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August 9: The Paris Commune and Jewish Emancipation

Lawrence Bush
August 8, 2016

66a7d487f7d978195c000df8db82bf51On this date in 1792, the Paris Commune, which had served as the city’s government since the storming of the Bastille July 14, 1789, was renamed the Revolutionary Commune of Paris by its large Jacobin faction and at midnight began to fire upon the Tuileries Palace of Louis XVI, who was arrested the following day and beheaded the following January. The Jewish population of France at the time comprised some 3,500 Sephardim, mostly in the southwest, and some 30,000 Ashkenazim, mostly in the east. They had been “emancipated” and made full citizens in 1789 along the lines described by Stanislas de Clermont-Tonnerre: “denied everything as a nation but granted everything as individuals ...” Yet “the occupational structure of the Jews changed very little in the 1790s,” according to the Jewish Virtual Library. “They continued mostly to be middlemen or peddlers; very few were beginning to work in factories or even to own land, despite much propaganda and occasional pressure on them to take up agriculture.” There was a group of Jewish Jacobins in southern France named for Rousseau, and there were “a few instances among both the Sephardim and the Ashkenazim of individual Jews who participated in the Religion of Reason,” the anti-religious culture of the leaders of the French Revolution. “The overwhelming majority, however... kept their religious traditions alive as best they could.”

“No Jew was guillotined during the Terror (July 1793–July 1794) on the ground that his religious obduracy had made him an enemy of society, though such rhetoric was used by some of the Jacobins of eastern France in outraged reaction to the continuing practice of such traditions as Jewish burial. This was termed severely antisocial and a further expression of the supposed Jewish trait of hating the entire human race.” --Jewish Virtual Library

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.