From the middle of the 17th century Alsace and Lorraine had to be repopulated after the bloody Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) where everybody regardless of his religion could be a victim of the gratuitous violence in a disorganized and anarchic war. At the Westphalian Treaty in 1648 France definitively got the vicariate over the dioceses Metz, Toul and Verdun, however the dukedom of Lorraine remained in the Holy Roman Empire as an autonomous member from 1542 onwards. Lorraine looked at that time like a puzzle.
In Alsace the Sundgau as a part of the Austrian Habsburg Empire in the
South and the Decapole (10 autonomous Alsatian cities with their territories)
became French as well. First in 1681 Strasbourg
and its dependences were annexed to the absolutist France within the framework
of Louis XIV's reunion politics. Only Mulhouse
remained in the Helvetica Confederation for some decades yet.
The Alsatian territories were relatively spared by the next wars after the Thirty Year's War; Louis XIV tried a pacific invasion of the Rhine border region. Conversely the dukedom Lorraine still remained occupied by the French army during some decades after the Westphalian Treaty and continued to suffer the consequences of several wars against Spain. With the Pyrenean Treaty in 1659 France became more and more hegemonic and had a claim to several thrones and territories round around the main country; he wanted to achieve the "natural borders" of the French hexagon. Treaty after treaty Lorraine tried to escape from Louis XIV's clutches. Finally at the Peace Treaty of Rijswijk in 1697 the dukedom Lorraine became autonomous again and could begin the repopulation of its territory, the successive conflicts laid waste to. We can easily understand why Jews first came back to Lorraine from the 18th century onwards.
All the same it is important not to confuse the dukedom with the three
Lorraine dioceses that became French unofficially in 1552 and officially
in 1648. As already said above, the French crown needed Jews especially
in the garrison town Metz.
Contrary to Alsace France first gave the local authorities to understand that all Jews had to be expelled as it used to be in the kingdom since many centuries. In fact France annexed the Alsatian small territories and granted them their previous privileges, among them the right to shelter Jewish families from expulsion. Consequently the Alsatian rural Jewry could remain stable or even increase.
From 1650 onwards numerous Jews came to Alsace from German neighbor countries
beyond the Rhine such as Baden, Swabia or Rhineland. This played a major
role in the formation of the 2nd generation of the Alsatian Jewry and particularly
in the phonetics of the local Yidish-daytsh, which is an alemanic-sounding
language in comparison with other Yiddish dialects.
It goes without saying that the immigration of German Jews to the neighbor regions Alsace and Lorraine corresponds to war and destitution in the countries where they were coming from. Louis XIV decided out of pique to put the Palatinate to fire and the sword. We already stressed the fact that Alsace as a border region experienced contradictory events between France and Germany. The same king accepted to tolerate Jews in the new annexed Alsace while he laid the close German regions to waste and obviously set about Jews. One contradiction more won't make any difference for the absolutist Louis XIV and the cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin who stopped at nothing to get what they want, particularly to crush the Hapsburg Empire as a traditional enemy for centuries.
At the end of the 17th century the Alsatian Jewish population rapidly grew at the same time as the Christians. In 1689 the Intendant De la Grange took a census of 525 families (2/3 in Lower Alsace and 1/3 in Upper Alsace) whose majority lived in the countryside. Eight years later there were 738 families and already 1269 in 1716. In brief there is no denying that the Alsatian Jewish population basically grew in the 18th century.
In 1711 there was in Frankfurt on of the most reputable and wealthy Jewish
settlements, but a big fire destroyed almost the whole neighborhood and
caused the emigration of the impoverished people that lose everything. During
the Succession War for the Spanish Throne (1701-1714) the Palatinate has
been badly hit by the war and the French soldiery's damaging effects.
In 1750 there were 2585 Jewish families in Alsace that represents 103 % more than in 1716. Louis XVI ordered a census in 1784 and the result was surprising: 210 % more than at the beginning of the century with 3942 families or 19624 souls.
On the eve of the French Revolution in 1789 there were more than 150 communities in Alsace, the oldest ones were created in the 17th century and the newest from 1750 onwards.
Initially three rabbis were appointed for Upper Alsace and four for Lower Alsace. The bishop of Strasbourg, the Count of Hanau-Lichtenberg and the nobility appointed their own rabbis. Little by little some persons of the Jewish faith held important official positions because of their influence or their fortune. The local authorities considered them official responsible for the relations between the Jewries and themselves.
In September 27th 1791 the Constituent Assembly decreed that all Jews of France became full French nationals and got the same civic rights as every French citizen. All special taxes for Jews were abolished; they had to pay the common taxes. From that time Jews were allowed to exercise the profession of their choice, to acquire buildings, to dwell or marry where and whenever they wanted. In a way it was the real revolution for Jews.
There wasn't any shtetl like in Eastern Europe, but small Jewish communities called "kelle". Jews spoke Yiddish daytsh at home, galeres-daytsh with the Alsatians and of course "goyemlikh" with not Jewish people in the street. Cattle dealers spoke in their jargon that they simply called "loshen" among themselves.
In most of the Sephardic countries, that means Southern France, and some Ashkenazic areas such as Holland or the city of Metz in Lorraine, it is commonly admitted that the social emancipation of the Jews led up to the real political emancipation, contrary to what happened in Alsace until the beginning of the 19th century: the Jewry remained there semi-proletarian and was generally thought of as conservative and less cultured. The events after the French Revolution in 1789 showed very good how Frenchmen and other French Jews in the South critically looked at the Alsatian Jewry and partly the Lorraine country communities. In a way it is not new in Europe in the period of the Enlightenment and later with the assimilation wave in Germany; severe disagreements within the European Jewish community gradually came to light and divided the Jewries between East and West, between reformists and orthodoxes, among others. Alsatian Jews spontaneously had affinities with the conservative side, it is not particularly surprising since the immigration from Eastern Europe has never stopped until the 19th century, unlike Southern Sephardic communities that hadn't to assimilate any persecuted traditional Jewish emigrants from Eastern Europe. South and East France were not on equal terms!
