Under the presidency of Rabbi David Seinzheim of Strasbourg, the Grand Sanhedrin summoned by Napoleon I in 1806 sought to answer twelve questions pertaining to faith and citizenship:
1. Is it lawful for Jews to have more than one wife? 2. Is divorce allowed by the Jewish religion? Is divorce valid, although pronounced not by courts of justice but by virtue of laws in contradiction to the French code? 3. May a Jewess marry a Christian, or [May] a Jew [marry] a Christian woman? or does Jewish law order that the Jews should only intermarry among themselves? 4. In the eyes of Jews are Frenchmen not of the Jewish religion considered as brethren or as strangers? 5. What conduct does Jewish law prescribe toward Frenchmen not of the Jewish religion? 6. Do the Jews born in France, and treated by the law as French citizens, acknowledge France as their country? Are they bound to defend it? Are they bound to obey the laws and follow the directions of the civil code? 7. Who elects the rabbis? 8. What kind of police jurisdiction do the rabbis exercise over the Jews? What judicial power do they exercise over them? 9. Are the police jurisdiction of the rabbis and the forms of the election regulated by Jewish law, or are they only sanctioned by custom? 10. Are there professions from which the Jews are excluded by their law? 11. Does Jewish law forbid the Jews to take usury from their brethren? 12. Does it forbid, or does it allow, usury in dealings with strangers?
After their deliberations, the Grand Sanhedrin concluded:
1. That, in conformity with the decree of R. Gershom ben Judah, polygamy is forbidden to the Israelites; 2. That divorce by the Jewish law is valid only after previous decision of the civil authorities; 3. That the religious act of marriage must be preceded by a civil contract; 4. That marriages contracted between Israelites and Christians are binding, although they can not be celebrated with religious forms; 5. That every Israelite is religiously bound to consider his non-Jewish fellow citizens as brothers, and to aid, protect, and love them as though they were coreligionists; 6. That the Israelite is required to consider the land of his birth or adoption as his fatherland, and shall love and defend it when called upon; 7. That Judaism does not forbid any kind of handicraft or occupation; 8. That it is commendable for Israelites to engage in agriculture, manual labor, and the arts, as their ancestors in Palestine were wont to do; 9. That, finally, Israelites are forbidden to exact usury from Jew or Christian.
Fouad GM is a social scientist, and researcher in Middle Eastern affairs. His writings have appeared on several websites, blogs, newspapers and publications by think tanks and research centres. Follow him on Twitter