The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Praying in French in the Nineteenth Century: Religion and Identity

The many different prayer books published throughout the 19th century for the Jews of France mirror the changing identity of French Jews after the 1791 Emancipation. By examining what Genette called the paratext, this study presents a typology of pragmatic, conservative, reformist and didactic models based on the way each chose to insert and use French translations to respond to the prime issues faced by French Jewry: assimilation, the rapid decline in knowledge of Hebrew, the conflicting drives to maintain or eliminate regional and confessional variations, and the education of future generations, including women. Although these issues were dealt with in ideologically different manners, the authors of these works, and the works themselves, often embodied more than one trend, thus reflecting the complexities faced by the Jewish communities themselves.