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Zvi Jonathan Kaplan, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea? French Jewry and the Problem of Church and State.

Zvi Jonathan Kaplan, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea? French Jewry and the Problem of Church and State. Brown Judaic Studies 352. Providence, RI: Brown University, 2009. Pp. 140. $19.95.

The title of this study of French Jewry's attitude toward the relationship between church and state in the nineteenth century borrows a metaphor from an article in a Jewish publication of 1899, which aptly described the position of French Jews as "between the devil and the deep blue sea" (p. 104). On one side, was the menace of clericalism and of a Catholic Church that, at times, threatened the religious freedoms enjoyed by French Jews since their emancipation at the time of the Revolution; on the other was the threat of anticlericalism and a secular state that promised not only to remove state protection from the Jewish religion but also to open a gulf between French civil law and Jewish religious law. Kaplan's study convincingly argues that the leaders of French Jewry consistently chose the path of moderation and pragmatism, as they maneuvered between these forces, negotiating accommodations rather than adopting principled positions and forging alliances opportunistically with one side or the other, depending upon which represented the greater momentary threat. Thus, while they generally opposed the separation of church and state, their resistance wavered in the face of a Catholic resurgence at mid-century and gave way altogether as a result of the increasing Antisemitism of Catholic clericalists at the time of the Dreyfus Affair.

Kaplan demonstrates that the strategy adopted by the representatives of French Jewry was generally successful. The Falloux law of 1850, which extended clerical influence in education, was amended to accommodate Jewish concerns, as were the Ferry laws of 1881 and 1882, which were calculated to have the opposite effect. Jewish resistance to state religious policy was strongest when that policy conflicted with Jewish religious law. Deftly charting the course of church-state relations in the nineteenth century, this slim volume provides a valuable analysis of how Jewish leaders adapted to shifting political forces and circumstances.

Ian Germani, University of Regina, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada

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Author:Germani, Ian
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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