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Title: Jew
Original Title: Juif
Volume and Page: Vol. 9 (1765), pp. 24–25
Author: Louis, chevalier de Jaucourt (biography)
Translator: Ronald Schechter [The College of William and Mary]
Subject terms:
Ancient history
Modern history
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Jew." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Ronald Schechter. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2002. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Juif," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 9. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): Jaucourt, Louis, chevalier de. "Jew." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Ronald Schechter. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2002. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Juif," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 9:24–25 (Paris, 1765).

Jew, follower of the Jewish religion.

This religion, the author of the Persian Letters [Montesquieu] says, is an old trunk that has produced two branches, Christianity and Islam, which have covered the earth; or rather, he adds, she is a mother of two girls who have crushed her with a thousand plagues. But whatever bad treatment she has received from them, she never ceases to glory in having given birth to them. By means of both of them she embraces the world, while her venerable age embraces all times.

Josephus, Basnage and Prideaux have exhaustively studied the history of the people who have remained so constantly devoted to this old religion, and who so clearly stamp the infancy, maturity and the progress of our own. So as not to bore the reader with details he will find in so many books about the people under consideration here, we shall limit ourselves to less well-known remarks about their number, their dispersion everywhere in the world, and their inviolable attachment to Mosaic law in the midst of opprobrium and vexations.

When one considers the horrors that the Jews have experienced since J[esus] C[hrist], the carnage that they suffered under certain Roman emperors, and the slaughters that were repeated against them so many times in all the Christian states, one is astonished that this people still survives; yet not only does it survive, but according to appearances it is no less numerous today than it was long ago in the land of Canaan. One will not doubt this if, after calculating the number of Jews who are scattered in the West, one adds the prodigious multitudes who swarm in the Orient, in China, among most of the nations of Europe and Africa, in the East and West Indies, and even in the interior of America.

Their firm attachment to the law of Moses is no less remarkable, especially when one considers the frequent apostasies they committed under the government of their kings, their judges and the view of their temples. Judaism is now, of all the world's religions, the one that is most rarely abjured; and this is in part the fruit of the persecutions that it has suffered. Its adherents, perpetual martyrs to their belief, have regarded themselves more and more as the source of all sanctity, and have only viewed us as rebellious Jews who have changed the law of God while punishing those who have held fast to it.

Their population must naturally be attributed to their exemption from military service, their ardor for marriage, their custom of contracting for it early in their families, their divorce law, their sober and regulated lifestyle, their abstinence, work and exercise.

Their dispersion is no less easy to understand. If, while Jerusalem subsisted along with its temple, the Jews were sometimes expelled from their fatherland by the vicissitudes of Empires, they have been even more frequently expelled by a blind zeal from all the countries in which they have lived since the progress of Christianity and Islam. Reduced to running from land to land, from sea to sea, to earn their living, everywhere declared incapable of possessing any real estate and of having any employment, they have seen themselves forced to disperse from place to place, and to be prevented from establishing themselves permanently in any country, as they lack support, strength for maintaining [support], and education in the military arts.

This dispersion would not have failed to ruin the religion of any other nation; but that of the Jews has been sustained by nature and by the strength of its laws. These require them to live together as much as possible in the same body, or at least in the same place, to avoid friendships with outsiders, to marry among themselves, and only to eat the flesh of animals whose blood they have shed or prepared according to their manner. These ordinances, and other similar ones, tie them most tightly together, fortify them in their belief, separate them from other human beings, and leave them for their subsistence only commerce, a profession long disdained by the majority of the peoples of Europe.

It is for this reason that this profession was left to them during the centuries of barbarism; and as they necessarily enriched themselves through it, they were called infamous usurers. Kings who could not go through the pockets of their subjects tortured the Jews , whom they did not regard as citizens. What happened to them in England can give an idea of what was done to them in other countries. When King John needed money, he had the rich Jews of his kingdom imprisoned in order to extort money from their hands; there were few who escaped prosecution in his chamber of justice. One of them, from whom seven teeth were torn out one after the other in order to get at his money, gave a thousand silver marks at number eight. Henry III drew from Aaron, a Jew of York, 14 thousand silver marks and ten million for the queen. He sold the other Jews of his country to his brother Richard for a certain number of years, ut quos rex excoriaverat, comes evisceraret, ["so the count could eviscerate those whom the king excoriated"], says Mathieu Paris.

In France one did not neglect to employ the same treatment against the Jews . They were put in prison, pillaged, sold, accused of sorcery, of sacrificing children, of poisoning the fountains; they were chased out of the kingdom, allowed to return when one needed money, and during the period when they were tolerated, they were distinguished from other inhabitants through infamous marks.

In addition, the custom was introduced in this kingdom of confiscating all the goods of Jews who embraced Christianity. We know of such a bizarre custom by the law that abrogated it; this was the edict of the king given at Basville on April 4, 1392. The true reason for this confiscation, which the author of the Spirit of the Laws [Montesquieu] has so well explained, was a kind of right of amortization for the prince, or for the lords, on the taxes, to which they succeeded, that they levied on the Jews as serfs subject to mortmain. Now they were deprived of this benefice when the latter embraced Christianity.

In a word, one cannot express how this nation has been played with in every place from one century to the other. They had their goods confiscated when they accepted Christianity; and they were burned when they did not want to accept it.

Finally, ceaselessly proscribed from every country, they ingeniously found the means of saving their fortunes and of assuring their pensions forever. Banned from France under Philip the Long in 1318, they took refuge in Lombardy; there they gave bankers letters drawn on those to whom they had confided their belongings when they left, and these letters were exchanged for cash. The admirable invention of letters of exchange was born of desperation; and only then did commerce become able to elude violence and be conducted by everyone.

Since that time princes have opened their eyes to their own interests and treated the Jews with greater moderation. They have sensed, in some parts of the north and south, that they could not do without their help. But (without speaking of the Grand Duke of Tuscany) Holland and England, which are animated by the noblest principles, have accorded them every possible mild treatment under the invariable protection of their governments. Thus dispersed in our day with the greatest security they have ever had in every country in Europe where commerce reigns, they have become instruments by means of which the most distant nations can converse and correspond together. They have become like the pegs and nails that one uses in a great building, and which are necessary to join all of its parts. There is regret in Spain for having expelled them, as well as in France for having persecuted subjects whose belief differed in a few points from that of the prince. Love of the Christian religion consists in its practice; and this practice only expresses mildness, humanity, charity.