Jewish Anticlericalism and the Making of Modern Jewish Politics in Late Enlightenment Prussia and France


In the late eighteenth century, Jewish authors in France and Prussia started to articulate their political ideas through polemics against the Catholic Church. The fact that Jews were able to employ anticlerical tropes despite their precarious legal and social position underscores the importance of anticlerical polemics for the emergence of new forms of civic belonging in a period when Jews became, or dreamed of becoming, citizens for the first time. Anti-Catholicism served as an expression of new horizontal alliances with other social groups and—in the case of France—of Jews’ dedication to a state defined against anti-revolutionary clergy. Unlike antisemites in the late nineteenth century, who denounced Jews for dividing the nation with their anti-Catholicism, Enlightenment thinkers accepted the anticlericalism of Jews such as Moses Mendelssohn because they saw it as proof of Jews’ ability to transcend parochial Jewish concerns.