were to rest with the ancient sages of the Talmud, one warned, and the sciences, if to be studied at all, were merely an adornment. How can one envy the study of Torah, another asked, when an 'evil man has arisen from our own people and brazenly asserted that the Torah is not all important?' A determination to protect the integrity of their religious universe no doubt motivated these rabbis just as it did many of the Alsatians. Ironically, however, while the Alsatians argued that the Jews were inherently inassimilable, the rabbis feared the antithesis, an increasing acculturation to the non-Jewish world. That Wessely had shorn his beard and that Joseph might well have preferred their conversion, merely added grist to these rabbis' mill.

Were these fears and accusations, however, warranted? Even eighty years earlier one finds evidence to justify them. In her riveting memoir, Gliickel of Hameln, a woman of great piety and extraordinary business acumen, wrote with undisguised anguish of the spiritual laxity and increasing acculturation she witnessed among MetzJews. When she first arrived from Hamburg (1700), she wrote, 'Metz was a noble and pious community. No one wore a perruque, and no one heard of a man going out of the Judengasse to bring a case before a Gentile tribunal. No such arrogance reigned in the old days as now [1719].'8

Bringing cases between Jews to the non-Jewish courts of law, of course, represented a serious violation of the laws and customs of the Jewish community. Indeed, in 1710 all the members of the Metz community had taken a solemn pledge not to go before non-Jewish tribunals, and they had stipulated excommunication for those who transgressed this law.9 This pledge notwithstanding, the next years were filled with cases of recalcitrant Jews threatening their lay leaders if they dared excommunicate them and the leaders appealing at one time to parlement, at another to the crown to permit the use of excommunication. 'These are questions of religion', the leaders maintained in one such case. Are you sure they do not concern insults to royal justice?' the parlement would respond.10 'We are obliged to appeal to your Majesty', the leaders wrote in their 1718 address to the king, 'in order to prevent ruinous disorders within our community'.11

The most poignant appeal occurred in the spring of 1774 when the distinguished parlementaire lawyer Pierre-Louis Roederer arrived in Paris. Roederer had the double task of seeking reinstitution of the parlement of Metz (recently abolished by the Chancellor Maupeou), and of defending the interests of the Metz Jewish community against a certain Rambac. Rambac had not only defied his own community's authority, but had gone so far as to accuse the Jewish leaders of harassment and of attempting to limit the proper jurisdiction of public tribunals. Rambac was a man given to 'dissolute conduct', these leaders

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment