Sunday, December 11, 2011

Napoleon and the Jews

Napoleon was changing the face of Europe. He was for the common man the hero of the western world, supposedly bent on removing or tempering the monarchies of various countries and bringing in a form of Republicanism. But he certainly was not a purest and illustrated that fact when he proclaimed himself as the Emperor of France. Many lost faith in this supposed benevolent dictator and conqueror!

But the relationship Napoleon had with the Jews is fascinating. In 1806 he summoned a grand Sanhedrin to meet in Paris. He called for the chief Rabbis from across Europe (mainly from France, Germany, and Italy), to assemble to hear his desire to bring them liberation. He was confident that he could surmount all obstructions against this people and bring them into the light of liberation. But actually, he planned to bend Judaism to fit his purposes.

At the meeting he asked the Rabbis to ponder twelve questions and bring back the answers. If they answered his questions in a positive way, Napoleon thought he could change the way Europe dealt with the isolated Jews. The next year the great Sanhedrin re-assembled and gave him his answers. Part of what he wanted to hear was that the Jewish people were willing to abide by the laws of the countries they lived in, though they would retain their Rabbinic courts for religious purposes. They would also have to agree that this great Sanhedrin would be the one and only legal tribunal for their religious decisions.

This Sanhedrin would be the central controlling body over Jewish affairs. It would appoint Rabbis, urge obedience to national laws, urge Jewish military service, order prayer for the welfare of the kings of various nations, control the lending practices of the Jewish bankers, and promote a kind of public education for the various Jewish communities.

But Napoleon’s plans backfired. The Jews across Europe sensed a trap. The mass of Israelites were by no means inclined to merge their hopes in the destinies of the French Empire and the nations it controlled. The Jews would not exchange "Zion and Jerusalem for Paris," so the saying went!

But as some of the Rabbis said, there would be "infidel Jews" who would succumb to this impious flattery. They were Jews who ignored their own Bible and traditions and desired to be part of the modern new world order. On the 15th of August, the Emperor’s birthday, these "secular" Jews blended the image of Napoleon and his wife Josephine with the name of Jehovah and elevated the imperial eagle above the representation of the Ark of the Covenant in the synagogues.

Most of the Jews were still hoping for the coming of the Messiah and the liberation from the hatred of the Gentile world. To return to the Promise Land was also the hope that filled the hearts of most Jews at that time. As rightly they should, they looked for the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of His worldwide earthly reign from Jerusalem. They, as dispensationalists do today, held to a premillennial coming of the Son of David from heaven!

But there were the compromisers and the disbelievers!

The orthodox said, "No Jew, who really adhered to the faith of his fathers, could for a moment tolerate such audacious adulation to the world, which in effect placed the Creator and the creature (i.e. Napoleon) on the same level."

Napoleon’s plan for uniting the Jews and bringing them into acceptance by the Gentile world failed. It was said that many of the Jews clung to a word of prophecy from Numbers 23:9 which read: "Behold, [we are] a people who dwells apart, and shall not be reckoned among the nations."

But there were the compromisers and the disbelievers!

For about this time, many of the Jews were rushing toward modernity and the inclusion of themselves with the Gentile cultures. Many changed their dress, changed their names, and wanted professions that made them a part of the society. This assimilation increased in momentum and continued right on up until the time of Hitler. But the Jews could not escape. Their assimilation and love of the world could not save them. The worst persecution would fall upon them when 6 million died during World War II. -- Dr. Mal Couch