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Implications of Jewish divorces that became causes celebres: the reform of Jewish status and juridical centralization

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Title: Implications of Jewish divorces that became causes celebres: the reform of Jewish status and juridical centralization
Author: Blom, Suzette
Department: Department of History
Program: History
Advisor: Cormack, William
Abstract: IMPLICATIONS OF JEWISH DIVORCES THAT BECAME CAUSES CÉLÈBRES: THE REFORM OF JEWISH STATUS AND JURIDICAL CENTRALIZATION Suzette Blom Advisor: University of Guelph, 2012 Professor William Cormack This dissertation examines the reform of Jewish status in France in the eighteenth century in connection with the monarchy's impetus to centralize juridical authority. In particular it focuses on how litigating divorces in sovereign courts affected Jewish civil status. This study suggests a new perspective on events leading up to the decrees of 1790 and 1791 that granted the Jews active citizenship and the legalization of divorce in 1792. It examines the extent of the role that making Jewish divorce subject to secular national courts played in the acceptance of Jews as citizens. It concludes that Jewish divorces which attracted public attention as causes célèbres enhanced the role of the Jews in the larger process of juridical centralization and added a new dimension to the construction of a French identity. It further concludes that the reform of Jewish status was part of the erosion of traditional religious values and the growth of ideals of individualism. The principal manifestation of this process was the attempt to develop a uniform legal code for both the public and private spheres. This change included calls for the dissolution of marriage which was prohibited in France for all groups other than Jews as a result of the influence of the Church. This analysis relies on published mémoires judicaires for Jewish divorces that became causes célèbres. These mémoires reflected the changing attitudes towards the patriarchal concept of authority symbolized by indissoluble marriage, the erosion of corporate autonomy for the Jews and the reform of Jewish status. This analysis also relies on the correspondence and memoires of sovereign administrators, reformers and Jewish leaders which reflected the divisiveness of political and social opinion regarding the restructuring of authority. Little study has been done on the litigation of Jewish divorce in sovereign courts as an aspect of juridical centralization. Yet the mémoires judicaire of the Peixotto and Levy cases provide excellent case studies of the evolution in attitudes toward divorce and the acceptance of Jews as French subjects. Although there has been considerable scholarship to support the idea that the events of the French Revolution were grounded on the developments and reforms of previous decades, this analysis demonstrates that juridical centralization played a more critical role than has previously been considered.
Date: 2012-11
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