NAPOLEON AND THE JEWS, THE SANHEDRIN AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
If the French revolution gave the Jews their first political victory, Napoleon gave them their second. On May 22, 1799, the Paris Moniteur published the following report from Constantinople on April 17:
“Bonaparte has published a proclamation in which he invites all the Jews of Asia and Africa to come and place themselves under his flag in order to re-establish ancient Jerusalem. He has already armed a great number and their battalions are threatening Aleppo.”
This was not the first time that the Jews had persuaded a Gentile ruler to restore them to Jerusalem. The Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate had allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and start rebuilding the Temple.
However, fire came out from the foundations and black crosses appeared on the workers’ garments, forcing them to abandon the enterprise.
And the Jews were to be thwarted again. For British sea-power prevented Napoleon from reaching Jerusalem and making himself, as was reported to be his intention, king of the Jews. The Jews would have to wait over a century before another Gentile power – this time, the British – again offered them a return to Zion.
Napoleon now learned what many rulers before and after had learned: that kindness towards the Jews does not make them more tractable.
“Since the first years of the Empire, Napoleon I had become very worried about the Jewish monopoly in France and the isolation in which they lived in the midst of the other citizens, although they had received citizenship…
The reports of the departments showed the activity of the Jews in a very bad light: ‘Everywhere there are false declarations to the civil authorities; fathers declare the sons who are born to them to be daughters…
Again, there are Jews who have given an example of disobedience to the laws of conscription; out of sixty-nine Jews who, in the course of six years, should have formed part of the Moselle contingent, none has entered the army."
It was in 1805, during Napoleon’s passage through Strasbourg, after the victory of Austerlitz, that the complaints against the Jews assumed great proportions. The principal accusations brought against them concerned the terrible use they made of usury.
he returned to Paris, Napoleon judged it necessary to concentrate all his attention on the Jews. In the State Council, during its session of April 30, he said, among other things, the following on this subject:
’The French government cannot look on with indifference as a vile, degraded nation capable of every iniquity takes exclusive possession of two beautiful departments of Alsace; one must consider the Jews as a nation and not as a sect…”
Napoleon eventually decided on an extraordinary measure: to convene a 111-strong Assembly of Jewish Notables in order to receive clear and unambiguous answers to the following questions:
- did the Jewish law permit mixed marriages;
- did the Jews regard Frenchmen as foreigners or as brothers;
- did they regard France as their native country, the laws of which they were bound to obey;…
Napoleon “supplemented this secular body by convening a parallel meeting of rabbis and learned laymen, to advise the Assembly on technical points of Torah and halakhah. The response of the more traditional elements of Judaism was poor…
Other Jews received the news with unbounded joy. “According to Abbé Lemann,” writes Nechvolodov, “they grovelled in front of him and were ready to recognize him as the Messiah.”
The Decision of the Great Sanhedrin began with the words: ’Blessed forever is the Lord, the God of Israel, Who has placed on the throne of France and of the kingdom of Italy a prince according to His heart.”
God has seen the humiliation of the descendants of Jacob, He has chosen Napoleon the Great to be the instrument of His mercy… Reunited today under his powerful protection in the town of Paris, to we 72 doctors of the law and notables of Israel, we constitute a Great Sanhedrin…
Indeed, the main result of the Great Sanhedrin, writes Nechvolodov, “was to unite Judaism still more. “’Let us not forget from where we draw our origin,’ said Rabbi Salomon Lippmann Cerf-beer on July 26, 1808, in his speech for the opening of the preparatory assembly of the…
Sanhedrin:- ‘Let it no longer be a question of “German” or “Portuguese” Jews; although disseminated over the surface of the globe, we everywhere form only one unique people.’
As we have seen, the emancipation of the Jews in France led to their emancipation in other countries. Even after the fall of Napoleon, on June 8, 1815, the Congress of Vienna decreed that “it was incumbent on the members of the German Confederation to consider
an ‘amelioration’ of the civil status of all those who ‘confessed the Jewish faith in Germany.’” Gradually, though not without opposition, Jewish emancipation and Jewish power spread throughout Europe with disastrous consequences.