emancipation in Revolutionary and Napoleonic France (University, AL, 1978).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    See Jonathan Helfand, “French Jewry during the Second Republic and Second Empire (1848–1870)” (Ph.D. diss., Yeshiva University, 1979); idem, “The Symbiotic Relationship between French and German Jewry in the Age of Emancipation,”Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 29 (1984):331–50. See also Berkovitz,The Shaping of Jewish Identity, passim; Phyllis Cohen Albert, “Ethnicity and Jewish Solidarity in Nineteenth-Century France,” inMystics, Philosophers and Politicians. Essays in Jewish Intellectual History in Honor of Alexander Altmann, ed. Jehudah Reinharz and Daniel Swetchinsky (Durham, NC, 1982):249–74.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    See Michael Graetz,From Periphery to Center [in Hebrew] (Jerusalem, 1982), 271–80.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Berkovitz,The Shaping of Jewish Identity, 203–28; Phyllis Cohen Albert,The Modernization of French Jewry, 259–65.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    See Helfand's judicious discussion of this work, “Passports and Piety,” 71–72; Berkovitz,The Shaping of Jewish Identity, 236–37.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    See, for example, Alexandre Weill,Agathina ma femme! Mes grandes juives de l'histoire (Paris, 1879), 102–3; A. Léon-Velle,Le juif (Paris, 1860).Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    SeeArchives Israélites 3 (1842). Discussed in Helfand, “Passports and Piety,” 70. My thanks to Sandrine Elbaum for her assistance on this aspect.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    On the Jews and the Third Republic see the studies by Pierre Birnbaum, “L' entrée en République. Le personnel politique juif sous la Troisième République,” inIdéologies, partis politiques et groupes sociaux, ed. Y. Méry (Paris, 1989): 89–100; idem,Un mythe politique: la “République juive.” De Léon Blum à Pierre Mendès-France (Paris, 1988).Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Debré, “The Jews of France,” 397; quoted also in Rein, “Les voies,” 46, and see discussion there on the role of the lycée in French-Jewish society, 50–60.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Cf. Peter Honigman, “Jewish Conversions — A Measure of Assimilation? A Discussion of the Berlin Secession Statistics of 1770–1941,”Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook 34 (1989):26–27.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Ibid., 3–45; see the essays by Endelman and McCagg, Jr., in Endelman, “Jewish Apostasy,” 83–107, 142–64. This is also the position of Simon Schwarzfuchs,Du Juif à l'israélite. Histoire d'une mutation (1770–1870) (Paris, 1989), 278–79.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Haifa University Press 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard I. Cohen
    • 1
  1. 1.The Hebrew UniversityJerusalemIsrael

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