When Napoleon reached his dizzy peak of power he presumably hoped to do great things for France and the French, as well as for himself (and his family).
Very soon after he became Emperor (or possibly even before) he found that one of the most difficult problems which would confront him was not a French affair at all but an alien one: "the Jewish question"! It had racked the lives of the people for centuries; no sooner was the Pope persuaded, and the imperial crown on Napoleon's head, than it popped up from behind Napoleon's throne, to harass him.
In Napoleonic manner he took it by the throat and tried to extract an answer from it to the eternal question: did the Jews truly desire to become part of the nation and to live by its law, or did they secretly acknowledge another law which commanded them to destroy and dominate the peoples among whom they dwelt?
However, this famous Interrogation was Napoleon's second attempt to solve the Jewish riddle and the tale of the little known earlier one should briefly be told.
Napoleon was one of the first men to conceive the idea of conquering Jerusalem for the Jews and thus "fulfilling prophecy", in the currently fashionable phrase. He thus set an example imitated in the present century by all those British and American leaders who probably would most dislike to be compared with him: Messrs. Balfour and Lloyd George, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, and Sir Winston Churchill.
Napoleon's venture was so shortlived that history says almost nothing of it or of his motives. As he was at the time not yet ruler of France, only the commander in chief, he may have hoped by it merely to gain military support from the Jews of the Middle East for his campaign there. If he already pictured himself as First Consul and Emperor, he may (like Cromwell) have looked for monetary support from the Jews of Europe in that greater ambition.
In any case, he was the first European potentate (as supreme military commander he was really that) to court the favour of the Jewish rulers by promising them Jerusalem! In doing this he espoused the theory of separate Jewish nationhood which he later arraigned.
The story is authentic but brief. It rests entirely on two reports published in Napoleon's Paris Moniteur in 1799, when he was in command of the French expedition sent to strike at English power through Egypt.
The first, dated from Constantinople on April 17, 1799, and published on May 22, 1799, said: "Buonaparte has published a proclamation in which he invites all the Jews of Asia and of Africa to come and place themselves under his flag in order to re-establish ancient Jerusalem. He has already armed a great number and their battalions are threatening Aleppo".
This is explicit; Napoleon was undertaking to "fulfil prophecy" in the matter of "the return".
The second report appeared in the Moniteur a few weeks later and said, "It is not solely to give Jerusalem to the Jews that Buonaparte has conquered Syria; he has vaster designs..."
Possibly Napoleon had received news of the effect which the first report had produced in France, where this intimation that the war against England (like the revolution against "kings and priests") might be turned chiefly to Jewish advantage was not well received; alternatively, it may have done the English more good, among the other peoples of Arabia, than it could ever do Buonaparte among the Jews.
The bubble evaporated at that point, for Napoleon never reached Jerusalem. Two days before the first report was published by the distant Moniteur, he was already in retreat towards Egypt, thwarted by an obstinate Englishman at Acre.
Today's student feels somewhat resentful that Napoleon's Zionist bid was soon cut short, for if he had been able to press on with it a deputation of Zionist elders might soon have been examining his ancestry (like Cromwell's, earlier) for some trace of Davidic descent which would qualify him to be proclaimed the Messiah.
Thus all that remains today of this venture of Napoleon's is a significant comment made on it in our time by Mr. Philip Guedalla (1925): "An angry man had missed, as he thought, his destiny. But a patient race still waited; and after a century, when other conquerors had tramped the same dusty roads, it was seen that we had not missed ours".
The reference is to the British troops of 1917, who in this typical Zionist presentation of history are merely instruments in the fulfilment of Jewish destiny, a part missed by Napoleon. Mr. Guedalla uttered these words in the presence of Mr. Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister of 1917 who had sent those soldiers along those same "dusty roads". Mr. Lloyd George thus was able to sun himself in the approving gaze of an audience which looked on him as "an instrument in the hands of the Jewish God" (Dr. Kastein).
