Jewish Emancipation in Western Europe

Liberty, equality, fraternity: Was it good for the Jews?

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Thus, Jewish emancipation in Europe suffered major regression during the years following the Congress of Vienna (1814‑1815), which ended the age of the Revolution and sought to reestablish peace in Europe based on the restoration of the old order. Nevertheless, liberal and democratic forces everywhere took up the cause of Jewish emancipation and turned it into a central issue in their political campaign. On the eve of the revolution of 1848, the idea of Jewish equality could no longer be ignored anywhere in the west.

The upheavals which rocked Europe in the mid‑nineteenth century resulted, admittedly, in only a few formal changes. Popular anti-Jewish feelings, the reticence of governments, and nationalist fermentation in multi‑national empires, all still played a central role in restricting the full and legal admission of the Jews into society. But as the West was shedding, at an uneven but irreversible pace, its feudal and traditional structures, and entering a liberal, bourgeois, individualist, and industrial age, the equality of all citizens was becoming an essential condition of modernity.

When Switzerland granted the Jews equal rights in 1874, the process that had begun in Paris almost a century earlier was completed: Jewish emancipation in the West was by now an established political and legal fact. This nineteenth‑century achievement, however, was rather fragile, andwas therefore easily destroyed in certain European countries with the rise of twentieth-century racist ideologies. This goes to show that legal and full political participation do not necessarily lead to social acceptance and recognition.

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Eli Barnavi is the Director of the Morris Curiel Center for International Studies and a Professor of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University