Grand Sanhedrin

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The Grand Sanhedrin was a Jewish high court convened in Europe by Napoleon I to give legal sanction to the principles expressed by the Assembly of Notables in answer to the twelve questions submitted to it by the government. [1] The name was chosen to imply that the Grand Sanhedrin had the authority of the original Sanhedrin that had been the main legislative and judicial body of the Jewish people in classical and late antiquity.

Assembly of Notables

An Assembly of Notables was a group of high-ranking nobles, ecclesiastics, and state functionaries convened by the King of France on extraordinary occasions to consult on matters of state. Assemblymen were prominent men, usually of the aristocracy, and included royal princes, peers, archbishops, high-ranking judges, and, in some cases, major town officials. The king would issue one or more reforming edicts after hearing their advice.

Sanhedrin Ancient High Court and Legislature in the land of Israel

The Sanhedrin were assemblies of either twenty-three or seventy-one rabbis appointed to sit as a tribunal in every city in the ancient Land of Israel.

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Assembly of Notables

An Assembly of Jewish notables was summoned in April 1806 by the Emperor to consider a set of 12 questions. Those who attended were largely from the Bordeaux or Rhine regions (Alsace and Lorraine). They were led by Rabbi David Sinzheim of Strasbourg, who later became the chairman ("nasi") of the Grand Sanhedrin.

Bordeaux Prefecture and commune in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France

Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne in the Gironde department in Southwestern France.

Alsace Place in Grand Est, France

Alsace is a cultural and historical region in eastern France, on the west bank of the upper Rhine next to Germany and Switzerland.

In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. The basic form of the rabbi developed in the Pharisaic and Talmudic era, when learned teachers assembled to codify Judaism's written and oral laws. The first sage for whom the Mishnah uses the title of rabbi was Yohanan ben Zakkai, active in the early-to-mid first century CE. In more recent centuries, the duties of a rabbi became increasingly influenced by the duties of the Protestant Christian minister, hence the title "pulpit rabbis", and in 19th-century Germany and the United States rabbinic activities including sermons, pastoral counseling, and representing the community to the outside, all increased in importance.

The questions presented were:

Cover page to siddur used at the Grand Sanhedrin of Napoleon, 1807. Frenchsanhedrin1.jpg
Cover page to siddur used at the Grand Sanhedrin of Napoleon, 1807.
  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 [May] a Jew [marry] 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?

Creation of the Grand Sanhedrin

At one of the meetings of the Notables, Commissioner Count Louis-Mathieu Molé expressed the satisfaction of the emperor with their answers, and announced that the emperor, requiring a pledge of strict adherence to these principles, had resolved to call together a 'great sanhedrin' which should convert the answers into decisions and make them the basis of the future status of the Jews, create a new organization, and condemn all false interpretations of their religious laws. In order that this sanhedrin, reviving the old Sanhedrin of Jerusalem, might be vested with the same sacred character as that time-honored institution, it was to be constituted on a similar pattern: it was to be composed of seventy-one members—two-thirds of them rabbis and one-third laymen. The Assembly of Notables, which was to continue its sessions, was to elect the members of the sanhedrin, and notify the several communities of Europe of its meeting, "that they may send deputies worthy of communicating with you and able to give to the government additional information." The Assembly of Notables was to appoint also a committee of nine, whose duty it would be to prepare the work of the sanhedrin and devise a plan for the future organization of the Jews in France and Italy (see Consistoire).

Louis-Mathieu Molé French politician

Louis-Mathieu Molé, also 1st Count Molé from 1809 to 1815, was a French statesman, close friend and associate of Louis Philippe I, King of the French during the July Monarchy (1830–1848).

A Jewish consistory, , was a body governing the Jewish congregations of a province or of a country; also the district administered by the consistory.

On October 6, 1806, the Assembly of Notables issued a proclamation to all the Jewish communities of Europe, inviting them to send delegates to the sanhedrin, to convene on October 20. This proclamation, written in Hebrew, French, German, and Italian, speaks in extravagant terms of the importance of this revived institution and of the greatness of its imperial protector. While the action of Napoleon aroused in many Jews of Germany the hope that, influenced by it, their governments also would grant them the rights of citizenship, others looked upon it as a political contrivance. When in the war against Prussia (1806-7) the emperor invaded Poland and the Jews rendered great services to his army, he remarked, laughing, "The sanhedrin is at least useful to me."[ citation needed ] David Friedländer and his friends in Berlin described it as a spectacle that Napoleon offered to the Parisians."[ citation needed ]

David Friedländer German banker and writer

David Friedländer was a German Jewish banker, writer and communal leader.

Paris Capital of France

Paris is the capital and most populous city of France, with an area of 105 square kilometres and an official estimated population of 2,140,526 residents as of 1 January 2019. Since the 17th century, Paris has been one of Europe's major centres of finance, diplomacy, commerce, fashion, science, and the arts.

Medallion struck by the Paris mint in commemoration of the Grand Sanhedrin. Frenchsanhedrin2.jpg
Medallion struck by the Paris mint in commemoration of the Grand Sanhedrin.

