Isaac, Jules Marx

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ISAAC, JULES MARX (1877–1963), French historian. Born in Rennes, he became chief inspector of history teaching at the Ministry of Education. Isaac wrote history textbooks for French secondary schools; his research works concerned the origins of World War i and the problem of the origins of superstitions and popular prejudices. From 1943, traumatically influenced by the Nazi persecutions and the deportation and death of his close relatives, including his wife and daughter, Isaac began to study Christian antisemitism, to which he dedicated the remainder of his life. He did not content himself with the publication of the result of his studies and vigorous polemics against his critics, but also assumed a militant role as founder and member of the executive committee of the Amitié Judéo-Chrétienne. He took an active part in the Judeo-Christian meeting of Seelisberg (1947), whose resolutions called for a revision of the attitude of the churches toward Judaism. After the accession of Pope *John xxiii, the Vatican sought Isaac's advice; upon the request of Cardinal *Bea and after an audience with Pope John in 1960, he drew up a record of the history of the relations between the Catholic Church and Judaism. Isaac's writings had a great influence on the decision to introduce a statement on relations with the Jews at the Vatican Council that ended in 1965.

In his historical works, Isaac points out the falsehood and the tendentious intentions of the claim that the dispersion of Israel was the result of its rejection of the messianism of Jesus. At the same time, he reached the conclusion that there was no reason whatsoever to maintain that antisemitism was as old as Judaism itself. On the contrary, he showed that the Church promoted a system of degradation by gradually burdening the Jews with a lengthy series of restrictions, exclusions, and humiliations which were decreed by the secular governments subjected to ecclesiastic influence. This system was based on the "teaching of contempt," which was essentially the work of the Church Fathers of the fourth century c.e. and whose most harmful thesis was that of describing the Jews as a "deicidal people." Isaac developed his arguments in Jésus et Israël (1948; Eng. tr., 1971), Genèse de l'antisémitisme (1956), and L'Enseignement du mépris (1962; The Teaching of Contempt, 1964).


C.H. Bishop, in: J. Isaac, The Teaching of Contempt (1964), introduction. add. bibliography: A. Kaspi, Jules Isaac ou la passion de la vérité (2002).