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Napoleon Bonaparte°

NAPOLEON BONAPARTE° (1769–1821), emperor of the French. He proclaimed the *emancipation of the Jews in the Italian states which he had established, and the majority of the Jews in Italy hailed Napoleon as a liberator and political savior, calling him "Ḥelek Tov" (lit. "Good Part"; cf. Bona-Parte). Even by this time, however, problems had arisen from the contradictions posed by Jewish laws and communal autonomy on the one hand and the political and civic obligations of the Jews on the other. In May 1799, during Napoleon's campaign in Palestine (see below), the government newspaper Moniteur published the information that Napoleon had issued a manifesto in Palestine which promised the Jews their return to their country. Many European newspapers reproduced this information, although today it is questioned whether Napoleon really issued such a declaration. The news concerning the manifesto and Napoleon's Palestine campaign made little impression on the Jews in Europe. On the other hand, the campaign gave rise to millenarian hopes among certain nonconformist circles in England; for the first time, their expectation of the return of Israel to Palestine and hence to the Church was linked with realistic political projects.

The principal influence exercised by Napoleon as emperor on Jewish history was in the years 1806 to 1808 when he convened the Assembly of Jewish *Notables and the (French) *Sanhedrin, and established the *Consistories. The programmatic documents formulated during this period and the institutions which then came into being embody the first practical expression of the demands made by a centralized modern state on the Jews who had become its citizens – "the separation of the political from the religious elements in Judaism." The news of the activities of the Jewish assemblies stirred both Jewish and gentile sectors of society in Central and Western Europe. The Austrian authorities were apprehensive that the Jews would regard Napoleon in the light of a messiah. In England, theological hopes and political projects for the "Return of Israel" intensified. On March 17, 1808, however, Napoleon issued an order restricting the economic activity and the freedom of movement of the Jews in the eastern provinces of the empire for a period of ten years, an order which became known among Jews as the "Infamous Decree."

Napoleon's victorious armies brought civic emancipation to the Jews in all the countries of Central and Western Europe where governments dependent on him were formed. The central Jewish Consistory established in the Kingdom of Westphalia was the first Jewish institution in Europe to introduce reforms into the Jewish religion. The Jews of Eastern Europe were only ephemerally influenced by Napoleon's conquests. Discussions were held among Hasidim as to whether support should be given to Napoleon or the Russian Czar Alexander I in order to hasten the coming of the messiah.


R. Anchel, Napoléon et les Juifs (1928); E.A. Halphen (ed.), Recueil des lois, décrets et ordonnances concernant les Israélites (1851); Sagnac, in: Revue de l'histoire moderne et contemporaine, 2–3 (1901–02); P. Guedalla, Napoleon and Palestine (1925); Gelber, in: REJ, 83 (1927), 1–21, 113–45; F. Kobler, The Vision Was There (1956), 42–47; F. Pietri, Napoléon et les Israélites (1965); B. Mevorakh, Napoleon u-Tekufato (1968).