In 1804 Napoleon was crowned Emperor; and by 1806 "the Jewish question" was so large among his cares that he made his renowned second attempt to solve it.
Amid all his campaigns he was engrossed by it, like many potentates before him, and now he tried the reverse method of settling it: having briefly undertaken to restore "ancient Jerusalem" (and thus the Jewish nation), he now demanded that the Jews choose publicly between separate nationhood and integration in the nation wherein they dwelt.
He was in bad odour with the French at this time because of the favour which (they said) he showed to Jews. Complaints and appeals for protection against them poured in on him, so that he told the Council of State,
"These Jews are locusts and caterpillars, they devour my France... They are a nation within the nation".
Even Orthodox Judaism at that time strenuously denied this description.
The State Council itself was divided and in doubt, so that Napoleon summoned 112 leading representatives of Judaism, from France, Germany and Italy, to come to Paris and answer a list of questions.
The strange world in which Napoleon thus set foot is little understood by Gentiles. It is illumined by the following two quotations:
"Owing to the acceptance of the idea of the Chosen People and of salvation, the Jewish world was Judeocentric, and the Jews could interpret everything that happened only from the standpoint of themselves as the centre" (Dr. Kastein).
'The Jew constructed a whole history of the world of which he made himself the centre; and from this moment, that is, the moment when Jehovah makes the covenant with Abraham, the fate of Israel forms the history of the world, indeed, the history of the whole cosmos, the one thing about which the Creator of the world troubles himself. It is as if the circles always become narrower; at last only the central point remains: the Ego" (Mr. Houston Stewart Chamberlain).
One of these authorities is a Zionist Jew and the other is what the first would call an anti-semite; the reader will see that they are in perfect agreement about the essence of the Judaic creed.
Indeed, the student of this question finds that there is really no disagreement about such matters between the Talmudic-Jewish scholars and those objectors whom they accuse of prejudice; what the Jewish extremists really complain of is that any criticism should be made from quarters "outside the law"; this is to them intolerable.
The questions devised by Napoleon show that, unlike the British and American politicians of this century who have taken up Zionism, he perfectly understood the nature of Judaism and the problem of human relationships thrown up by it. He knew that, according to the Judaic Law, the world had been created, at a date precisely determined, solely for the Jews and everything that happened in it (including such an episode as that of his own fame and power) was calculated simply to bring about the Jewish triumph.
Napoleon in his day comprehended the Judaic theory as it is expounded, in this century, by Dr. Kastein in relation to King Cyrus of Persia and his conquest of Babylon in 538 BC:
"If the greatest king of the age was to be an instrument in the hands of the Jewish God, it meant that this God was one who determined the date not only of one people but of all peoples; that he determined the fate of nations, the fate of the whole world".
Napoleon had tentatively offered to make himself "an instrument in the hands of the Jewish God" in the matter of Jerusalem, but had been foiled by the defender of Acre. Now he was Emperor and was not ready to be "an instrument", nor would he accept the proposition at all.
He set out to make the Jews stand up and declare their allegiance, and shrewdly devised questions which were equally impossible to answer without repudiating the central idea, or to evade without incurring the later reproach of falsehood. Dr. Kastein calls the questions "infamous", but that is only in the spirit earlier mentioned, that any question from a being outside the Law is infamous.
In another passage Dr. Kastein says, with involuntary admiration, that Napoleon in his questions "correctly grasped the principle of the problem", and this is higher praise than that accorded by Dr. Kastein to any other Gentile ruler.
Also, it is true; had mortal man been able to find an answer to "the Jewish question" Napoleon would have found it, for his enquiries went to the very heart of the matter and left truthful men only with the choice between a pledge of loyalty and an open admission of inveterate disloyalty.
The delegates, elected by the Jewish communities, came to Paris. They were in a quandary. On the one hand, they were all bred in the age-old faith that they must ever remain a "severed" people, chosen by God to "pull down and destroy" other nations and eventually to "return" to a promised land; on the other hand, they had just been foremost among those emancipated by the revolution, and the most famous general of that revolution, who interrogated them, once had undertaken to "re-establish ancient Jerusalem".
