The Jews and French Identity Publication date : January 27, 2016
Béatrice Philippe is a university professor emerita. In 1997, she held the Chair of Jewish Civilisation and she was the director of research for Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilisation (INALCO), in Paris. Her research and her many publications have focused essentially on the history of the Jews of France.
Jews in France were granted citizenship in 1791. Before the French Revolution they constituted a numerically small, disparate minority (40,000 people) and suffered from extreme discrimination and prejudice. How did they succeed in becoming completely integrated into French society in less than a century, to the extent that they gradually adopted all of its stereotypes? What does this teach us about the French Republic and its religious minorities?
These are some of the questions that Béatrice Philippe answers here. Based on numerous archives (legislative extracts, newspaper and other period publications), she describes the Jewish minority as they were before they acceded to French citizenship. She emphasises the fact that they benefited from relative tolerance, seesawing between royal protection and de facto exclusion. She then examines the factors that favoured integration and draws on many examples and anecdotes to describe how Jews in France succeeded in interweaving their own traditions with patriotic values, combining loyalty to their identity with devotion, first to France, and then to the Republic. She argues that these were the keys that enabled successful integration.
• Well documented, drawing on numerous archival material and portraits, this book offers a rich, lively picture of France’s Jewish minority, from the beginnings of the Revolution to the Dreyfus Affair.
• A fascinating book not only because of its analyses of integrating mechanisms, but also because it shows how those mechanisms combined with elements of Jewish identity and with the maintenance of Jewish traditions.
• A book that should spark reflection on the role of religious identities within the French Republic.