- CONSISTORY (Consistoire), official organization of the Jewish congregations in France established in 1808. The term was borrowed from Protestant usage by the Napoleonic administration to designate the committees of rabbis and laymen responsible for the administration of the Jewish congregations at the regional and national levels. By extension, the word applies to the whole organization subject to the authority of the "consistory." -Origins The French Revolution abolished the existing internal structure of the Jewish communities. The adherence of a Jew to his communal organization then became voluntary, and created problems for the Jewish leadership, mainly concerning communal budget. In consequence, the reforms introduced by napoleon i were welcomed by some of the Jewish leaders in the hope that they would confer on Judaism a legal status similar to that given to the Catholic Church by the Concordat of 1801 and to the Protestants by the "organic articles" of 1802. The emperor himself was anxious to have an instrument at his disposal through which he could effectively supervise the Jewish community and at the same time integrate the Jews as individuals within French society. The statute establishing a Jewish religious organization was drafted at the assembly of jewish notables by the commissioners appointed by Napoleon in conjunction with the nine Jewish delegates. It was finally ratified by the Assembly on Dec. 9 and 10, 1806, although not without some opposition, and promulgated by imperial decree on March 17, 1808. The decree provided that a central consistory was to be set up in Paris to head a group of regional consistories, which in their turn would control the local communities. A subsequent decree was issued on Dec. 13, 1808, establishing the location and jurisdiction of 13 regional consistories, to include also the Rhineland and northern Italy, then part of the French Empire. For every department with a Jewish population of at least 2,000 a consistory was established. Departments having less than this number might be combined with others. In the case of Paris the consistory controlled 16 departments. The central consistory comprised three grands-rabbins and two The Consistories of France according to the Napoleonic decree of 1808 (composition according to departments, darker shadings indicate greater density of Jewish population).1. PARIS:.1. PARIS:") The Consistories of France according to the Napoleonic decree of 1808 (composition according to departments, darker shadings indicate greater density of Jewish population). 1. PARIS: (Allier, Côte d'Or, Finistère, Ille-et-Vilaine, Loiret, Loiret-Cher, Loire-Inférieure, Marne, Nord, Pas-de-Calais, Seine, Seine Inférieure, Seine-et-Marne, Seine-et-Oise, Somme, Yonne). 2. STRASBOURG: (Bas-Rhin). 3. WINTZENHEIM: (Léman, Haut-Rhin, Haute-Saône). 4. MAINZ: (Mont-Tonnerre). 5. METZ: (Moselle Ardennes). 6. NANCY: (Doubs, Haute-Marne, Meurthe, Meuse, Vosges). 7. TREVES: (Forêts, Sambe-et-Meuse, Sarre). 8. COBLENZ: (Rhin-et-Moselle). 9. KREFELD: (Dyle, Escaut, Jemmapes, Lys, Meuse-Inférieure, Deux-Nèthes, Ourthe, Roër). 10. BORDEAUX: (Aude, Charente, Charente-Inférieure, Dordogne, Haute-Garonne, Gironde, Landes, Puy-de-Dôme, Basses-Pyrénées, Haute-Vienne). 11. MARSEILLES: (Alpes-Maritimes, Gard, Hérault, Isère, Rhôna, Bouchesdu-Rhône, Var, Vaucluse). 12. TURIN: (Pô, Stura). 13. CASAL: (Génes, Doire, Marengo, Montenotte, Sésia). laymen, appointed by co-option, and the regional consistories one grand rabbin and three laymen. They were elected by 25 "notables" of the area who were designated by the members and confirmed in office by the local prefects. All nominations were subject to the approval of the government. Each head of a Jewish family was obliged to pay dues to the consistories. The budget was intended to cover the expenses of the Jewish religion in the narrow sense, i.e., the salaries of the rabbis and the maintenance of synagogues and their appurtenances. Welfare and educational activities were not included in the regular budget. The function of the consistories, according to the decree of 1808, was "to ensure that no assembly for prayers should be formed without express authorization, to encourage the Jews in the exercise of useful professions and refer to the authorities those who do not have an acknowledged means of livelihood, and to inform the authorities each year of the number of Jewish conscripts in the area." All those who wished to remain Jews had to register with the consistory. The duty of the rabbis was "to teach religions and the doctrines included in the decisions of the Great sanhedrin , to call for … obedience to the laws, especially … those related to the defense of the fatherland … and in particular, every year, at the time of conscription, to induce the Jews to consider their military service as a sacred duty" in the performance of which they were exempted from any religious observances with which it could not be reconciled. The Jewish leaders generally accepted these regulations, which restored authority to the Jewish communities and also – an innovation in Western and Central Europe – gave them a centralized organization on the national scale. The consistories appointed a "commissioner" for each congregation whose absolute and often petty-minded authority replaced the traditional authority of the parnasim and who often clashed with the rabbis. Later, however, the system was dropped and thus the old communal organization continued to exist. The decree of December 1808 established regional consistories in Paris, Strasbourg, Wintzenheim, Metz, Nancy, Bordeaux, Marseilles, Mainz, Treves, Coblenz, Krefeld, Turin, and Casal. In 1810 the annexation of central Italy