January 20, 2008

Today in Jewish History - Shvat 13

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In 1790, France granted full and equal citizenship to Sefardi Jews. (Ashkenazi Jews gained citizenship a year and a half later.) The French Revolution, born of the ideals of Enlightenment, had become the first society to emancipate the Jews, permitting them to enter the highest levels of government and finance. In 1807, Napoleon created the French Sanhedrin -- a Jewish communal structure sanctioned by the state. (The French Sanhedrin sat in a semicircle, following the custom of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem that served as the Jewish supreme court during the times of the Holy Temple.) Despite these liberties, anti-Jewish measures were passed in 1808: Napoleon declared all debts with Jews annulled, which caused the near ruin of the Jewish community. Restrictions were also placed on where Jews could live in an effort to assimilate them into French society. The invective reached a head in the 1940s when the French Vichy regime took the initiative to round up and hand over 61,000 Jews to the Nazis.