VOLTAIRE° (François-Marie Arouet; 1694–1778), French philosopher. No writer contributed so much as Voltaire to the destruction of the traditional beliefs fundamental to European society before the French Revolution: belief in the divine right of monarchy, in the legitimacy of the privileges of the nobility, and in the infallibility of the Church. Voltaire's philosophical convictions were those of a deist, not an atheist. It is also noteworthy that he attacked the biblical belief in the unity of mankind; to blacks, for instance, he attributed an inferior and separate origin. The better to ridicule the established Church, or, in his own words "Écraser l'Infâme," Voltaire preferred to concentrate his attacks on the Old Testament and its followers, the Jews; this he did in such a manner that in antisemitic campaigns in the following centuries he was used as an authority and frequently quoted. From the psychological point of view it seems that the antisemitism of Voltaire, far from being a tactical stratagem, expressed in the facility of his attacks against the Jews, was primarily a result of his hatred for the Church. For instance, it is characteristic of Voltaire that in his polemics with Isaac de *Pinto, he forgot the habitual formula
A. Guénée, Lettre de quelques Juifs … à M. de Voltaire (1769); many editions; also translated: Letters of Certain Jews… (1777); W. Klemperer, Voltaire und die Juden (1894); P. Stauff, Voltaire ueber die Juden (1913); H. Oppenheimer (Emmrich), Das Judentum bei Voltaire (1930); L. Poliakov, Histoire de l'antisémitisme, 3 (1968); A. Hertzberg, The French Enlightenment and the Jews (1968), index.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.