In the first English-language edition of a general, synthetic history of French Jewry from antiquity to the present, Esther Benbassa tells the intriguing tale of the social, economic, and cultural vicissitudes of a people in diaspora. With verve and insight, she reveals the diversity of Jewish life throughout France's regions, while showing how Jewish identity has constantly redefined itself in a country known for both the Rights of Man and the Dreyfus affair. Beginning with late antiquity, she charts the migrations of Jews into France and traces their fortunes through the making of the French kingdom, the Revolution, the rise of modern anti-Semitism, and the current renewal of interest in Judaism.
As early as the fourth century, Jews inhabited Roman Gaul, and by the reign of Charlemagne, some figured prominently at court. The perception of Jewish influence on France's rulers contributed to a clash between church and monarchy that would culminate in the mass expulsion of Jews in the fourteenth century. The book examines the re-entry of small numbers of Jews as New Christians in the Southwest and the emergence of a new French Jewish population with the country's acquisition of Alsace and Lorraine.
The saga of modernity comes next, beginning with the French Revolution and the granting of citizenship to French Jews. Detailed yet quick-paced discussions of key episodes follow: progress made toward social and political integration, the shifting social and demographic profiles of Jews in the 1800s, Jewish participation in the economy and the arts, the mass migrations from Eastern Europe at the turn of the twentieth century, the Dreyfus affair, persecution under Vichy, the Holocaust, and the postwar arrival of North African Jews.
Reinterpreting such themes as assimilation, acculturation, and pluralism, Benbassa finds that French Jews have integrated successfully without always risking loss of identity. Published to great acclaim in France, this book brings important current issues to bear on the study of Judaism in general, while making for dramatic reading.
"Here is a masterful synthesis of all the studies published to date on Jews in France. From Roman Gaul to contemporary France, Esther Benbassa retraces in this new work the vicissitudes of a very ancient presence in a land that has not always been hospitable but that was the first to proclaim the emancipation of the Jews."--Lire
"In the imaginary of its Jewish citizens, as well as in that of members of other diasporas, France functions as a paradigm: it represents liberty and the Rights of Man; in their memory it is also associated with the Dreyfus affair, Vichy, as well as with fits of xenophobia and anti-Semitism. This double image, an often confusing one, is reconstructed in the work of Esther Benbassa with clearness and distinction."--Libération
"Since studies on the history of Jewish groups in France have multiplied over the last years, a synthesis is in order. Here it is, and it is remarkable.... Esther Benbassa studies Jewish reality in France over the long run, noting the interactions observed between the history of the country and that of the Jews, as well as local developments.... Fueled by the most recent research, this synthesis is never reductionist: each period (especially the Middle Ages, which is discussed in several admirable chapters) is treated in fine detail."--L'Histoire
"Esther Benbassa writes with a sense of mission. In her present book she provides a masterful, concise synthesis of the Jewish presence in France. . and describes the latest developments and ideas of the new generation."--Alexander Zvielli, The Jerusalem Post
"An impressively succinct and informative history."--David A. Bell, The New Republic
Table of Contents
A Selection of the Jewish Book Club