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In 1789, speaking on behalf of Jewish emancipation in the French National Assembly, the Count of Clermont-Tonnerre proclaimed that “Je​​ws should be denied everything as a nation, but granted everything as individuals,” adding that “[t]he existence of a nation within a nation is unacceptable to our country.” 

On the eve of the Revolution some 40,000 Jews lived in France. France kept Jews in an inferior status, limiting their occupations and residence and levying special taxes. In January 1790 the assembly granted Sephardi Jews full citizenship and in September 1791 extended citizenship to Ashkenazi Jews as well. In 1806 Napoleon challenged Jews to prove that they deserved the equal status the Revolution had given them. 

Israël-Bernard de Valabrègue 
Letter or thoughts of a milord to his correspondent in Paris; concerning the demand of the Six Corps merchants against the Jews

London: 1767

Center for Jewish History, Gift of Sid Lapidus  

Born in Avignon, Jewish scholar Valabrègue became an interpreter at the Royal Library (Bibliothèque du Roi). In this piece he reacts to the opposition by the Six Corps of Paris, a powerful trade organization of grocers and furriers, to admitting Jewish members. Valabrègue argues on this page that if Jews are allowed to “enjoy all the rights of citizens, they will suddenly have the soul of a citizen.” 

Listen to Sid Lapidus speak about Valabregue, one of the first Jews to hold an official position in France without converting to Christianity.

Read the full text

Le grand Sanhedrin, 1807
Alfred Aron, engraver and printer 
Courtesy of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary 

Joseph David ben Isaac Sintzheim,
Chief rabbi of Strasbourg and president of Napoleon’s Sanhedrin 
Prud’hon (engraver); Damane (painter)  

Courtesy of The Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary 

As the head of a Strasbourg yeshiva and a recognized expert in Jewish law Sintzheim bore the responsibility for addressing Napoleon’s questions from the perspective of rabbinic law (halakhah).