Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

5 - A Friend of the Jews?


It is primarily to the abbé Grégoire that we owe the emancipation of the Israelites of France and the great example of tolerance given by our country to all civilized nations.

Univers Israélite, 1882, 363

The abbé Henri Grégoire, an eighteenth-century French priest and revolutionary, has long been called the great emancipator of the Jews of France. The author of an essay about Jews written on the eve of the French Revolution, Grégoire is the revolutionary most frequently credited with helping them obtain equal citizenship in 1791. Beginning in the nineteenth century, French Jews devoted what has been called a veritable cult to his memory, building statues in his honor and making him an icon of their patriotism. For many French Jews, this veneration of Grégoire continues today. However, other Jews in France have viewed Grégoire more critically. In 1928, the philosopher André Spire suggested that Grégoire and others had “tried to denationalize” Jews. Another French Zionist, Méïr Leviah, suggested in 1931 that Grégoire had been a missionary, and thus someone who had “hateful contempt” for the heritage of the Jewish people, even while reserving “loving pity” for individual Jews. Such critiques accelerated in the late twentieth century. During the Revolution's bicentennial in 1989, as the French state honored Grégoire as an emblem of tolerance, Pierre Birnbaum and other Jewish thinkers (including many younger Jews) revived such charges, while the former justice minister Robert Badinter and other prominent French Jews defended the abbé.

Edelstein, Alan, An Unacknowledged Harmony: Philo-Semitism and the Survival of European Jewry (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982)
Sepinwall, , The Abbé Grégoire and the French Revolution: The Making of Modern Universalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005)
Zinguer, Ilana and Bloom, Sam W., eds., L'antisémitisme éclairé: Inclusion and Exclusion: Perspectives on Jews from the Enlightenment to the Dreyfus Affair (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2003)
Hertzberg, Arthur, The French Enlightenment and the Jews (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968)
Birnbaum, , Jewish Destinies: Citizenship, State, and community in Modern France (New York: Hill & Wang, 2000)
Trigano, Shmuel, “The French Revolution and the Jews,” Modern Judaism 10 (1990): 171–90
Blumenkranz, Bernhard, ed., Juifs en France au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Collection Franco-judaïca, 1994)
Schechter, Ronald, Obstinate Hebrews: Representations of Jews in France, 1715–1815 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003)
Hermon-Belot, Rita, “L'abbé Grégoire et la conversion des Juifs,” in Evelyne Oliel-Grausz and Mireille Hadas-Lebel, eds., Les Juifs et la Révolution française: Histoire et mentalités … (Louvain: E. Peeters, 1992)
Poliakov, Léon, The History of Anti-Semitism, vol. 3, From Voltaire to Wagner (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003)
Necheles, Ruth, The Abbé Grégoire 1787–1831: The Odyssey of an Egalitarian (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1971)
Schwarzfuchs, Simon, Napoleon, the Jews, and the Sanhedrin (London: Routledge/Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1979)
Abraham Furtado, Azevedo, Gradis, David, and Bec, Salomon Lopes du, Lettre adressée à M. Grégoire … par les Députés de la Nation Juive Portugaise de Bordeaux (Versailles: Baudouin, 1789
Berr, Berr-Isaac, Lettre … à M. Grégoire, Sénateur, à Paris (Nancy: Imprimerie de P. Barbier, 1806