French-Jewish Assimilation Reassessed: A Review of the Recent Literature

By Caron, Vicki | Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, Spring 1993 | Go to article overview

French-Jewish Assimilation Reassessed: A Review of the Recent Literature


Caron, Vicki, Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought


experienced assimilation.

Research remains to be done, however. One area that certainly demands further investigation concerns the political behavior of French Jewry. True, the role of the AIU has recently been reexamined,(28) and Jewish reactions to anti-Semitism during the Dreyfus Affair and the Vichy era have also been reassessed.(29) Nevertheless, the broader theme of Franco-Jewish political behavior has received scant attention. Although it may be true that French Jewry never developed a formal self-defense organization comparable to the Centralverein deutscher Staaatsburger judischen Glaubens, this THE DECADE OF THE 1980S HAS WITNESSED a veritable blossoming of historical writing on the experiences of French Jewry in the post-emancipation period. While the bicentennial celebrations of the French Revolution clearly inspired several of these works, the growing interest in the history of modern French Jewry stems also from the fact that, until relatively recently, the Franco-Jewish experience has been somewhat neglected, especially in comparison to the extensive literature devoted to the history of Central European Jewry. The factors responsible for this neglect are not difficult to fathom: the remarkable ease and swiftness of Jewish assimilation fostered the impression that Jewish integration was a relatively smooth and tension-free process.(1) True, even France experienced periodic bouts of anti-Semitism; nevertheless, in comparison to developments across the Rhine, the obstacles to Jewish emancipation and integration seemed minimal indeed.(2)

Recently, however, historians have begun to reassess the nature of Jewish emancipation and assimilation in France. In the past, assimilation has been depicted as an essentially linear process resulting in a steady diminution of a distinctive sense of Jewish identity. Indeed, it was widely assumed that had it not been for the rise of anti-Semitism, together with the massive influx of East European immigrants beginning at the end of the 19th century, French Jewry, left to its own devices, would probably have disappeared.(3) Recent scholarship, however, rejects this view and shows that the processes of acculturation and integration were, in reality, far more complex. Not only do these works suggest that Jewish religious identity was more vibrant than previously believed, but some of them, influenced by trends in American Jewish historiography, even contend that French Jewry exhibited strong signs of ethnic solidarity. Such views constitute nothing short of a veritable revolution, particularly since French Jews have long been considered the most highly assimilated of all Western Jews and, thus, the most hostile to any notion of Jewish peoplehood or nationality. This essay, therefore, will review the principal books that have been published since 1980 that seek to re-evaluate the themes of emancipation and assimilation.(4) As we will see, these studies illuminate not only issues specific to the French context, but they incorporate methodologies and perspectives that ultimately reshape our understanding of assimilation in Western societies more generally.

To understand the foundations of assimilation, it is useful to re-examine the debates over Jewish emancipation that occurred at the end of the 18th century. To be sure, the French approach to Jewish emancipation is commonly held up as the most clear-cut example of a liberal emancipation model. Immediate, complete, and unconditional in its demands, the French paradigm stands in sharp contrast to the gradualistic and piecemeal Central European approach that demanded assimilation as the price for emancipation.(5) While none of the studies under consideration here contests the essential validity of this dichotomy, Libres et Egaux ... L'Emancipation des Juifs, 1789-1791 (Paris: Fayard, 1989), by Robert Badinter, a prominent French Jewish lawyer who served as Minister of Justice from 1981 to 1986 and as President of the Constitutional Council since 1986, poignantly reminds us that even in France the granting of civil rights to Jews was by no means the straightforward victory of revolutionary ideals that it might seem to be today. …

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

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.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

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

French-Jewish Assimilation Reassessed: A Review of the Recent Literature
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?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access 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

    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.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.