Abstract

In 1844, the Jewish physician Lazard Terquem received a Catholic baptism on his deathbed in Paris. His Jewish relatives and various Jewish leaders challenged this conversion, claiming that the barely conscious man had been baptized against his will. While the affair began as a scandal about a man, the Jewish press quickly turned its attention to the earlier conversion of Terquem's wife and daughters. The ensuing controversy—which also extended to several other female conversions from Judaism—quickly turned into a general debate on the weakness of the Jewish woman and the threat of seduction by Catholicism and Catholic clergy. Jewish activists who warned against these threats were not just appealing to their coreligionists' fears about the survival of the Jewish collective, however. Inspired by the works of contemporary anticlerical writers such as historian Jules Michelet, they also invoked a secularist vision which depicted privatized religion practiced within family as the foundation of the nation. With this vision in mind, those Jews who drew upon Michelet's language asserted that the conversion of Jewish women was a threat not just to the Jewish collectivity but also to French society as a whole. As they did so, they clearly positioned themselves within the French liberal camp, while simultaneously employing anticlerical and gendered visions of domesticated religion in order to reinforce the boundaries between Judaism and Catholicism. At the same time, using anticlerical tropes in their campaigns against proselytism allowed Jewish men to champion their ideas about proper gender roles and female domesticity.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-0604
Print ISSN
0021-6682
Pages
pp. 439-457
Launched on MUSE
2011-08-13
Open Access
No
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