Although publicly Malesherbes remained committed to improving the lot of the Jews, by the eve of the Revolution, government interest in the question of the Jews had lost much of its momentum, partly because of more compelling events but also perhaps as a result of Malesherbes' profound reservations. The intensive months of examination and gathering of information had produced nothing concrete. But they had succeeded in publicly linking the discourse of tolerance to the granting of civil rights to the Jews, especially now that these rights no longer depended on adherence to the Catholic faith. They had also presented the Jews of France, brought together for the first time categorically, albeit not in fact, with an urgent task of self-definition.

By the end of the eighteenth century, then, among 'Enlightened' Jews and non-Jews alike, there had evolved an image of the future in which everything pertaining to the Jews - their education, economic diversification, language, and civil status - was to be radically altered. Even the very character of the Jews was to be transformed. 'Let us cherish morality', the abbe Grégoire had written, 'but let us not be so unreasonable as to require it of those whom we have compelled to become vicious. Let us reform their education, to reform their hearts; it has long been observed, that they are men as well as we, and they are so before they are Jews.'31

Needless to say many challenged this image of the future, for at the very least it was predicated on a diminution of the Christian character of society and of the Jews' theological significance for Christianity. In line with arguments presented by Michaelis and Rousseau, moreover, others argued that the religion, traditions, and messianic expectations of the Jews made their integration neither possible nor desirable. Even among the Jews themselves, there was much debate about the cost of this integration, and, although welcoming an end to the oppressive regulations which constrained their life, rabbis and leaders alike struggled to retain the autonomy of their communities and the validity of Jewish tradition.

Emancipation and integration

Of the three Metz laureates, Zalkind Hourwitz alone had given voice to a new ideal of citizenship - democratic, non-corporatist, and inclusive - an ideal which found expression in the French Revolution's Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. 'Tolerance!' the Protestant deputy Rabaut Saint-Etienne exclaimed amidst the debates of August 1789: 'I demand that it be proscribed and it will be, this unjust word which represents us only as citizens worthy of pity, as guilty ones whom one pardons. . . '.32

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