History of the Jewish community in Alsace and Lorraine (continuation - end)

Century 19th
At the beginning of the 19th century Napoleon understood the urgent necessity to regulate the religious life of the Jewish community. Numerous Jewish notables also hoped for the same official regulations as for the Catholic and Protestant faiths under the control of the Ministry of Cults. Napoleon's aim was also to fight against usury, all the more so as the anti-Semite press began to become virulent. The Minister of Justice said in 1805 that "those men [Alsatian Jews] whose French nationality hasn't made better Frenchmen of them continue to lend at excessively high rates" such as every non-Jewish usurer however. The State Council decreed therefore that every deed had to be authenticated and obligatory before non-Jewish witnesses. But Napoleon hoped for a general regulation and ordered a meeting of Jews in Paris, chosen "among rabbis, real estate owners and other Jews whose probity and enlightenment set them apart from all other." This decree concerned all eastern departments and those beyond the German border along the Rhine. The emperor wanted them to define a legal interest rate and at the same time he had the opportunity to mention all bones of contention and other topical issues.
There still will be numerous meetings between the Napoleonic administration and Jews between 1806 and 1808. The results of the several meetings were not systematically in favor of the Jewish community. The so-called "despicable decree" was promulgated for 10 years and forbade Jews to be replaced by anybody when they were drawn for military service, contrary to what every Christian used to do. Regarding loans the tribunal could annulate or reduce the debts owed to Jews and the Town Hall was allowed to issue revocable licenses to Jewish lenders.

The despicable decree was not extended after the ten validity years in 1818. It is important to mention that the Sephardic Jews of Landes and Gironde were exempted from this decree and numerous departments also asked for exemption, among them the community of Metz that felt similar to southwestern Jewries in many respects. It goes without saying that we don't want here to discredit Sephardim because of their easier personal development during the emancipation period; through them we just can better realize how the State and the French people were looking at German Jews in Eastern France, in a way they serve as a distorting mirror reflecting the partiality and the insincerity of the decision-makers in Paris. For instance, few months later Napoleon exempted Paris and other southwestern regions from the despicable decree, probably because of influent commerce. In 1810 the last exempted were in South-Eastern France (Sephardim) and a single department in the Ashkenazic Lorraine, the Vosges. To sum things up, 68 departments in 1811 representing 13.370 Jews were exempted and 48 departments representing 65.439 were subjected to the despicable decree. An impartial observer can objectively wonder why the regulations showed evidence of double standards although the majority of French Jews lived in Alsace and Lorraine. He could speak of obvious discrimination against Ashkenazim whose image at this moment really seemed to be bad and of disadvantage in Paris.

The lack of knowledge about Jews from the East probably explains this situation, moreover Alsace and Lorraine remained partly foreign in the spirit of the age, contrary to the southwestern regions. It can't be denied that the fortune and the better social emancipation of the Southern Jews helped them to be well treated by the authorities. From the beginning in 1806 the State Council already called for measures against immigrated Jews, of course Eastern departments were particularly concerned by these measures because they welcomed a lot of emigrants from the East; there was something going on in Paris where the government displayed bias against a certain type of Jews that it considered incompatible with a progressive secular republic. The government didn't go about the problem the right way because it lumped all French Jewish tendencies together and only saw a Jewish people, not to say race. It judged by appearances ultimately.

Some decrees during the years between 1806 and 1808 focus our attention on other important points. Firstly the documents of the Assembly of Notables used for the first time the term "Israelite" instead of Jewish and the administration got used to speaking of the "Israelite Cult". Secondly, from 1807 onwards the Alsatian Judaism was divided into two Consistories: Strasbourg for Lower Alsace and Wintzenheim (later Colmar) for Upper Alsace. The Consistory and its Grand rabbi appointed rabbis, officiants, shohatim, mohalim and chief administrators of synagogues. All consistories were under the control of a Central Consistory, initially with 3 Grand Rabbis and later a single one. This post still exists today and its title is "Grand Rabbi of France". Thirdly Napoleon convened the so-called "Grand Sanhedrin" in order to make doctrinal decisions and to adapt the "Israelite Cult" to the republican nondenominational legislation. He called Jewish notables from whole Europe. Among them, there was the first Grand rabbi of the Central Consistory David Sintzheim. He came from Trier, but taught in Bischheim near Strasbourg in 1778; he was rather orthodox and in contact with Eastern main Jewish centers, especially Bratislava. He undoubtedly represented the Alsatian Jewish masses very well because their commitment to traditions and Jewish rules was still very fixed in their minds.

