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JEWISH DESTINIES by Pierre Birnbaum

JEWISH DESTINIES

Citizenship, State, and Community in Modern France

By Pierre Birnbaum

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-8090-6101-5
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

While France enters the next millennium as an embattled multicultural society, like much of the rest of the West, Birnbaum

(Political Science/the Sorbonne; Anti-Semitism in France, not reviewed) ponders the nation's Jews as a weathervane for social

change.

Although the Jews of France were "emancipated" by the Revolution, and their position in an ambiguously secular French

society advanced further by Napoleon, their place in the nation has always been uncertain, often troubled. Birnbaum begins his

series of interlocking essays with an examination of the evolution of the "free" Franco-Jewish community. Just as the society itself

was ambiguous in its secularism—after all, the Jacobins had knocked the Church from its privileged place alongside the Bourbon

throne—the status of another religious community was inevitably problematic as well. Jews found that they were able to rise as

full participants in French civil society, but that freedom also made them more visible targets of virulent anti-Semitism. Birnbaum

is most original and successful in his five pivotal essays on the poisonous atmosphere surrounding the Dreyfus affair. His detailed

analysis of the anti-Dreyfusards, their opposition to the Republic, and their open and vicious anti-Semitism presents a different

picture of L'Affaire than the one most familiar to Americans. Even more than the final essays on contemporary France, this

section is pointedly suggestive about recent history. The Catholic Church's role in the anti-Dreyfus movements makes the

post-WWII efforts of some Catholic priests to shield such enemies of France as Klaus Barbie and Marcel Papon less baffling.

Regrettably, although his analyses are long on insight and intelligence, Birnbaum is a dry writer, and much of this important

volume, despite its many resonances for America’s own multicultural debates, is a hard slog.