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    How Algerian Jews Became French


    Evolution of the assimilation of the Algerian Jews into the French society

    1833 - 1839

    Following the French occupation of Algiers in 1830 and as early as 1833, Adolphe Crémieux, whose name is associated with the decree that made Algerian Jews French citizens in 1870, began to lobby for French intervention in Algerian Jewish affairs. As a member of the central consistory 1 in Paris, Crémieux wrote to the Minister of the Interior urging him to establish Jewish consistories in the cities of Algeria, which would support France’s “political goals” there. Although initially unsuccessful, Crémieux tried again in 1836 and 1839 arguing that establishing Jewish consistories in Algeria would advance colonial interests.  Crémieux had hoped that the Algerian consistories would come under the authority of the Central Consistory in Paris of which he was a part.

    1842 - 1843

    Two prominent French-Jewish reformers, Joseph Cohen and Jacques-Isaac Altaras, conducted an investigation into the Algerian Jewish situation in 1842 by order of the Ministry of War. The results, published in 1843 under the title “Report on the Moral and Political State of the Israelites of Algeria, and the Means of Ameliorating It”, recommended that the traditional system of Jewish governance be abolished in order for Algerian Jews to become a “pillar” of French domination.”


    On November 9, 1845, Algerian Jewish consistories came under the control of the Ministry of War, with the intention of civilising a demographically and commercially significant Jewish community and strengthening French control in Algeria.  In 1862, the French consistory system formally absorbed the local consistories of Algeria, dealing a fatal blow to the older style of Jewish corporatism in Algeria.  At that time, there were 23,061 Jews in Algeria: 9,180 in the department of Algiers, 9,414 in Oran, and 6,470 in Constantine.

    1862 - 1865

    The sénatus-consulte of July 14, 1865, was the first major step in incorporating Algerian Jews in the French citizenry, allowing Jews to become citizens on an individual basis.  Citizenship could be gained in exchange for giving up their personal status, i.e. ruled by Jewish law, and accept to be governed by the French civil code.

    The sénatus-consulte set up the principles of “colonial compromise” and created in Algeria a divide between “citizens” who were subjected to the civil code, and “natives” who were French but juridically inferior.

    The 1862 jurisdiction of French courts over Algerian Jews led to further “disorganisation.” French judicial officials who were largely ignorant of the principles of Jewish personal status and Talmudic law failed to properly adjudicate Jewish affairs.  The consistory contended that the only solution to this problem was to naturalize the Jews en masse and remove all confusion regarding their personal status.


    As the Jewish Central Consistory, located in Paris, took an interest in their situation, Algerian Jews also took action. At the end of December 1869, the Constantine Jewish consistory submitted a petition to the Central Consistory demanding collective naturalisation for the Jews of Algeria.  In March 1870, members of the Oran Jewish consistory participated in a meeting with the Prefect of Oran on the issue of collective naturalisation. The consistory leadership unanimously agreed that Jews would welcome naturalisation. They subsequently wrote to the National Defense Government in September 1870 to offer their support and express their thanks for the work of the government on behalf of Algerian Jews and their rights.

    1870, The Crémieux Decree

    In response to lobbying from the Algerian and Parisian consistories, French politicians took up the issue of naturalising Algerian Jews. In March 1870, Émile Ollivier, then Minister of Justice, presented a law draft to the Conseil d’État (State Council). The law in question collectively naturalized the Jews of Algeria. Ollivier passed to Adolphe Crémieux responsibility for revising the law. Crémieux also served as president of the "Alliance Israélite Universelle" and had a reputation for fighting for the rights of Jews in the Maghreb and the Levant.  On July 19, 1870, Crémieux presented to the Legislative Chamber his revised law for the naturalisation of Algerian Jews.

    Under the National Defense Government, which operated from 1870 to 1871 in the midst of the Franco-Prussian War, Crémieux became Minister of Justice on September 4, 1870. Among his other responsibilities, Crémieux prepared a Constitution for Algeria. On October 24, 1870, he submitted nine decrees to the Government council, which ratified them. These decrees established a civil regime ending the era of military control of Algeria, enforced trial by jury, and naturalised Algerian Jews en masse, giving them the status of French citizens.

    The Crémieux Decree was significant because it separated Jews from their previous classification as “natives” in order to integrate them as “citizens”.

    For the native Muslims however, this distinction remained in force until 1947.


    1. In Judaism, a consistory is a body that governs Jewish congregations of a country or province, mainly those under French administration.

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