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The Uncivil Servant: A Prayer for Napoleon

Mitchell Abidor
October 5, 2016

by Mitchell Abidor

LIBERATED by the French Revolution, devoted to the republic that made this possible, French Jewry was no less loyal to Napoleon, who in this area at least continued the work of the First Republic. In 1806, Napoleon convoked an Assembly of Notables among French Jews, to whom the emperor posed twelve questions on the place of Jews in French society. The Assembly, in turn, on October 6, 1806 issued a proclamation to all the Jewish communities of Europe, inviting them to send delegates to the Great Sanhedrin, to convene on October 20 and to affirm the Assembly of Notables' answers to the emperor's questions. (The convocation would be postponed until February 1807).

The Sanhedrin affirmed the Assembly's answers without debate, and additionally formulated nine articles that included a ban on polygamy for Jews, and an affirmation that civil marriage and divorce had to accompany religious marriage and divorce, a ban on usury, a call to patriotism and loyalty towards the countries to which Jews were resident, and other affirmations that declared Jews to be bound up with non-Jews in law and in spirit. The result was an even firmer anchoring of Jews within French society.

An Imperial Decree of 1808 prescribed “the reciting of prayers said in common in temples for his majesty the Emperor and King and the Imperial family. Rabbi David Sintzheim of Strasbourg, president of the Sanhedrin and the Central Consistory of French Israelites, “considering that it is important that the formulation of this prayer be uniform for all synagogues of the Empire,” composed the following, which I've translated from the French.

ETERNAL GOD, master of the Universe, from the height of thy Throne, thou tilt the gaze of thy Providence towards the heavens and the earth.

Power and might are thine; through thee alone all things grow, all things become strong; through thee kings reign; it is thee who distributes the Scepter for the governing of nations.

Cast from thy sacred residence a favorable, blessed gaze, preserve and assist our august Sovereign, Napoleon the Great, Emperor of the French, King of Italy.

Amen.

Pour upon him the treasure of thy benedictions; extend the length of his reign into the most distant future.

Amen.

May thy divine eye ceaselessly watch over him, and his brow be ever adorned with a crown of immortal glory.

Amen.

May his enemies yield before him, may happiness, peace, and tranquility accompany his reign.

Amen.

May the rays of thy light guide and protect him; may thy mercy and grace serve as his shield.

Amen.

May Louise, his beloved Companion, that model queen, participate in his glory and his happiness.

Amen.

Forever increase the might, grandeur, and elevation of our Sovereign and those of his family.

Amen.

Ensure the happiness of Israel by rendering us worthy of his benevolence, and see to it that we are agreeable in the eyes of all who approach him.

Amen.

Receive our expressions and the wishes of our hearts with favor; grant them, God our Creator and our Liberator.

Amen.

Mitchell Abidor, our contributing writer, is the author of many volumes of translation. His translations of the poet Benjamin Fondane can be found in the collection Cinepoems, published by New York Review Books.

Mitchell Abidor, a contributing writer to Jewish Currents, is a writer and translator living in Brooklyn. Among his books are a translation of Victor Serge’s Notebooks 1936 – 1947, May Made Me: An Oral History of My 1968 in France, and I’ll Forget it When I Die, a history of the Bisbee Deportation of 1917. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Affairs, Liberties, Dissent, The New York Review of Books, and many other publications.