The Jews of France: A History from Antiquity to the Present

Esther Benbassa, Author, M. B. DeBevoise, Translator Princeton University Press $42.5 (304p) ISBN 978-0-691-05984-6
This is an ambitious and for the most part successful attempt to compress 16 centuries of Jewish life in France into a compact account, though it is necessarily wide in reach rather than deep, and for a popular work the writing is surprisingly stiff and formal--perhaps an unfortunate by-product of such a tight compression. Some of the most important moments of French Jewish history (the Dreyfus Affair, the Holocaust and the resistance, for example) are given only cursory treatment and are narrated without dramatic verve. But Benbassa's command of the secondary literature is impressive. A professor of Jewish history at the Sorbonne, she reminds us that France was not just Paris, and her examination of Jewish life, emphasizing its regional variety, outside the French capital is important. Benbassa argues that France's intricate relationship with ""its"" Jews and their modern history of emancipation served as a paradigm for Jews in the Balkans and the Near East. ""`Frenchness' became an integral part of the identity of these Jews,"" she states. She offers a close inspection of this paradigm from the time of the ancient Romans through the latest immigration to France from North Africa. Both the specialist and the general reader will find much that is useful here. There are interesting asides on social history: the role of women, styles of clothing and variations in language, though these asides are sometimes not fully developed. Overall, the work's examination of anti-Semitism, Zionism, modernism and the prolonged effects of the French Revolution more than make up for its defects. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/06/1999
Release date: 09/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-691-09014-6
Portable Document Format (PDF) - 304 pages - 978-1-4008-2314-7
Open Ebook - 227 pages - 978-1-4008-0057-5
Hardcover - 978-1-4008-1513-5
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