Sounds like…

by Rabbi Rebecca Yaël Schorr
Originally posted on
Frume Sarah’s World


That’s me. Just so I cannot be accused of anything later…

On May 30, 1806, by Imperial and Royal Decree of Emperor Napoleon I, the Parisian Sanhedrin was convoked.

But wait, you say. How could the Sanhedrin, which was formally disbanded in 358 CE, be reconstituted by a non-Jewish Emperor of France?

It couldn’t.

Napoleon first assembled a group of 112 prominent citizens. Known as the “Assembly of Jewish Notables,” these gentlemen we handpicked by representatives of the French and Italian governments. Hm…sounds just a little suspicious. And if it doesn’t sound kosher, it probably isn’t. Once the “Assembly” had been given a list of twelve questions and had crafted their response, the “Great Sanhedrin” was summoned in order to ratify the answers. A good move on the part of Napoleon. By using an ancient symbol of Jewish authority, it lent an air of validity to the undertaking as well as ingratiate the Emperor to the local Jewish community. Moreover, it raised Messianic hopes in a people who were seeking salvation from (clearly) unlikely sources.

The questions in question:

1. Is it lawful for Jews to have more than one wife?

2. Is divorce allowed by the Jewish religion? Is divorce valid, although pronounced not by courts of justice but by virtue of laws in contradiction to the French code?

3. May a Jewess marry a Christian, or a Jew a Christian woman? or does Jewish law order that the Jews should only intermarry among themselves?

4. In the eyes of Jews are Frenchmen not of the Jewish religion considered as brethren or as strangers?

5. What conduct does Jewish law prescribe toward Frenchmen not of the Jewish religion?

6. Do the Jews born in France, and treated by the law as French citizens, acknowledge France as their country? Are they bound to defend it? Are they bound to obey the laws and follow the directions of the civil code?

7. Who elects the rabbis?

8. What kind of police jurisdiction do the rabbis exercise over the Jews? What judicial power do they exercise over them?

9. Are the police jurisdiction of the rabbis and the forms of the election regulated by Jewish law, or are they only sanctioned by custom?

10. Are there professions from which the Jews are excluded by their law?

11. Does Jewish law forbid the Jews to take usury from their brethren?

12. Does it forbid, or does it allow, usury in dealings with strangers? (answers may be found here.)

In other words, if we emancipate these Jews and allow them to become French citizens, are we risking a fifth column? Will they be Frenchmen? Or just a bunch of Hebrews content to maintain their oddities and, *gasp,* pollute the French way of life?

Hadn’t really given this much thought. Until this morning when I heard a story on the BBC NewsHour and one single sentence drew my attention.

“Do they follow Shari’a law or US Constitution law?”

Which sounded eerily familiar. Except that the “they” have morphed from Jews to Muslims.

The story continued with a response from University of Northern Florida professor, Dr. Parvez Ahmed, who said, “There is no action from within the Muslim community to either implement Shari’a law to use to transcend or to circumvent American Law.” I am guessing this was not the first time his loyalty was called into question.

There’s a new hatred in town. It’s called Islamophobia and it is poisoning our society. We are living in a time of suspicion and fear that has turned into vitriolic hatred. While it is true that those who perpetuated the horrific crimes on September 11th were of the Muslim faith, the vilification of all things Muslim is just wrong. As is the intolerance that has grabbed hold of us. There were Muslim victims that day. And there are kind and moderate American-Muslims who continue to be victims of hatred and prejudice.

Here is a general rule. If a statement is being made about “other,” insert “Jew” in its place. Then if it rubs you the wrong way, you know the answer.


These three labels inform my views on tolerance, community-building, and religious freedom. These three labels define me and provide a vision that is inclusive of us all.

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4 Responses to “Sounds like…”

  1. avatar

    A good general “Do not do onto others, what you don’t want done to you.” On the other hand, I liked the French Sanhedrin idea. It allowed Jews to integrate more into French society (even including Dreyfus, decades later). If I were a non-Jewish French citizen, I would have found the results of high value, and the Jewish cost, if any, was trivial.
    Many are anti-Islam because they see it as different in PRACTICE from other religions. Particulars do have normative consequences, which many believe liberals ignore. An American Islamic Sanhedrin could really help unify the country while making the religion more acceptable to people, if it could answer the questions in the format of Napoleon.

  2. avatar
    Rabbi Rebecca Schorr Reply August 24, 2010 at 2:19 am

    Dennis — the Napoleonic government had no more business convening a so-called ‘Sandhedrin’ as the American government would have convening the Islamic equivalent. The questions that were asked in Paris were to force the Jewish community into a corner regarding the ritual practices and their willingness to push them aside in order to be granted emancipation. And, quite frankly, many of the questions were just plain inappropriate. As would any form of questions that would be presented to representatives of the Islamic community.
    The current climate of hate and mistrust leads me to believe that no amount of questioning would convince anyone to be more accepting of Islam.

  3. avatar

    Our would-be Napoleonic Sanhedrin might be the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which was convened, if memory serves, by the Eisenhower administration so they wouldn’t have a battalion of varying Jewish voices asking to be heard.
    While a major focus of the Conference is to forge consensus, its history shows how difficult that is among a people brought up on the concept of eilu v’eilu, these and these are the words of the living God.
    Fortunately, the Reform movement has achieved broadscale consensus (not unanimity by any means) on many issues of societal concern, a condemnation of Islamophobia being one of them.
    I agree with Rabbi Schorr that no amount of questioning will convince the haters, I’m sure she will agree with me that, while we may not be able to complete the task of dispelling hate, neither are we free to desist from it.

  4. avatar

    The teachings of Islam call for world domination, and subjugation or murder for those who do not submit themselves to Allah and Mohammed.
    Some of my friends are culturally Muslim, or “Reform” Muslim (as it were). They want no association with the jihadists, the fundamentalists, the Muslims who actually follow what is taught in their scripture.
    The vast majority of Westerners have no issue with the cultural Muslim. There is no hate, no phobia, no problem.
    Then the question becomes – what Jewish principle do we fulfill by defending the Islamofascists?
    We were enjoined by the Torah to not stand by while our neighbor bleeds (Lev 19:16). Our European neighbors are already bleeding from the scourge of Islamofascism. What will happen to North America if we don’t speak out against it?
    We are commanded to pursue justice (Deut 16:20). What justice is there in allowing an strong jihadist population to grow, and murder more innocent people?
    It is insulting to the Western World to insinuate that all opposition to the dictates of Islam stems from racism. This is a serious threat to the free world, and I pray that we do not get lost in political correctness when so much is at stake.

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