From 1806 the Jewish representatives were asked, "to make of Jews useful citizens, to conciliate their faith with all Frenchmen's duties and to dispel all criticisms that could have been made before." The consistories and the Grand Rabbis were expensive for the flocks, their role was not only doctrinal and administrative, and they also had to insist on the sacred nature of the military service, to encourage prayers in favor of the emperor and to accept civil marriages without having the rabbi's blessing. Fortunately Louis-Philippe decreed in 1831 that rabbis and officiants would get their salary from the State such as priests of both Christian faiths. This evolution led to a considerable development of the Alsatian communities in the late 19th century.

To conclude about the numerous decrees ordered between 1806 and 1808, it is important to mention the imperial decree from July 20th 1808 regarding the civil status of Jews. Contrary to Sephardim in the South who commonly had nicknames or Christian names as patronymics that were passed down from father to son, Ashkenazim hadn't got stable patronymics for the French administration before the 19th century. This emphasizes one more time the traditional way of thinking in the country communities of Eastern France. The regularization of the Jews' patronymic status became a necessity in order to accelerate the integration process with the Republic. Eastern Jews named their children according to the ancestral custom: they used the name of an illustrious figure of the Bible or the Talmud and often added the father's or grandfather's name; it threw the administration into confusion, since father and son hadn't systematically the same name or lots of repetitions and similitude gave the impression of incoherence. However, little by little it became usual to get a middle name added to the religious name; the middle name gradually became a patronymic for greater convenience: among them there are for example religious functions such as Cohen, Kahn, Katz or Levi, then names of origin such as Wormser, Elsasser, Deutsch or Schwab, then professions such as Metzger, Baumann and similar to Christian patronymics the nicknames based on the look and appearances such as Klein, Schwartz, Lipmann or Weiss.
When the Alsatian Jews had to register their legal patronymic July 20th 180, complete confusion reigned both in the administration and the Jewish families. It depended on the officer's benevolence to specific patronymic customs and moreover not all officers could speak the Alsatian dialect, relatively close to the local Yiddish in many respects. Depending on the offices, some names were basically forbidden, other names were imposed. For greater convenience, some offices such in Paris basically generalized the rule of the first name, which had not to be religious. At other places, Jews could become object of derision and got funny names imposed.

That being said, it is important to note that Jews could often write their name only in Hebrew alphabet and contrary to the urban Jews of Metz and the Sephardim of the South there weren't any registers in the common language. The local phonetics complicated things and the transcription from the Hebrew form was not codified for all registry offices. Commonly known names like Isaïe, Isaac or Mardochée couldn't be recognized behind the Alsatian forms Scheie, Itzig and Marx. To sum things up, the registry officers generally used three rules : the first one is to imitate the consonance, Ascher became Anchel, Abraham Avrom or Fromm. The second is based on the translation such as Baruch to Benedict, Hayyim to Vidal, Shalom to Friedmann. The third one uses the translation of the equivalent symbolism in the Jewish tradition like the lion of Judas giving Loeb, Lion, Loew, or Nephtali to Hirsch or Cerf, Benjamin to Wolff.
Confusion reigned on the women's names because there were generally hypocoristic terms with dialectal consonance such as Pessele for Elisabeth, Ziberle for Deborah or Sorle for Sarah. It's common knowledge that Jewesses in Alsace passed down Yiddish to the next generation, they hardly spoke French, particularly at home where the "mammele" was an emotional and linguistic reference. Since the French law for civil status was patriarchal as well, women got out of having to change their habits deeply. She remained for example the Pessele, wife of David Schwab.

From the Restauration and the July Monarchy with Louis XVIII, the legal normalization of the Jewish community was achieved. Gradually Consistories and Grand Rabbis asked their coreligionists to exercise useful jobs to study and show interest in sciences and arts, to avoid usury. Their slogan was to insist on the new homeland France by saying: "Israelites, you are not wandering any more, you are not stateless any longer!" The country communities rapidly grew between 1840 and 1860. At that time, synagogues have been restored, transformed and new built. The administrative centers of districts attracted an enormous part of the Jewish population and from 1860 onwards, the country communities began to empty in favor of the cities. The industrial revolution and the development of transportation made this rural depopulation possible.

