Jewish history in the 19th century

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Napoleon needed to establish his authority throughout France and her empire when he came to power in 1799. One action that demonstrated his supremacy was the abolition of the ghetto laws. In Rome, within sight of the Vatican, the Catholic Church was forced to capitulate to Napoleonic might and Jews were liberated from the Roman ghetto.


Throughout his empire Napoleon’s change in policy afforded the Jewish people a freedom, which had previously been denied to them. They could choose where they lived, could express their faith openly and were no longer required to wear yellow bonnets and armbands, which set them apart from other citizens.

After changes in the policy of Napoleon

At a time when other countries in Europe were tightening their laws on minority religious groups, the aftermath of the 1789 French Revolution led to a promotion of equality throughout France and the French empire. In his attempts to assimilate Jews into French society, the new emperor allowed the formation of the Great Sanhedrin and the establishment of Judaism, along with Roman Catholicism and the Protestantism of Luther and Calvin, as an official religion of France. The events of the nineteenth century had both short term and long term effects on Jewish history. Liberation resulted in new choices and an assimilation into society which in some cases led to conversion to Christianity or even secularization.

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