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Obstinate Hebrews

Representations of Jews in France, 1715-1815

Ronald Schechter

Publication Year: 2003

Enlightenment writers, revolutionaries, and even Napoleon discussed and wrote about France's tiny Jewish population at great length. Why was there so much thinking about Jews when they were a minority of less than one percent and had little economic and virtually no political power? In this unusually wide-ranging study of representations of Jews in eighteenth-century France—both by Gentiles and Jews themselves—Ronald Schechteroffers fresh perspectives on the Enlightenment and French Revolution, on Jewish history, and on the nature of racism and intolerance. Informed by the latest historical scholarship and by the insights of cultural theory, Obstinate Hebrews is a fascinating tale of cultural appropriation cast in the light of modern society's preoccupation with the "other."

Schechter argues that the French paid attention to the Jews because thinking about the Jews helped them reflect on general issues of the day. These included the role of tradition in religion, the perfectibility of human nature, national identity, and the nature of citizenship. In a conclusion comparing and contrasting the "Jewish question" in France with discourses about women, blacks, and Native Americans, Schechter provocatively widens his inquiry, calling for a more historically precise approach to these important questions of difference.

Published by: University of California Press

Series: Studies on the History of Society and Culture


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

In researching and writing this book I benefited from the generous support of numerous institutions. A Harvard Lurcy Traveling Fellowship and a Harvard Krupp Foundation Fellowship for European Studies enabled me to conduct my initial research in France in 1990 –91. ...

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pp. 1-17

In Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi reminds us that the biblical command “Remember!” (“Zakhor”) and the Jewish traditions of remembrance paradoxically conflict with the requirements of modern historiography, despite their common attention to the past. ...

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1. A Nation within the Nation? The Jews of Old Regime France

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pp. 18-34

This book is above all about representations. One might say that it is more concerned with imaginary than with real Jews, though it would be naïve to draw a strict dichotomy between representations and hard facts, myths and realities, discourses and practices, history as it was imagined and wie es eigentlich gewesen. ...

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2. Jews and Philosophes

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pp. 35-65

Historians concerned with the relationship between the Enlightenment and the Jews have tended to ask whether the philosophes were anti- Semitic or philo-Semitic, whether their plans for the integration of Jews into Gentile society were a positive or negative development, ...

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3. Jews and Citizens

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pp. 66-109

By the time Louis XVI took the throne in 1775, the period of the High Enlightenment was nearly over. Of the writers examined in the last chapter, Montesquieu was twenty years dead, and d’Argens had died in 1771. Voltaire had only three years to live, and Diderot was beginning his last decade of life. ...

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4. Contrapuntal Readings: Jewish Self-Representation in Prerevolutionary France

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pp. 110-149

The previous two chapters demonstrated that Jews played a disproportionately important role in the writings of philosophers, reformers, and social commentators in eighteenth-century France. This chapter aims to show how Jews responded to this mountain of literature in which French authors claimed to describe them. ...

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5. Constituting Differences: The French Revolution and the Jews

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pp. 150-193

As with historical writing on the Enlightenment and the Jews, commentary on the Jews and the Revolution has tended to derive from the question of whether the “emancipation” that the Revolution enacted was good or bad for the Jews. Historians have repeatedly asked, implicitly or explicitly, whether the National Assembly’s famous decree ...

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6. Familiar Strangers: Napoleon and the Jews

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pp. 194-235

Between 1792 and Napoleon’s rise to power at the very end of the decade, public discussion of the Jews waned significantly. The September 1791 legislation removing all legal distinctions between Jews and non-Jews, combined with the prior decree of religious freedom in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, ...

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Conclusion: Jews and Other “Others”

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pp. 236-255

What can one conclude from the evidence put forth in this book about representations of Jews in France between 1715 and 1815? It is possible to see these findings as merely confirming the failure, willful or otherwise, of European writers and political actors truly to perceive the Other. ...

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pp. 256-262

At the beginning of this book I asked my readers to “forget” what they knew about the Jews from the late nineteenth century to the present day. I made this request in order to restore the sense of strangeness to an eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century “Jewish question” that subsequently appeared the inevitable prologue to an equally inevitable future. ...


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pp. 263-296


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pp. 297-318


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pp. 319-332

Further Reading, Production Notes

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pp. 344-346

E-ISBN-13: 9780520929357
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520235571

Page Count: 339
Publication Year: 2003

Series Title: Studies on the History of Society and Culture