Joseph Sinzheim, President of Napoleon's Sanhedrin and the First Chief Rabbi of France

By Sungolowsky, Joseph | Midstream, January-February 2009 | Go to article overview

Joseph Sinzheim, President of Napoleon's Sanhedrin and the First Chief Rabbi of France


Sungolowsky, Joseph, Midstream


The recent celebrations of the bicentennial of the establishment of Napoleon's Sanhedrin (1806-1807) and the Central Consistory of the Jews of France (Consistoire Central des Israelites de France) (1808) warrant revisiting the personality of its president, Rabbi David Joseph Sinzheim (1745-1812) who subsequently became the first chief rabbi of France. Early in his rabbinical career, he stood out as an eminent Talmudic scholar and spiritual leader of Alsatian Jewry that was becoming a vibrant Jewish community since the eighteenth century. Rabbi Sinzheim was born in Trier where his father served as rabbi. In the preface to Yad David, his commentary on almost the whole Talmud, Rabbi Sinzheim informs us about his early years as an eager disciple of his father who taught him how to approach gradually the study of Talmud in order to master it thoroughly.

In 1778, his brother-in-law Cerf Beer of Medelsheim, a prominent communal leader, chose him to become the head of a yeshiva he had founded in Bischeim, a town in the vicinity of Strasburg. Rabbi Sinzheim writes that by that time he had covered the Talmud for the third time and was able to undertake the writing of his magnum opus, the Yad David that was meant to clarify many topics which had remained insufficiently explained heretofore.

While Rabbi Sinzheim writes of his joy at being able to devote himself fully to Torah scholarship, he did not shirk his responsibility as a community leader. When King Louis XVI called the General Estates in January 1789 giving the opportunity to the French people to voice their grievances, the twenty-five thousand Alsatian Jews were not allowed to do so. Permission was eventually granted to them after Cerf Beer protested to the government in Paris. They requested equal rights as any other citizens in the matter of taxes, housing, marriage, trade, property ownership, religious practice, and protection from persecution in their "cahiers de doleances" (Books of Grievances) that were presented in Paris by two delegates, one of them being Rabbi Sinzheim.

After the storming of the Bastille in July 1789, while Jews were granted rights, they continued to be victims of persecution. Several petitions seeking protection were sent to Paris bearing the signature of Rabbi Sinzheim. In September 1791, when the Jews of Bischeim were requested to pledge allegiance in a manner that was offensive to their religious practice, it was Rabbi Sinzheim who succeeded despite fierce opposition by local authorities to have the procedure altered to the satisfaction of the Jews. Feeling unsafe in Bischeim, he moved to Strasburg with his family and his disciples. However, as attacks against the Jews of Alsace persisted during the reign of Terror in 1793 which was directed against religion in general, Rabbi Sinzheim went into hiding. It was not until 1795, when freedom to practice religion was restored, that he could return to Strasburg as chief rabbi of the city. (1)

After Napoleon became the Emperor of France in 1804, Rabbi Sinzheim soon realized the importance of maintaining proper relations with the state. A year later, he delivered in the synagogue of Strasburg a sermon praising Napoleon's victories on the European battlefields. He said: "Who led our victorious armies? Who triumphed over the approaching enemy pursuing him? Isn't it our cherished sovereign, the great Napoleon, our Emperor and King whose virtues, sacred head and glory were crowned by God Himself?" This dithyrambic style was maintained in later sermons pronounced by Rabbi Sinzheim on occasions such as Napoleon's birthday, the birth of his son, etc. (2)

When Napoleon returned from his victory at Austerlitz (1806), he stopped at Strasburg and heard the complaints by the Alsatian population against the Jews practicing usury. Napoleon, who had been made aware previously of the extent of "the Jewish problem" both in its economic and social aspects, decided to convene what is known as the "Assembly of Jewish Notables. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Joseph Sinzheim, President of Napoleon's Sanhedrin and the First Chief Rabbi of France
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.