of traditional communal life brought into question as well as public debate the status of the Jews, their religious practices, and their collective identity. Not surprisingly, Jewish historians weigh the historical significance of these developments differently Yet all agree, as did many at the time, that by creating a secular and 'semi-neutral' space of interaction, they radically and permanently altered Jewish-Christian relations.
The motivations behind the Austrian Edict of Tolerance of 1782 and the French Lettres Patentes of 1784 differed significantly. Joseph II had in mind an ambitious overhauling of his empire, which included ensuring that all his subjects become equally productive regardless of religious opinions or influential status. Louis XVI was merely responding to an increasingly volatile situation in Alsace. Yet in both cases, the reforms concerning the Jewish population were motivated by a determination to ease humiliations and minimize distinctions. They also gave voice to similar ambiguities, contradictions and, perhaps most significantly for future events, a contingency of toleration fuelled by ambivalence.
Joseph's determination to centralize and rationalize his realm included closing monasteries and convents, abolishing serfdom, and making education universal, free, and compulsory. Military service also became a universal liability. The Edict of Tolerance as well as other decrees specific to the Jews reflected these widespread changes. Forbidding Hebrew and Yiddish in public commercial records, Joseph denied the Jews their rabbinical jurisdiction, made them liable for military service and required them to adopt German-sounding personal and family names chosen from government-prepared lists. He also permitted the Jews to discard special emblems and dress, to learn handicrafts, arts and sciences, and without restrictions to devote themselves to agriculture. The doors of the universities and academies were opened to them and the body tax, along with special law taxes and passport duties, were abolished. Full citizenship, however, was not to be extended to the Jews. They could neither settle where they liked, for example in towns from which they had previously been banished, nor were they freed from protection money.
Having abolished the body tax paid by many of the Jews in Alsace, Louis XVI sought to ameliorate the economic position of the Alsatian Jews while simultaneously controlling their numbers. The lettres patentes of 10 July 1784 denied the right of local authorities to expel Jews legitimately resident in Alsace, provided formal recognition of the authority of the lay leaders and rabbis, and modestly expanded their range of economic activities - for example, Jews could now rent farms and vineyards, exploit mines, engage in banking and
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