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Zadoc Kahn

KAHN, ZADOC (Zadig; 1839–1905), chief rabbi of France. Born in Mommenheim, Alsace, Kahn was the son of a village peddler. His mother was the daughter of Rabbi Isaac Weyl (Reb Eisik) of Wintzheim, whose father, Jacob Meyer, was a member of the Sanhedrin convened by Napoleon I, and chief rabbi of the Lower Rhine department. Kahn was educated in a yeshivah at Strasbourg and from 1856 at the Ecole Rabbinique in Metz (later in Paris), from which he graduated in 1862. He then became director of the Talmud Torah, a preparatory school of the Ecole. In 1866 Kahn became assistant to Chief Rabbi Isidore Lazare of Paris, whom he succeeded in 1868. Kahn's appointment over many candidates was determined by his excellent thesis, L'Esclavage selon la Bible et le Talmud (1867). In 1889 Kahn was appointed chief rabbi of France. His position both as chief rabbi of Paris and chief rabbi of France was marked by a series of critical events in the history of French and world Jewry. After the death of Adolphe *Crémieux in 1880, French Jewry had no recognized secular leader, and institutions and individuals turned to Kahn for advice and leadership. His freedom of action was often limited by the attitude of the official Franco-Jewish leaders, so that Kahn never really became one of the great Jewish leaders who developed out of the period. French Jewry lost its most active communities during his tenure of office, when Alsace-Lorraine was annexed by Germany. The years 1881–82 witnessed the beginning of a mass emigration of East European Jews, some of whom turned to France. But Kahn was unable to influence this important event, as policy was dictated by the *Alliance Israélite Universelle and the Paris charity administration, which tried to limit the immigration. The plan for the first project on Jewish colonization in Argentina was addressed to Kahn and he forwarded it to Baron Maurice de *Hirsch.

From the establishment of *Ḥibbat Zion, Kahn was the head of the movement in France, directing it from Paris. He was also responsible for putting the leaders of Ḥibbat Zion in contact with Baron Edmund de *Rothschild. His activities in Ḥibbat Zion were for the most part disapproved of by the leaders of French Jewry. He was very involved with the practical problems of settlement in Ereẓ Israel, as all the reports coming from Ereẓ Israel and movement functionaries passed directly or indirectly through his hands. Kahn witnessed the birth of the Zionist Movement and sympathized with *Herzl, but officially he adopted the view that French Jews must in all aspects of their lives be faithful citizens of France alone and must therefore reject the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine. He was one of the first Jewish leaders to suspect that Alfred Dreyfus was the victim of an antisemitic campaign, but during the *Dreyfus Affair he was unable to persuade Franco-Jewish leaders to adopt a policy of self-defense instead of remaining silent. Kahn called a few meetings for the purpose of drafting a new policy, but they were unsuccessful, and the defense of Dreyfus was left in the hands of Jewish individuals and non-Jews. The same conservative attitude prevailed in response to the violent antisemitic campaign in Algeria. In 1880 Kahn was more successful in helping to create the *Société des Études *Juives, of which he was president and whose publication, *Revue des Etudes Juives, became one of the leading scholarly periodicals for the study of Judaism. He was also the editor of a French Bible translation known as the "Bible of the Rabbinate," and of the Bible de la Jeunesse (both 1899). In addition, he assisted Isidore *Singer in preparing the Jewish Encyclopaedia. Kahn published a few volumes of his sermons. He was the last official chief rabbi of France. Shortly after his death the law of the Separation of the Church and the State was adopted and the Jewish Consistories were reorganized as nongovernmental religious bodies. Before his death Kahn tried to prepare the Consistories for such an event and took part in drafting the bylaws of the new nonofficial Consistories.


J. Weill, Zadok Kahn (Fr. 1912); idem, in: REJ, 105 (1940), 3–9; E.M. Levy, in: Cahiers de l'AIU, 94 (1956), 15–19.

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