Free and Equal

Emancipating France’s Jews, 1789-1791

by Robert Badinter


The story of how European Jews were for the first time granted full equality to the Christian neighbors

Out of stock

Buy through other online book sellers
Tags: ,

About this book

About the Book

On September 27, 1791, the French National Assembly made the momentous decision to recognize the Jewish inhabitance of France as full citizens.

Free and Equal tells this story of how European Jews were for the first time granted full equality to the Christian neighbors.

Jewish emancipation was a minor event in the scope of the French Revolution and receives little attention in many histories of the Revolution. Yet major principles were involved, which reflect the larger political and cultural debates of the Revolution. Political reason demanded equality for all French citizens, yet the Jewish minority in the eastern provinces of Alsace and Lorraine was culturally different from the majority population; and these Jewish communities looked upon giving up Jewish cultural and institutional distinctiveness—in other words, assimilation—as too great a price to gain civil and political equality. The National Assembly’s inclination was to postpone emancipation until assimilation took place. Yet to deny political equality would have been a repudiation of revolutionary principles enshrined in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen.

Free and Equal details how these conflicting tendencies played out in the revolutionary National Assembly. The result is a compelling explication of an important chapter in the history of France and the Jewish people.

As a French Jew who two centuries reached the pinacle of the French legal profession, serving as Minister of Justice, author Robert Badinter is perfectly positioned to tell the story.

About the Author

About the Author
Robert Badinter is a lawyer, professor, politician, and author. A member of the French Senate, he previously served as Minister of Justice and president of France’s Constitutional Court.

About the Translator
Adam Simms is an independent scholar and Ida May Fuller Research Fellow. He has worked for a variety of American Jewish organizations.



The French Review
A well-written, balanced historical study which examines all aspects of the gradual emancipation of France’s Jews during the Revolution. Comprehensive and comprehensible, this study investigates the various political intrigues which determined the ebb and flow of Jewish expectations.

Ronald Schechter, Professor of History, The College of William and Mary, and author of Obstinate Hebrews: Representations of Jews in France, 1715-1815
Badinter’s Free and Equal is an important contribution to the history of the Jews, French history and the history of human rights. It combines cogent analysis with a gripping narrative. Adam Simms’ translation preserves the eloquence of the French original, and his introduction and explanatory footnotes provide the necessary context to make this work accessible to a broad audience of Anglophone readers.

Thomas Bird, Professor of European Languages and Literatures, Queens College, City University of New York
This splendid translation explores the origins and evolution of the momentous proclamation of September 27, 1791, that all Jews in France were full citizens. On that date, there was no other country in Europe where Jews were acknowledged by law to enjoy the rights equal to other citizens.

Lynn Hunt, Eugen Weber Professor of Modern European History, UCLA, and author of Inventing Human Rights: A History
One of the world’s most notable jurists offers in these pages a deeply informed and original view of one of history’s most important-and controversial-moments, the emancipation of the Jews by revolutionary France in 1789-1791.