Infamous Decree

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On March 17, 1808, Napoleon I created three decrees in a failed attempt to bring equality and to integrate the Jews into French society after the Jewish Emancipation of 1790-1791. The Infamous Decree, the third of the three, had devastating effects. It limited the residency of Jews in France, took away their freedom, destroyed their businesses and threw them into poverty.[1]

Historical Context[edit]

Napoleon Bonaparte initially won allegiance of the Jews when in 1797 he saved Jews in Ancona, Italy from eradication[citation needed]. He officially chose two High Priests of the Jewish Nation and seven councillors to the High Priests. He allegedly encouraged Jews to reclaim Jerusalem in 1799 with the help of his army in a letter to a rabbi in Jerusalem, but the letter is suspected by many to be a forgery. He in no way acted against the Jews until the early 19th century,[2] when he passed a series of three decrees, one of which was christened the Infamous Decree. Some, such as author Franz Kobler, attribute Napoleon’s change in attitude to Napoleon’s new attachment to France and his newfound desire to protect the interests of the French people. When he was the hero of the Jews, he still was an “ardent patriot” of his home island of Corsica.[3]

In France in the early 19th century, Jewish moneylenders were accused of usury in Alsace, France as well as of abusing other rights given to them in their emancipation in 1791 under Louis XVI. Napoleon sided with popular French opinion, though it was not completely accurate; the Jews were not the sole perpetrators, and not all Jews were perpetrators. Though he desired equality for the Jews, he called them “the most despicable of men” and proclaimed he did not want their number to increase in an 1808 letter to his brother Jerome.[4]

Napoleon issued an imperial decree in 1806 that suspended payment of debts owed to Jewish moneylenders for one year to warn against usury to the supposedly degenerate Jewish population and called a conference with Jewish leaders. The group he conferred with was dubbed the Great Sanhedrin.[5] and met in 1807.[6]

Though the first meeting of the Great Sanhedrin on February 4, 1807 was ceremonial and solemn, the group was largely ineffective as nothing was done during the month they met to ameliorate the conditions on the Jews that would be imposed by the coming decrees. During the eight sessions, the Great Sanhedrin was forced to condone intermarriage between Frenchmen and Jews in order that the Jewish people might be absorbed into France,[7] since Jews were considered substandard citizens[8] and needed to be either absorbed or expelled. The group also had to support other actions to assimilate the Jews by removing their Jewish ties, such as approving military service to attach young Jewish men to France rather than to their religion and ethnic background. Such measures were a prelude to the passing of the three decrees on March 17, 1808.[9]

Actual Decree[edit]

After Napoleon’s emancipation of the Jews he “wanted to mandate what some proponents of emancipation had hoped would happen, namely the total assimilation, or biological fusion of Jews with the rest of the French people.”[10] To mandate the assimilation of Jews into French society, three decrees were issued on March 17, 1808.[11]

The “first two decrees restored order to the informal Jewish communities that had survived the revolution by establishing a hierarchical, centralized organization, under the aegis of the ministry of religions.”[12] The first two decrees set up the consistories which were designed to enforce the decrees. Some of the members also were a part of the Great Sanhedrin which met in 1807.[13] The consistories consisted of a grand rabbi, possibly another rabbi and three lay members who were residents of the town. The consistories acted to enforce Sanhedrin rules through the use of education; they also worked as informants to the government which was monitoring Jewish activity.[14] There was one consistory for every town that contained 2,000 or more Jews.[15]

The Infamous Decree, also known as the “third decree," presumed all Jews guilty of chicanery (the use of trickery to achieve a political, financial or legal purpose) unless proven innocent, and restricted Jewish commerce and money lending for a period of 10 years.”[16] This decree was put into place to end Jewish money lending. It annulled all debts owed to Jews by married women, minors, and soldiers and voided any loan that had interest rates exceeding 10 percent. This was an attempt by Napoleon to get rid of alleged usury by Jewish businessmen and to turn these former businessmen into craftsman and farmers to promote supposed equality between the Jews and non-Jews in France.[17] To encourage Jews to move into this niche, the Jews were restricted in changing residency to certain parts of France unless they “acquired rural property and devoted themselves to agriculture without entering into any commercial or business transactions.”[18] To keep tabs on businesses that had survived the new restrictions, the decree mandated that all business require a patent or license that had to be renewed yearly.[19] Not only did the decree hurt the Jews economically but it changed their military rights.[20]

The final restriction of the Jews was an attempt to strengthen their bond with the government and the country. The decree made it so that the Jewish conscripts (required enlistees of military) couldn’t find replacements for themselves when drafted like other Frenchmen were allowed to do.[21]

As a consequence of the first three decrees, another and final decree was implemented on July 20, 1808. This final decree declared that all Jews acquire a fixed family name to help the government and consistories supervise the Jews movements. They were restricted in their choice of names and weren’t allowed to pick names from the Hebrew Bible or any town names.[22]

The three decrees were set up to expire after 10 years and would only be continued if renewed after that period. In 1818 Louis XVIII opted to not renew the decree and thus it ended. Louis XVIII was thereafter known as the “liberator of Jews.”[23]

After Effects[edit]

