Monday, July 6, 2020

The Synagogue and the King

In 1787 Louis XVI gave full civil rights to Protestants and Jews in the Edict of Versailles. But even before the edict, the king practiced toleration. From The Times of Israel:
The monumental synagogue built from pink sandstone from Vosges and decorated with royal symbols in honor of Louis XVI’s recognition of the Jewish community, cannot be seen on the 1915 photo. In the 18th century you could not have known what was behind this street and the actual building itself would not have been identifiable as a synagogue from the outside. It was tolerated to be built on condition that gatherings were held discreetly.
Visibility is everything. They had to function in a material context in which their Jewishness was officially hidden. There was no visible public status, and, in this way, the community was almost imaginary and preserved their sense of Jewishness in secret. The permission of the king to build a synagogue allowed them to practice their religion more openly. But the non-public appearance of the building was aimed to hide the rituals and beliefs. They were only permitted to carry out the outwards forms in a secret building.
That what had disappeared by the fire, revealed a Jewish building, previously absent. So, to speak, the synagogue came out of hiding after the arson attack. The destruction created visibility and as the vanished buildings were not replaced, anyone could read the words “To the God of Israel, by permission of the King of France, the year 1786” (“Au Dieu d’Israël, par permission du Roy de France, l’an 1786”) on the front of the synagogue. Even though a light was cast on the synagogue, it was not until in recent years that the French façade text was replaced by one written in Hebrew. (Read more.)

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