Efron on Szajkowski

Reflections by
John Efron
UC Berkeley

Zosa Szajkowski, “Protestants and Jews of France in the Fight for Emancipation, 1789-1791,” PAAJR 25 (1956): 119-135

In a series of groundbreaking articles that began to appear in the Proceedings in the mid 1950s, Szajkowski did more to establish the field of French-Jewish history in the Anglophone world than anyone else.  In particular, he focused on the history of Jews during the French Revolution, exploring issues of Jewish social, ethnic, and class conflict as they related to emancipation as well as the reactions of Catholics and Protestants to the place of Jews in a post-revolution France. 

Szajkowski’s scholarship pointed out the ambiguous and contested status of Jews in eighteenth century France, wherein their receipt of emancipation was the result of false dawns and hard-fought battles.  This is well depicted in his PAAJR essay of 1956.  In this comparative study, Szajkowski examined the Edict of Toleration of 1787 and contemporary interpretations of it.  The Edict, which was aimed at Protestants, said that civil rights could not be limited to Catholics alone.  This begged the question as to whether Jews were implicitly included in the group the document labeled as “non-Catholics.” 

Thanks to the work of what was later called the Malesherbes Commission, a recommendation was made to integrate the Jews into the nation in such a way as to mirror the integration of the Protestant minority.  Of course, unlike the case of Protestants, Malesherbes hoped that the granting of civil rights would eventually induce Jews to convert.  Still, according to Szajkowski, “The Edict in favor of the Protestants was the first major victory in a fight for the emancipation of a religious minority, and this paved the way for the later emancipation of the Jews, too.”  That said, Szajkowski also pointed out that Jewish and Protestant interests did not always align, for while there was no organized anti-Jewish campaign among Protestants in Bordeaux, in Alsace, Protestants joined Catholics to fight against Jewish emancipation.  In some ways, the divided attitude of the Protestants reflected the divided interests among Jews, both Sephardim and Ashkenazim.  As Szajkowski noted, “the Bordeaux Jews never even tried to help their co-religionists in other communities.”  Similarly, the Catholic Church in Bordeaux was more preoccupied with its anti-Protestant stance than they were with the fight against Jews while Protestants in this region frequently complained that they were treated worse than “the Jews who had crucified Christ.”


Read and download the original essay by Zosa Szajkowski now >