Sanhedrin, French

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SANHEDRIN, FRENCH , Jewish assembly of 71 members convened in Paris during February–March 1807, at the request of Napoleon *Bonaparte. The object of this assembly was to convert the "secular" answers given by the Assembly of Jewish *Notables to the questions put to them by the government into doctrinal decisions, which would be binding on the Jews religiously, by drafting them as precepts based on the Bible and halakhah. Previously, on Oct. 6, 1806, the Assembly of Jewish Notables sent a manifesto to the Jewish communities in Europe, inviting them – in vague terms – to participate in the activities for "revival" and "freedom" which Napoleon was preparing through the Sanhedrin for the benefit of the Jewish people. The response of European Jewry to this manifesto was exceedingly poor. The Sanhedrin was constituted of two-thirds rabbis and one-third laymen (some of the rabbis and all the laymen had been members of the Assembly of Jewish Notables), all from the French Empire and the "Kingdom of Italy." David *Sinzheim of Strasbourg, one of the eminent halakhic authorities of the day, was appointed president. The nine regulations issued by the Sanhedrin were confirmed in eight solemn and magnificent sessions. The doctrinal preamble to the regulations states that the Jewish religion comprises both religious precepts which are eternal, and political precepts which had no further validity from the time Jewry ceased to be a nation.

The regulations stated that:

(1) polygamy is prohibited among Jews; (2–3) the Jewish bill of divorce or religious marriage has no validity unless it has been preceded by a civil act, and mixed marriages are binding upon Jews civilly (but not religiously); (4–5–6) the Jews of every country must treat its citizens as their own brothers according to the universalist rules of moral conduct, and Jews who have become citizens of a state must regard that country as their fatherland; (7–8–9) Jews must engage in useful professions, and the taking of interest from both Jews and gentiles shall be subject to the laws of the country. At first sight, it would appear that the drafters of the regulations subordinated Jewish law to that of the state, but in reality they did not undermine halakhic principles. It was only in subsequent generations that the declaration of the "separation of the political from the religious in Judaism" became a matter of principle among certain Jewish circles who became assimilated in the modern state.


D. Tama, Collection des procès-verbaux et décisions du Grand-Sanhédrin (Paris, 1807); idem, Transactions of the Parisian Sanhédrim (London, 1807); A.-E. Halphen (ed.), Recueil des lois, décrets et ordonnances concernant les Israélites (1851), 20–34; R. Anchel, Napoléon et les Juifs (1928); F. Pietri, Napoléon et les Israélites (1965), 84–115; B. Mevorah (ed.), Napoleon u-Tekufato (1968), 77–132.

[Baruch Mevorah]