An important political event increased this depopulation: the annexion of Alsace and Northern Lorraine to the German Empire in 1871. Numerous young Jews emigrated to France (Paris and neighbor departments), but also to the colonial territories of Northern Africa or finally to America. Depending on the level of assimilation to the French society, many urban Jews emigrated to avoid the Prussian way of life or to serve in the German army. For those Jews that spoke Yiddish and galleres-daytsh, but also had regular contact to German Jewish centers for the study at famous yeshivoth, the banned French language and the German way of life were not unbearable indeed! Alsatians were forced to turn to the East again. Max Warcharwski explains for instance that Alsatian Jews didn't know the Yizkor that German Jews introduced after 1870 for Kippur, they were used to reciting the "memmere", a prayer in favor of the martyrs of the region. The Alsatian selikhoth between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were recited in a different order than German Ashkenazim used to do. While Alsatian Jews emigrated to the west or abroad, Eastern European and German Jews came to Alsace.

That being said, the most Jews remained partisans of France in their minds, but never showed it to excess. It may be important to say that Germany made Jews to full nationals a few years before.
The Jewish population dropped by 20 % in some regions in Alsace and Lorraine. The centers Strasbourg, Colmar and Mulhouse consequently became more and more influent, while the rural communities progressively became unable to find candidates for rabbinate or to maintain rabbis and officiants.
Regarding the cultural and social status of Jews in the late 19th century there is a big difference with the situation in 1806 when Napoleon tried to federate the French Jews. The illustrious Berr-Isaac-Berr from Lorraine complained that the heads of family in villages and small towns were totally uncultured; the traditional teaching at the shoul disappeared from the Revolution onwards and the religious practices were disorganized and disturbed by the secularization and centralized politics of Napoleon.

However it gradually became better although eastern Jews often criticized that the religious practices fell off under the influence of the capital. There wasn't any liberal schism in France contrary to Germany. It can't be denied that a simplification of the ritual has been aimed, perhaps a reform to more liberalization, but this failed because of the vehement resistance of the rabbinates of Alsace and Lorraine that were reputed to be more conservative. Moreover, the basis communities in the East sided with their representatives against reforms in depth, without necessarily going to the other extreme such as radicalization or opposition to change. The fact remains that the Yeshiva of Metz in Lorraine became a National Theological Seminary for a while, but was transferred to Paris to avoid the traditionalist influence that was supposed to reign in Metz. On the other hand Metz could take pride in having received illustrious leading rabbis from Europe. They reflected the rather conservative nature of the Lorraine Jews.

So Jonathan Eïbeschutz came from Prague to Metz in the 18th century; he was conservative and his influence was disputed in a period where the notables began to take an interest in the ideas of Enlightenment. However he remained 8 years in Metz before he moved to Hamburg. Another illustrious rabbi of the age was the conservative rabbi Arie Loeb or Cha'agath Arie from Lithuania; he came to Metz in 1765 and died there in 1785. He contributed to the renowned yeshiva of Metz and promoted the Hebrew printing in and around this town. In August 21st 1829, the Central Rabbinical School was created in Metz ensuring the continuity of the ancient renowned yeshiva of Metz since the Middle Age. The Central Consistory converted it into a Central Theology School in 1827 that was authorized to bestow a national rabbinical diploma on its students. Until the middle of the 19th century, the school welcomed many foreign students that were put up with local families using a coupon system called "pletten". Other Theological Seminaries were created in Middle Europe in the 19th century, which were also important for Alsatians and Lorraine people who went to these rabbinical seminaries in Germany above all (in Breslau and Berlin). Jean Daltroff deals with this topic in his article about the comparison between Theological Seminaries in Metz and Germany and showed that numerous Alsatian students made the choice of the orthodox tendency of the Rabbinical Seminary, lead by the well-known Azriel Hildesheimer. Other Alsatian notables such as Victor Marx got their education in the famous conservative Jüdisch-Theologisches Seminar in Breslau, which was responsible for the education and training of many rabbis and doctors of the Law who transmitted their knowledge in Germany and the United States until 1938.

The successor of Arie Loeb should have been a disciple of Mendelssohn, rabbi Hirschel Loeb Levin from Poland and former rabbi of London and Berlin. But he finally retracted! His decision is obviously ambiguous: if he planed to come to Metz, he knew that this Jewry was more and less in favor of the Jewish enlightenment; but on closer examination, he probably understood that the basic Jew in Lorraine was still conservative in the background.

To conclude, the Jewish population of both Alsace and Lorraine despite small differences has taken a big step forward regarding its civic integration with the French society, but also the renewal of urban communities whose rabbis were paid by the State. The Judaism became officially recognized before and after the annexion of the two regions to Germany.


Website of the Alsatian & Lorrain Judaism in French:

Other Links:
Medieval Jewish Bibliography: http://www.ku.edu/~medieval/melcher/matthias/t93/0085.html

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