The opening of the sanhedrin was delayed until Feb. 9, 1807, four days after the adjournment of the Assembly of Notables. Its seventy-one members included the rabbis sitting in the Assembly, to whom were added twenty-nine other rabbis and twenty-five laymen. Its presiding officers, appointed by the minister of the interior, were: Joseph David Sinzheim, rabbi of Strasbourg (president); Joshua Benzion Segre, rabbi, and member of the municipal council of Vercelli (first vice-president); Abraham de Cologna, rabbi of Mantua (second vice-president). After a solemn religious service in the synagogue, the members assembled in the Hôtel de Ville, in a hall specially prepared for them. Following the ancient custom, they took their seats in a semicircle, according to age, on both sides of the presiding officers, the laymen behind the rabbis. They were attired in black garments, with silk capes and three-cornered hats. The sittings were public, and many visitors were present. The first meeting was opened with a Hebrew prayer written by David Sinzheim; after the address of the president and of Abraham Furtado, chairman of the Assembly of Notables, it was adjourned. At the second sitting, Feb. 12, 1807, deputies Asser, Lemon, and Litwack, of the newly constituted Amsterdam Reform congregation Adat Jeshurun, addressed the sanhedrin, Litwack in Hebrew, the others in French, expressing their entire approval of the Assembly and promising their hearty support. But the deputies were greatly disappointed when the president, after having answered them in Hebrew, invited them to be silent listeners instead of taking part in the debates as the proclamation of the Notables had caused them to expect. Addresses from congregations in France, Italy, and the Rhenish Confederation, especially from Neuwied and Dresden, were also presented.

Joseph David Sinzheim chief rabbi of Strasbourg

Joseph David Sinzheim was the chief rabbi of Strasbourg. He was son of Rabbi Isaac Sinzheim of Treves, and brother-in-law of Herz Cerfbeer.

Strasbourg Prefecture and commune in Grand Est, France

Strasbourg is the capital and largest city of the Grand Est region of France and is the official seat of the European Parliament. Located at the border with Germany in the historic region of Alsace, it is the capital of the Bas-Rhin department. In 2016, the city proper had 279,284 inhabitants and both the Eurométropole de Strasbourg and the Arrondissement of Strasbourg had 491,409 inhabitants. Strasbourg's metropolitan area had a population of 785,839 in 2015, making it the ninth largest metro area in France and home to 13% of the Grand Est region's inhabitants. The transnational Eurodistrict Strasbourg-Ortenau had a population of 915,000 inhabitants in 2014.

Vercelli Comune in Piedmont, Italy

Vercelli, is a city and comune of 46.552 inhabitants (1-1-2017) in the Province of Vercelli, Piedmont, northern Italy. One of the oldest urban sites in northern Italy, it was founded, according to most historians, around the year 600 BC.

Sessions of the Grand Sanhedrin

In the sittings of Feb. 16, 19, 23, 26, and March 2, the sanhedrin voted without discussion on the replies of the Assembly of Notables, and passed them as laws. At the eighth meeting, on March 9, Hildesheimer, deputy from Frankfurt-am-Main, and Asser of Amsterdam delivered addresses, to which the president responded in Hebrew expressing great hopes for the future. After having received the thanks of the members, he closed the sanhedrin. The Notables convened again on March 25, prepared an official report, and presented it on April 6, 1807; then the imperial commissioners declared the dissolution of the Assembly of Notables.

Amsterdam Capital city of the Netherlands and municipality

Amsterdam is the capital city and most populous municipality of the Netherlands. Its status as the capital is mandated by the Constitution of the Netherlands, although it is not the seat of the government, which is The Hague. Amsterdam has a population of 854,047 within the city proper, 1,357,675 in the urban area and 2,410,960 in the metropolitan area. The city is located in the province of North Holland in the west of the country but is not its capital, which is Haarlem. The Amsterdam metropolitan area comprises much of the northern part of the Randstad, one of the larger conurbations in Europe, which has a population of approximately 8.1 million.

Hebrew language Semitic language native to Israel

Hebrew is a Northwest Semitic language native to Israel; the modern version of which is spoken by over 9 million people worldwide. Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites and their ancestors, although the language was not referred to by the name Hebrew in the Tanakh. The earliest examples of written Paleo-Hebrew date from the 10th century BCE. Hebrew belongs to the West Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Hebrew is the only living Canaanite language left, and the only truly successful example of a revived dead language.

The decisions of the sanhedrin, formulated in nine articles and drawn up in French and Hebrew, were as follows:

  1. that, in conformity with the decree of R. Gershom ben Judah, polygamy is forbidden to the Israelites;
  2. That divorce by the Jewish law is valid only after previous decision of the civil authorities;
  3. That the religious act of marriage must be preceded by a civil contract;
  4. That marriages contracted between Israelites and Christians are binding, although they cannot be celebrated with religious forms;
  5. That every Israelite is religiously bound to consider his non-Jewish fellow citizens as brothers, and to aid, protect, and love them as though they were coreligionists;
  6. That the Israelite is required to consider the land of his birth or adoption as his fatherland, and shall love and defend it when called upon;
  7. That Judaism does not forbid any kind of handicraft or occupation;
  8. That it is commendable for Israelites to engage in agriculture, manual labor, and the arts, as their ancestors in Israel were wont to do;
  9. That, finally, Israelites are forbidden to exact usury from Jew or Christian.

In the introduction to these resolutions, the Grand Sanhedrin declared that, by virtue of the right conferred upon it by ancient custom and law, it constituted, like the ancient Sanhedrin, a legal assembly vested with the power of passing ordinances in order to promote the welfare of Israel and inculcate obedience to the laws of the state. These resolutions formed the basis of all subsequent laws and regulations of the French government in regard to the religious affairs of the Jews, although Napoleon, in spite of the declarations, issued a decree on March 17, 1808, restricting the Jews' legal rights. The plan of organization prepared by the committee of nine, having for its object the creation of consistories, was not submitted to the Sanhedrin, but was promulgated by Napoleon's decree of March 17, 1808.

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References

Notes

  1. Jew. Encyc. v. 468, s.v. France

PD-icon.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Sanhedrin, French". The Jewish Encyclopedia . New York: Funk & Wagnalls.