Now this man, Napoleon, asked them to say whether they were part of the nation he ruled, or not.
Napoleon's questions went, like arrows to a target, straight to the tenets of the Torah-Talmud on which the wall between the Jews and other men had been built. The chief ones were, did the Jewish Law permit mixed marriages; did the Jews regard Frenchmen as "strangers" (foreigners) or as brothers; did they regard France as their native country, the laws of which they were bound to obey; did the Judaic Law draw any distinction between Jewish and Christian debtors?
All these questions turned on the discriminatory racial and religious laws which the Levites (as earlier chapters showed) had heaped upon the moral commandments, thus cancelling them.
Napoleon with the utmost publicity and formality put questions before the Jewish representatives, which the world for centuries had been asking.
With this fierce light beating on them the Jewish notables had only two alternatives: to repudiate the racial Law in all sincerity, or to profess repudiation while secretly denying it (an expedient permitted by the Talmud).
As Dr. Kastein says, "The Jewish scholars who were called upon to refute the charges found themselves in an extremely difficult position, for to them everything in the Talmud was sacred, even its legends and anecdotes".
This is Dr. Kastein's way of saying that they could only evade the questions by falsehood, for they were not "called upon to refute charges"; they were merely asked to answer truthfully.
The Jewish delegates ardently affirmed that there was no longer any such thing as a Jewish nation; that they did not desire to live in closed, self-governed communities; that they were in every respect Frenchmen and nothing more. They hedged only on the point of mixed marriages; these, they said, were permissible "under the civil law".
Even Dr. Kastein is constrained to call Napoleon's next move "a stroke of genius".
It established historically that if forced publicly to answer these vital questions (vital to the peoples with whom they live) the representatives of Judaism will give answers which are either untrue or to which they cannot give effect.
The events of the decades that followed showed that the claim to separate nationhood-within-nations was never renounced by those who truly wielded power in Jewry.
Thus Napoleon, in failure, achieved a historic victory for truth which retains its value in our day.
He sought to give the responses obtained by him the most binding public form, which would commit Jews everywhere and for all the future to the undertakings given by their elders, by desiring that the Great Sanhedrin be convened!
From all parts of Europe the traditional 71 members of the Sanhedrin, 46 rabbis and 25 laymen, hastened to Paris and met among scenes of great magnificence in February 1807. Though the Sanhedrin, as such, had not met for centuries, the Talmudic "centre" in Poland had but recently ceased publicly to function, so that the idea of a directing body of Jewry was real and live.
The Sanhedrin went further than the Jewish notables in the completeness and ardour of its declarations; (incidentally, it began by recording thanks to the Christian churches for the protection enjoyed in the past, and this tribute is worth comparing with the usual Zionist version of history in the Christian era, which suggests that it was all a long ordeal of "Jewish persecution" at Christian hands).
The Sanhedrin acknowledged the extinction of the Jewish nation to be an accomplished fact. This solved the central dilemma thrown up by the fact that the Law, which theretofore had always been held to be exclusively binding for Jews, allowed no distinction between religious and civil law.
As "the nation" had ceased to exist, the Talmudic laws of daily life were proclaimed to be no longer effective, but the Torah, as the law of faith, remained immutable; thus said the Sanhedrists.
If any clash or dispute were to occur, the religious laws were to be held subordinate to those of the state in which individual Jews lived.
Israel thenceforward would exist only as a religion, and no longer looked forward to any national rehabilitation.
It was a unique triumph for Napoleon (and who knows how much it may have contributed to his downfall?). The Jews were liberated from the Talmud; the way to their re-integration in their fellow men, their involvement in mankind, was reopened where the Levites had closed it over two thousand years before; the spirit of discrimination and hatred was renounced and exorcised.
These declarations formed the basis on which the claim for full civil liberties was made and realized throughout the West in the years that followed. All sections of Judaism, known to the West, supported them.