brought the temporary addition of three new consistories, and in 1812 the annexation of Holland and a further portion of Germany added seven additional consistories. After the fall of Napoleon the communities of Belgium, Luxembourg, and Westphalia retained the consistorial system. New consistories were created in Saint-Esprit (Bayonne) in 1846 and in Lyons in 1857. The central consistory of Algiers and the regional consistories of Oran and Constantine were founded in 1845. They were linked to the metropolitan organization as three consistories of equal status in 1867. In 1872, after the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany and the consequent influx of Alsatian refugees, new consistories were founded in Lille and Vesoul. Serious financial difficulties had endangered the existence of the consistories from the outset. As many of the members failed to pay their dues, in 1816 it was agreed that the state treasury would assume their collection in return for a percentage of the income. In 1831 King Louis-Philippe agreed to include the expenses of the Jewish religion, in particular the salaries of the rabbis and religious officials, in the national budget. An order of 1844 introduced important organizational changes. The central consistory was to be composed of a grand rabbin (the chief rabbi of France) and a representative of each of the regional consistories, while the regional consistories were to consist of a grand rabbin and five laymen. The right of veto in religious matters was granted to the rabbis. The system of election to the consistories was also drastically revised. Although the principle of "notability" of the electors was retained, the number of "notables" was augmented in accordance with the new principles of suffrage introduced in the French electoral system. The electoral college was first enlarged in 1844. In 1848, following considerable agitation, especially by the Orthodox members for the institution of general suffrage in consistorial elections, every male Jew aged over 25 was declared "notable" with the right to vote. During the Second Empire the central consistory again succeeded in limiting the popular vote, especially in the election of rabbis. In 1871 a government decree once more ordered democratic elections, only to be rescinded the following year as regards the election of rabbis. The provision of rabbinical training became one of the chief tasks of the central consistory. The rabbinical seminary of Metz, founded in 1829, was originally simply a modernized yeshivah. Later, however, the introduction of some reforms in synagogue ritual (1856), as well as the transfer of the rabbinical seminary to Paris, marked a more radical transformation. In France the consistory remained the official French Jewish representative organization until the separation of church and state in 1905. Afterward, it was voluntarily retained, a new name, the Union des Associations Culturelles de France et d'Algérie, was given, to which the term "Consis-tory" is still applied. The three departments of Alsace-Lorraine, which retained their French institutions at the time of the German annexation in 1871 and did not renounce them either in 1918 or in 1944–45, still have a consistory despite the law of separation. Following the trend set by Napoleon and embodied in the motto of the Central Consistory "Religion and the Fatherland," a number of consistorial leaders endeavored to promote Jewish assimilation and preserve only the religious differences, which also became blurred with time. Others, notably in Alsace-Lorraine, used the consistorial organization as a force for maintaining cohesion and tradition within Jewish society. Prior to World War I there was an influx of a large number of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who formed their separate organizations. In 1935, 63 French and nine Algerian communities formally belonged to the Consistoire Central, the majority of Jews displaying little interest in communal affairs. After the German occupation of Paris in 1940 the central consistory was active in the free zone of France, continuously protesting against the anti-Jewish restrictions. However, its financial resources were soon depleted, since it could no longer rely upon the support of the wealthier Jews. Despite these odds, the central consistory aided various underground bodies of both native- and foreign-born Jews. By 1965 practically the entire Algerian Jewish community had settled in France, yet the central consistory still retained the former name which included both France and Algeria, their task restricted to the custody of remaining Jewish property. In June 1968, during the student uprising, some 60 Jewish youths seized the offices of the Paris consistory in protest against the alleged domination of French Jewry by "archaic and anti-democratic institutions" and calling for "a new community based on effective participation." The Consistoire Central continued to represent mainly Orthodox congregations in the 21st century, comprising less than 15% of France's Jews. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: P.C. Albert, The Modernization of French Jewry: Consistory and Community in the Nineteenth Century, (1977); A.E. Halphen, Recueils des lois… concernant les Israélites (1851); I. Uhry, Recueil des lois… depuis 1850 (1887); R. Anchel, Napoléon et les juifs (1928); idem, Notes sur les frais du culte juif en France de 1815 à 1831 (1928); M. Catane, in: Gesher, 9 nos. 3–4 (1963), 160–9; G. Wormser, Français israélites (1963), 17–46; L. Berman, Histoire des Juifs de France (1937); A. Manuel, in: REJ, 82 (1926), 521–32. (Moshe Catane / Isaac Levitats)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.