Arabs of the Jew­ish Faith: The Civ­i­liz­ing Mis­sion in Colo­nial Algeria

Joshua Schreiers
  • Review
By – August 29, 2011
In his well-researched book Arabs of the Jew­ish Faith, Joshua Schreier demon­strates how a clus­ter of forces — includ­ing colo­nial­ism, anti-Semi­tism and the dri­ve to civ­i­lize” the pop­u­la­tion — came togeth­er to re-shape the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of Alge­ria in the 19th cen­tu­ry. Schreier focus­es on the peri­od between 1830 and the Cremieux decree of 1870which nat­u­ral­ized Alger­ian Jews en masse.” Although root­ed in the French Rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideals of enlight­en­ment and eman­ci­pa­tion, French lead­ers and Jew­ish lib­er­als” set about imple­ment­ing an oppres­sive civ­i­liz­ing” mis­sion designed to take the cor­rupt” and prim­i­tive” Jews of Alge­ria and mold them into wor­thy mem­bers of the French Empire. They estab­lished con­sis­to­ries” staffed by French rab­bis in order to reform com­mu­nal and fam­i­ly struc­tures. The prac­tices of divorce and polygamy were par­tic­u­lar­ly tar­get­ed.

Schreier argues that while ear­li­er schol­ars tend­ed to view lib­er­al French Jews as respon­si­ble for the cam­paign, he believes that it was actu­al­ly the French mil­i­tary (with their own innate anti– Semi­tism) that laid the ground­work, and first estab­lished the pro­grams for this under­tak­ing. Schreier argues, how­ev­er, that the Alger­ian Jews were nei­ther enthu­si­as­tic nor pas­sive in their response to the civ­i­liz­ing mis­sion.” They evad­ed and resist­ed its poli­cies and insti­tu­tions in an attempt to pre­serve their tra­di­tion­al faith, insti­tu­tions, and mar­riage cus­toms. Schreier has uti­lized a num­ber of archival sources and pro­vides an index and end­notes but no bib­li­og­ra­phy. The book is well suit­ed for an aca­d­e­m­ic or research library.
Ran­dall Belin­fante has served as the Librar­i­an of the Amer­i­can Sephar­di Fed­er­a­tion for more than 13 years. He has tak­en a tiny col­lec­tion of 200 books and built an assem­blage of over 10,000 items. Mr. Belin­fante holds degrees in var­i­ous aspects of Jew­ish stud­ies, and dur­ing his tenure at ASF, he has inves­ti­gat­ed a vari­ety of top­ics, pre­sent­ing papers on such diverse top­ics as the Mizrahi Jews dri­ven from their homes in Islam­ic coun­tries and the cryp­to-Jew­ish Mash­hadis of Iran. He has also writ­ten many book reviews on books of Sephar­di / Mizrahi interest.

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