Orientalizing the Jew: Religion, Culture, and Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century France

Orientalizing the Jew: Religion, Culture, and Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century France

Orientalizing the Jew: Religion, Culture, and Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century France

Orientalizing the Jew: Religion, Culture, and Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century France

Synopsis

Orientalizing the Jew shows how French travelers depicted Jews in the Orient and then brought these ideas home to orientalize Jews living in their homeland during the 19th century. Julie Kalman draws on narratives, personal and diplomatic correspondence, novels, and plays to show how the "Jews of the East" featured prominently in the minds of the French and how they challenged ideas of the familiar and the exotic. Portraits of the Jewish community in Jerusalem, romanticized Jewish artists, and the wealthy Sephardi families of Algiers come to life. These accounts incite a necessary conversation about Jewish history, the history of anti-Jewish discourses, French history, and theories of Orientalism in order to broaden understandings about Jews of the day.

Excerpt

The aftermath of Jewish emancipation was significant in nineteenth-century France. Jews, emancipated during the French Revolution, became central to questions of nationhood and citizenship raised by the same Revolution. Jewish emancipation required the French to think about France in a radically new way, and this reconceptualization was reinforced by the new presence of Jews in public life. in nineteenth-century France, Jews were enjoying the benefits, as well as the responsibilities, of citizenship. They were moving into all areas of public life and making their way to urban centers, particularly Paris. in the nineteenth century, the Jewish population of Paris grew out of proportion to the growth of the city itself. An 1808 census counted 2,733 Jews living in the city. Thirty years later, this number had increased to 9,000, and this population was to quadruple over the next forty years. the French had to get to know Jews all over again in this new context. They had to incorporate the reality of emancipated Jews into their understanding of what it meant to be French. What was a France that accorded citizenship to Jews? How did that France accord with one’s own ideals? Jews could be used to elucidate questions of belonging and exclusion and thus of nationhood. Making sense of the presence of Jews in society was a fundamental part of making sense of the nineteenth century.

Elsewhere, too, could form a backdrop for these questions. Over the busy nineteenth century, punctuated by revolution, war, and regime change, many French looked to further shores to explore questions of identity and belonging. the Orient—for the purposes of this book, comprising North Africa and the Middle East—was a deeply significant elsewhere. French Catholic pilgrims, writers, and artists traveled through North Africa and part of today’s Middle East. French bureaucrats were sent to these regions on diplomatic and trade missions. Many of these figures wrote lavishly and evocatively about their experiences.

But Jews were in the Orient, too. There were well-established Jewish communities, a mosaic of long-present Arabic and Berber-speaking Jews, and Jews who had fled the persecutions in Spain and Portugal. These Jewish communities were living in the lands under Ottoman rule during the same period when the French were making forays into these regions. Through their pilgrimage and travel accounts, plays, novels, letters, and paintings, these French pilgrims, writers, and bureaucrats tell us that wherever they traveled in the Orient, they encountered the Jewish communities living there. Orientalizing the Jew brings these elements . . .

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