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Isaac Adolphe Crémieux

(1796 - 1880)

Isaac Adolphe Crémieux was a French lawyer and statesman. He was born in Nîmes of an old Comtat family which had adopted the revolutionary cause. He was among the first Jewish pupils to be admitted to the Lycée Impérial in Paris. He later studied at the University of Aix-en-Provence and was admitted to the bar at Nîmes in 1817. As a Jewish lawyer, Crémieux was required to take the humiliating *oath more judaico in court but he refused and won his case. He subsequently supported many liberal causes. In 1827 he won two cases brought against Jews who had refused to take the oath more judaico, and this finally led to its abolition. Crémieux thus acquired a reputation as a defender of Jewish rights. In 1828 he became a member of the College of Notables of the Marseilles Consistory. In 1830 he settled in Paris, where he became a member of the Central Consistory. He became vice president of the Central Consistory in 1834. In 1840, the *Damascus Affair and the consequent revival of antisemitism in Europe aroused intense emotion in all the Jewish communities of Europe. Crémieux accompanied Moses *Montefiore on a delegation to the East and secured the release of the Jews imprisoned in Damascus. Their success was the first step toward the new feeling of self-confidence in West European Jewry, based on the renewed sense of solidarity among Jews in different countries.

In 1842 Crémieux entered the Chamber of Deputies and became one of the main leaders of the opposition. On behalf of the Central Consistory he helped to draft the law of May 25, 1844, which was to regulate the life of French Jewry until 1848 and after 1905. Crémieux became president of the Central Consistory in 1843 but had to retire in 1845 when it became known that he had allowed his wife to have their children baptized. He took an important part in the 1848 revolution and until June 1848 was minister of justice in the provisional government. As such he was instrumental in promoting, among other things, the abolition of the death penalty for political offenses and of slavery in the colonies. Although he had supported the election of Louis Napoleon to the presidency of the republic, Crémieux opposed the latter's coup d'état. On Dec. 2, 1851, he was consequently arrested and remained for some time in prison. He returned to parliament in 1869 as one of the members for Paris. Again a leader of the opposition, he became minister of justice after the fall of the Second Empire. During his enforced retirement from public affairs, Crémieux concentrated on Jewish affairs. In 1864 he was elected president of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, and lent all the weight of his authority and political experience to many of the steps taken by the Alliance to help oppressed Jewish minorities. From 1866, Crémieux was active on behalf of Moroccan, Romanian, and Russian Jewry. In 1866 he traveled to St. Petersburg and intervened successfully in behalf of the Jews accused in the *Saratov blood libel.

After his return to the government Crémieux did not forget the problems encountered by Algerian Jewry. At that time French policy aimed at the complete assimilation of the Algerians, a process in which the Jews were also included. As minister of justice he signed the decree afterward known as the Décret Crémieux (1870) by which the Jews of Algeria received French citizenship en bloc. Defeated in the 1870 elections, he became deputy for Algiers in 1872 and sat on the left with the Union Républicaine. He was elected a life senator by the National Assembly in 1875. Despite old age, he continued to take an active part in the work of the Alliance as president. His interest in the Jewish communities of North Africa and the Orient was unfailing.

With his strong Jewish sense, Crémieux was the archetype of the extreme assimilated Jew who demonstrated that it was possible to combine a sense of Jewish pride with deep involvement in the affairs of his country.


S. Posener, Adolphe Crémieux, 2 vols. (Eng., 1933–34), incl. bibl.; E. de Mirecourt, Crémieux (Fr., 1867); N. Leven, Cinquante ans d'histoire: L'Alliance Israélite Universelle 1860–1910, 2 vols. (1911–20); A. Chouraqui, L'Alliance Israélite Universelle et la renaissance juive contemporaine (1965); D. Amson, Adolphe Crémieux: l'oublié de la gloire (1988); G. Weill, Emancipation et progrès: l'Alliance israélite universelle et les droits de l'homme (2000); G. Renauld, Adolphe Crémieux: homme d'Etat français, juif et franc-maçon: le combat pour la République (2002).

[Simon R. Schwarzfuchs]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.