This article from the European Jewish Press describes an interesting Napoleon medal.
An antique rare medal which was up for auction Wednesday evening at Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem, provides a rare peek into the relationship between Napoleon Bonaparte and the Jewish community in France and throughout the world at the peak of his success. This medal was issued more than 200 years ago in honor of the "Grand Sanhedrin" convened by Napoleon.
A portrait of Napoleon appears on one side of the medal surrounded by the inscription "Napoleon, King and Emperor". On the other side, Napoleon is portrayed in imperial dress, granting a bearded kneeling Jew the Two Tablets of Law. Inscribed under the figures are, "The Grand Sanhedrin" and the date Napoleon announced its convention: "May 30, 1806".
The "Grand Sanhedrin of Paris" is one of Napoleon's less known initiatives. According to historians, this body was established by Napoleon to supervise the Jews on the one hand and to gain their support and goodwill on the other hand.
During the years of Napoleon's rule, he aspired to change the Jewish population to citizens with equal rights and obligations. This opportunity arose in 1806, when grievances against the Jews began to surface in the Alsace Region claiming that the Jews deal in lending with interest "exploiting the non-Jewish population". The public debate surrounding these complaints brought Napoleon, in July 1806, to convene Jewish leaders from all over France to constitute Jewish legal principles which would enable them to adhere to their beliefs while living as faithful French citizens as well.
Napoleon wished to grant the decisions of this assembly greater power and impact so he called for the convention of 71 rabbis and Jewish leaders which he called "The Grand Sanhedrin", in imitation of the historical Sanhedrin whose task was to approve the assembly's decisions.
Meron Eren, one of the owners of Kedem Auction House, one of the largest auction houses in the area of Judaica in the world, which offered the medal in their auction this week, explains that "besides Napoleon's clear political incentives, historians believe that he thought that by this procedure which would be interpreted as renewal of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the Jews would uphold him as a kind of Messiah".
This forgotten historical chapter provides also a peek into the relationship between the Jews and Napoleon. Although "The Grand Sanhedrin" reached the decisions desired by Napoleon which balance the Jews' religious obligations and their obligations as French citizens, prohibited lending money with interest to non-Jews and even called Napoleon "the man who does wonders, is compassionate and good, pursues loving-kindness, who removed our shame", they prevented harm to Jewish basic law. According to historians, to maneuver between Napoleon's wishes and Jewish law, at times the members of the Sanhedrin chose ambiguous wording in French.
"The Grand Sanhedrin" became the basis of the establishment of the French Consistoire, which constituted and still is a central element in the lives of the French Jewish population. "The medal is distinct for two main reasons: It relates a fascinating tale which sometimes seems to be the fruit of someone's imagination and it depicts the manner in which an event which took place hundreds of years ago, continues to impact us until this very day", concludes Eren.
To read the complete article, see:
Did Napoleon attempted to be the Jewish Messiah?
Wayne Homren, Editor
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