After the decrees were not renewed after 10 years, Jews migrated into three main cities: Paris, Alsace and Lorraine. Indications of cultural and economical change can be seen in these cities. Although these changes were devastating to the economy of the Jews, they greatly increased the population and the distribution of the Jews.[24]

Many Jews continued to live as lower class citizens. They were peddlers, clothes dealers, cattle merchants and small-scale commercial agents. The decree made business in the French Jewry more difficult. They could not have gone into farming or artistry because other bans took away their ability to own any land or belong to guilds. The Jews could not use their commercial skills because without the ability to own land, the Jewish businessmen could not experience any kind of expansion. But as time went by, more and more Jews began to go into artistry.[25] In Bordeaux, for example, 34 Jews worked as artisans and professionals. 66 Jews owned houses in the city and 39 were proprietors of rural land. Percentages of artisans in the city of Paris and Nancy increased also. These different economical changes were accompanied by the union of Jewish youth in the public school system.[26]

There were many concerns with Jewish youth and the public school system. There was discrimination and talk of conversions. Only 10 percent of Jewish children attended public school in Alsace. One government Jewish official said, “Our schools are Catholic schools rather than public schools. Prayers according to the Roman religion are recited upon entering and leaving, the catechism of the same religion is taught there and the textbook used are of that same religion.” [27]

By 1810, a few Jews went to local schools and moved to Lycée, but many Jewish parents neglected their children’s education to prepare them into business. Jews gradually moved into public schools, and some even hired private tutors. Some parents home schooled their daughters to teach them music, dance and embroidery.[28]

The emancipation led to the redistribution of the Jewish population in France. Jews migrated to the cities and to communes where there had not previously been a Jewish population.[29] French Jews went to Paris, by 1809 there were more than 2900 Jews there. The total Jewish population grew to more than 46,000 in Alsace.[30]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Hyman, Paula E. The Jews of Modern France. London: University of California Press Ltd., 1998.
  2. ^ Schwarzfuchs, Simon. Napoleon, the Jews and the Sanhedrin. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979.
  3. ^ Kobler, Franz. Napoleon and the Jews. New York,: Schocken Books, 1975.
  4. ^ Schwarzfuchs, Simon. Napoleon, the Jews and the Sanhedrin. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979.
  5. ^ Schwarzfuchs, Simon. Napoleon, the Jews, and the Sanhedrin. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979.
  6. ^ Kobler, Franz. Napoleon and the Jews. New York: Schocken Books, 1975.
  7. ^ Jaher, Frederic Cople. The Jews and the Nation: Revolution, Emancipation, State Formantion, and the Liberal Paradigm in America and France. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.
  8. ^ Schwarzfuchs, Simon. Napoleon, the Jews and the Sanhedrin. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979.
  9. ^ Jaher, Frederic Cople. The Jews and the Nation: Revolution, Emancipation, State Formation, and the Liberal Paradigm in America and France. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.
  10. ^ Hyman, Paula E. The Jews of Modern France. London: University of California Press Ltd., 1998.
  11. ^ Hyman, Paula E. The Jews of Modern France. London: University of California Press Ltd., 1998.
  12. ^ Hyman, Paula E. The Jews of Modern France. London: University of California Press Ltd., 1998.
  13. ^ Jaher, Frederic Cople. The Jews and the Nation: Revolution, Emancipation, State Formation, and the Liberal Paradigm in America and France. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.
  14. ^ Hyman, Paula E. The Jews of Modern France. London: University of California Press Ltd., 1998.
  15. ^ Berkovitz, Jay R. Rites and Passages: The Beginnings of Modern Jewish Culture in France. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2004.
  16. ^ Hyman, Paula E. The Jews of Modern France. London: University of California Press Ltd., 1998.
  17. ^ Hyman, Paula E. The Jews of Modern France. London: University of California Press Ltd., 1998.
  18. ^ The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History, edited by Paul Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 1995.
  19. ^ Hyman, Paula E. The Jews of Modern France. London: University of California Press Ltd., 1998.
  20. ^ Magnus, Shulamit S. Jewish Emancipation in a German City: Cologne, 1798-1871. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997.
  21. ^ Magnus, Shulamit S. Jewish Emancipation in a German City: Cologne, 1798-1871. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997.
  22. ^ Magnus, Shulamit S. Jewish Emancipation in a German City: Cologne, 1798-1871. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997.
  23. ^ Magnus, Shulamit S. Jewish Emancipation in a German City: Cologne, 1798-1871. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997.
  24. ^ Hyman, Paula E. The Jews of Modern France. London: University of California Press Ltd., 1998.
  25. ^ Hyman, Paula E. The Jews of Modern France. London: University of California Press Ltd., 1998.
  26. ^ Hyman, Paula E. The Jews of Modern France. London: University of California Press Ltd., 1998.
  27. ^ Hyman, Paula E. The Jews of Modern France. London: University of California Press Ltd., 1998.
  28. ^ Hyman, Paula E. The Jews of Modern France. London: University of California Press Ltd., 1998.
  29. ^ Hyman, Paula E. The Jews of Modern France. London: University of California Press Ltd., 1998.
  30. ^ Hyman, Paula E. The Jews of Modern France. London: University of California Press Ltd., 1998.