The Jews of France

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From the New-York Daily Tribune, Nov. 19, 1899    




Paris, November 4.



Grand Rabbi of France.


There are welcome signs that the anti-Semitic propaganda carried on by M. Edouard Drumont since 1886 with book pamphlet, newspaper, secret oration, and even by sword, until a climax was reached during the Dreyfus persecution, is at last losing some of its ferocity. The Jew baiting spirit was first aroused by the appearance of "La France Juive," and with the lawsuits and duels in which the author of this remarkable but fanatical treatise became forthwith involved. Afterward came the "Fin d'un Monde" and then "La Dernière Bataille," which was dedicated to Drumont's energetic lieutenant, the late Marquis de Morès. In 1892 M. Drumont founded his daily paper, the "Libre Parole," which each morning preached death and destruction to the Jews and everything connected with them.


It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that had there been no "Libre Parole" there would have been no Dreyfus affair. It will be remembered that the first intimation that reached the public ear in regard to Captain Dreyfus appeared on November 1, 1894, when the "Libre Parole" announced that "a Jewish officer of the General Staff had betrayed France and was confined in the prison of Cherche Midi." With the aid of Drumont's accomplices at the Ministry of War all the newspapers that had seven years before championed the Boulangist cause--the "Intransigeant," the "Autorité," etc. He began, without inquiring whether the accusation against Dreyfus was founded, to pour invective upon the alleged traitor, and with him upon Jews, and demanded their wholesale expulsion from the army. The Jew bating press succeeded in sowing throughout France a preconceived conviction of Dreyfus's guilt. The "Patrie," "Eclair," "Soir" and other topsy-turvy papers which make a business of inflaming civil and religious passions, and are ever anxious for an opportunity of gaining popularity by some startling act of pseudo-patriotism, followed the lead of Drumont. Colonel Sandherr, then chief of the Information Bureau of the Staff, who was the son of a Catholic convert from Protestantism, and so fanatical as openly to declare that every Jew was in his eyes a scoundrel, ably seconded Drumont's efforts. General De Boisdeffre, then Chief of Staff, who from his earliest youth had always been associated with Jesuit circles, furthered the aims of Drumont.

For the moment all the fanaticism and hatred were concentrated upon Dreyfus, the first Jew among the few officers of the faith belonging to the General Staff who ever attained a position of confidence at the Ministry of War. The persecutions of Dreyfus united the Clerical and the Nationalist press. Jews were publicly insulted in the streets of Paris, and their situation became worse than at any time since their civil emancipation had been guaranteed by the declaration of "The Rights of Man." The anti-Semitic war declared in Algeria by Max Régis and his acolytes brought desolation upon hundreds of Jewish families. Sules Guérin began a similar campaign in Paris. His attempt to pose as a martyr by shutting himself up in the building of the "Anti-Juif" in the Rue Chabrol, and transforming it into a "fort," ended in a ridiculous fiasco; it seems to mark a decline in Paris Jew baiting which, in the opinion of the keenest observers, has not expended its force.

During the French anti-Semitic movement, which has lasted fourteen years, the conduct of the Jewish community has been irreproachable. The wisdom and moderation of M. Zadoc Kahn, Grand Rabbi of the Central Consistory of Israelites in France, is reaping its reward. Among the fourteen members of the Central Consistory are Baron Alphonse de Rothschild, head of the great banking house; M. Eugéne Péreire, president of the French Transatlantic Company; Mr. Bédarrides, honorary first president of the Court of Cassation, and Maurice Lévy, member of the Institute and Inspector general of Roads and Bridges. The dignified and patriotic attitude of the Jews during the anti-Semitic outburst was largely due to the moderation and foresight of this Consistory. Now that the storm seems about to clear away, it is found that the situation of the Jews in France is stronger and more prosperous than every before.

Temple on the Rue de la Victoire.


M. Zadoc Kahn, as Grand Rabbi of the Central Consistory--a position that he has occupied since 1889, when he succeeded the late Grand Rabbi Lazare Isidor--is the head of the Hebrew religion in France. He was born at Mommenheim, near Metz, in 1839, and was educated at the École Rabbinique of Metz. Since 1867 he has without interruption been attached to the Central Israelite Consistory of Paris. He is an able writer and a great orator. He lives with his wife and family in a modest house in the Rue Saint-Georges, adjoining the sumptuous synagogue, the main entrance which is on the Rue de la Victoire.

He is a hard worker. As early as 6 o'clock in the morning he is at his desk in his library. He is small in stature and of slight, wiry build. His eyes are dark and penetrating, and they sparkle behind his spectacles. Besides his sacerdotal occupations, M. Zadoc Kahn devotes much time to numerous charitable works relating to hospitals, schools and mutual aid societies. He also takes an active share in the administration of the vast charitable funds bequeathed by Baroness Hirsch, by Mme. Furtado-Heine and by various members of the Rothschild family.

photo: The Jewish Temple in the Rue de la Victoire, Paris.

The importance and extent of the Grand Rabbi's functions were established by the imperial decree of December 11, 1808, which divided France into thirteen Hebrew circumscriptions. the Temple in the Rue de la Victoire, which was completed in 1874, is the place of meeting for the Central Consistory, and is practically the headquarters for the higher Hebrew functionaries. The ministration of the Temple in the Rue de la Victoire is placed under the supervision of M. J. H. Dreyfuss, Grand Rabbi of Paris. The three great Jewish rites--the French, German and Portuguese--are now under one direction. The relations between Judaism and the State are regulated by the laws of 1808, 1844, 1850, 1862 and 1872. Jews in France enjoy absolute equality and the same rights as are accorded to all other religious communities. Even M. Drumont has failed to prove that the French rabbis have ever abused their rites, as has lately been the case with the Roman Catholic clergy. During the Dreyfus agitation the violent polemics of the Clericals and the incendiary language of the "Croix," the accredited organ of the Gallican Church, contrast most unfavorably with the patriotic moderation and dignity of the French Jews.

In the month of January 1890, an anti-Semitic campaign was opened by a noisy and boisterous meeting at Neuilly, and the following day Ernest Renan discussed the matter in the presence of M. Emile Berr and several other Parisian journalists. The writer well remembers the indignation expressed on that occasion by the author of "L'Histoire des Origines du Christianisme." Renan's words seem more significant now than ten years ago. He said:

"It is humiliating  to feel that in France the most essential of all religions--that of tolerance--is so badly put into practice. Over a hundred years ago France solved the Jew question in the wisest possible manner. The laws drawn up by the jurisconsult Portalis established once [and] for all the situation of the Jews. This Neuilly meeting may mark the beginning of a formidable anti-Semitic movement. But I feel convinced that no sectarian persecution in France, no matter how violent or passionate it may be, can ever be more than evanescent. Such a flame must inevitably burn itself out for lack of fuel."
                                                                                                                                                                     C I. B.








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