Thenceforth Orthodox Judaism, with the face it turned toward the West, denied any suggestion that the Jews would form a nation within nations. Reform Judaism in time "eliminated every prayer expressing so much as even the suspicion of a hope or a desire for any form of Jewish national resurrection" (Rabbi Moses P. Jacobson).
The ground was cut from beneath those opponents of Jewish emancipation in the British Parliament who contended that
"the Jews look forward to the coming of a great deliverer, to their return to Palestine, to the rebuilding of their temple, to the revival of their ancient worship, and therefore, they will always consider England not as their country, but merely as their place of exile" (quoted by Mr. Bernard J. Brown).
Yet these warning voices spoke the truth. In less than ninety years the declarations of the Napoleonic Sanhedrin had in effect been cancelled, so that Mr. Brown was brought to write:
"Now, although civil equalities have been firmly established by law in nearly every land, Jewish nationalism has become the philosophy of Israel. Jews should not be surprised if people charge that we obtained equality before the law under false pretences; that we are still a nation within nations and that rights accorded us should be revoked".
Napoleon unwittingly did posterity a service in revealing the important fact that the replies obtained by him were valueless.
The one-and-only Law, of all thought and action, was in the remainder of the Nineteenth Century reinflicted on the Jews by their Talmudic rulers, and by Gentile politicians who gave them the same help as King Artaxerxes gave to Nehemiah.
Were the responses sincere or false when they were given? The answer probably may be divided, just as Judaism itself has always been divided.
No doubt the delegates had much in mind the accelerating effect which their responses, as they were framed, would have on the grant of full equality in other countries. On the other hand, many of them must earnestly have hoped that the Jews, at long last, might enter into mankind without secret denials, for in Jewry this impulse to break through the tribal ban has always existed, though it has always been beaten back by the ruling sect.
The probability is that some of the delegates sincerely intended what they said, and that others "secretly broke" (Dr. Kastein's phrase) with the loyalties thus publicly affirmed.
Napoleon's Sanhedrin had a basic flaw. It represented the Jews of Europe, and these (who were in the main the Sephardim) were losing authority in Jewry.
The Talmudic centre, and the great mass of "Eastern Jews" (the Slavic Ashkenazi) were in Russia or Russian-Poland, and not even Napoleon gave much thought to that fact if he even knew of it. These Talmudists were not represented in the Sanhedrin and the responses given were by their Law heresy, for they were the guardians of the traditions of the Pharisees and Levites.
The Sanhedrin's avowals brought to an end the third Talmudic period in the story of Zion. It was that which began with the fall of Judea in AD 70, when the Pharisees bequeathed their traditions to the Talmudists, and at the end of these seventeen centuries the eternal question seemed, by the Sanhedrin's responses, to have been solved.
The Jews were ready to join with mankind and to follow the counsel of a French Jew, Isaac Berr, that they should rid themselves
"of that narrow spirit, of corporation and congregation, in all civil and political matters not immediately connected with our spiritual law. In these things we must absolutely appear simply as individuals, as Frenchmen, guided only by a true patriotism and by the general good of the nations". That meant the end of the Talmud, "the hedge around the Law".
It was an illusion. In the eyes of today's Gentile student it seems to have been a great opportunity missed. In the eyes of the literal Jew it was an appalling danger narrowly averted: that of common involvement in mankind.
The fourth period in this narrative then began, the century of "emancipation", the 19th Century. During it the Talmudists in the East set out to cancel what the Sanhedrin had affirmed, and to use all the liberties gained through emancipation, not to put Jews and all other men on one footing, but to corral the Jews again, to reaffirm their "severance" from others and their claim to separate nationhood, which in fact was one to be a nation above all nations, not a nation-within-nations.
The Talmudists succeeded, with results which we are witnessing in our generation, which is the fifth period in the controversy of Zion. The story of their success cannot be separated from that of the Revolution, to which this narrative now returns.