Actually there was a resurgence of anti-Jewish violence and pogroms here
and there. The Sephardim (Bordeaux, Bayonne, Provence) felt discriminated
and put at a disadvantage by remaining mixed up with the Ashkenazim of Eastern
France because of their image and the common prejudices about them in Paris.
In fact they could enjoy a better social position and an economical success;
they were well integrated and less conservative than the Alsatian communities
where the newcomers from Eastern and Central Europe were reputed to be very
conservative and really traditional in the rituals and the clothing habits.
Consequently the Sephardim only requested the citizen rights for themselves and got them January 28th 1790, that means 8 months before all other Jews. Of course South-Western Jews were less numerous than Ashkenazim (about 5000 against 39 000). The risk was small for the power in the capital. So Jews of Metz felt encouraged to apply for the same rights because they thought they were an integrated urban community too, but their efforts remained in vain. All so-called German Jews had to wait for the emancipation in September 1791. However, 8 months earlier or later, this event was the real big Revolution of the Jewish history worldwide! Especially in the cities Jews as a body took the required civic oath. A new life was beginning.
A wave of patriotism invaded the Jewish communities; the new emancipated
Jews wanted to be good Frenchmen with the risk to be overzealous. Even Ashkenazim
considered France the best host country for Jews in exile. Berr-Isaac-Berr,
even as a traditionalist, said that Jews should show "the patriotism
that lies dormant in our hearts" in order to be appreciated by Frenchmen.
Unfortunately the Terror period (1793-1794) was ghastly interlude where
all religions were victims of anarchy and arbitrariness. Jewries also experienced
vandalism, confiscations of religious objects, questionable taxes, and fussy
harassments about barbs, scarves and other specific clothes.
After the Terror, mentalities changed gradually, but effectively. In the synagogues people commented on the political events and celebrated victories or important events. Little by little Jews had positions of responsibility (teaching, justice, sciences). At the same time, the ideas of the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskala) also grew progressively in the minds, particularly in the cities. Country Jews of Alsace remained longer faithful to tradition and were less resistant to the old rules and regulations of the basic communities. In the 18th century the Jewish religion was still disorganized and suffered the effects of a non-centralized and coordinated religious community. On the opposite some traditional Jews didn't see any problem in being responsible for their own community because they could live the way they liked.
The Jewries of Alsace and Lorraine ranked second in Europe for the subscription to the magazine Ha-Meassef (from 1786 to 1811) after Berlin. They shared the values of Moses Mendelssohn; at least they had interest in the new ideas of the Meassefim who wanted to spread the values of the socialite Berlin Jews throughout Eastern France in contrast to the conservative masses in Eastern Europe. The Alsatian Jewish population didn't totally agree with the Haskala in the countryside, the majority was torn between two opposite ideas and for them it might have been too soon after the new emancipation in 1791. Everything happened in one go. As we already said above, the Alsatian Jewry was deeply rooted in the country culture of Alsace where it was possible to live as a traditional Jew without experiencing any acute discrimination. It must be objectively admitted that the country Jews of Alsace might be a little behind the times or in a way, they needed more time than their socialite coreligionists coming from regions where the social emancipation was already a reality.
Alsace attracted many immigrants from Eastern Europe that obviously differed
from the Alsatian Jewry. Eastern European Jews came to France to live in
a democracy, in the first nation that gave Jews citizenship and civic rights.
They didn't expect that the French nation and especially the Napoleonism
had a higher goal: they wanted Jews to give up their traditional, too religious
way of life and particularly every form of exclusive world with its own
rules and language. That being said, the centralized power after the Revolution
basically pursued the aim to spread the idea of one single republican, secular
France with common values in spirit and behavior, independent of religion
and ethnic group. Therefore the State didn't exclusively set about Jews
at that time, but as it happened, they still formed an obvious, recognizable
community, the Ministry of the Interior mentioned necessary measures "to
mix the French race and the Jewish race together". It can't be denied
that the Napoleonic politics also aimed at creating a new Judaism that could
be compatible with the civil code, furthermore a Judaism that could be progressively
assimilated. Such as in politics, Napoleon wanted France to serve as an
example for Europe, France had to hold sway throughout the nations that
aimed at turning over a new leaf; the most nations in the world had to put
a stop to feudalism in general and especially to the typical tangle of old,
non-adapted regulations in every field, the Judaism included.
Whilst accepting that not all new regulations of the Napoleonic power were the best or ethically impartial, the integration of the French Jews as full nationals couldn't be achieved without making any concession to the values of the new Republic. In this context it must be admitted that the Jews in Eastern France had to make more concessions to break with the pre-Revolutionary period because their recent past coincided with destitution, war and diverse discriminations, contrary to statistically less numerous Sephardim in the South West who could have shown a little more sense of cohesion as coreligionists who shared the same destiny for a long time.
On the other side, Alsatian Jews felt different from the Ashkenazic ritual beyond the Rhine. They turned to the West and called themselves the "Medinat Elzouss", divided in "Galil Elyon" for Upper Alsace and "Galil Tahton" for Lower Alsace.
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