The Life of the Synagogue

Lazare Isidor

Installation of Lazare Isidor (1813–1888) as Chief Rabbi of France , wood engraving
Installation du Grand Rabbin, nouvellement élu. Synagogue de la rue de Notre-Dame de Nazareth (le 24 mars).
Wood engraving by Charles Maurand
Le Monde illustré
March 30, 1867

This wood engraving of the installation of Lazare Isidor (1813–1888) as Chief Rabbi of France was published in Le Monde illustré on March 30, 1867. The accompanying text describes the occasion at the Synagogue de Nazareth in Paris. The east end of the synagogue is shown in great detail, with the new Chief Rabbi preaching from a pulpit in front of the ark.

The ceremony was attended by dignitaries and high ranking officials, including the Protestant pastor Monsieur Franck, a delegate from the Ministry of Worship, and Georges-Eugène Haussmann, the prefect of the Seine department, along with various senators. Max-Théodore Cerfbeer, president of the Israelite Central Consistory of France, gave a speech professing gratitude for the sovereign who effectively protected the Jews in France and abroad after having put them under the common law. The presence of officials from outside the Jewish community and the subject of Cerfbeer’s speech reflect the government’s role in religion in France.

Despite the presence of state officials and lauding of the government’s protection at this event, earlier in his rabbinical career, Rabbi Isidor had confronted the government, refusing in 1838 to take the “more Judaico” oath required of all state-appointed rabbis. Versions of this oath existed across Europe and were rooted in anti-Semitism, and Isidor considered the oath an insult to his co-religionists. He was subsequently arraigned before the court, where he was represented by French Jewish lawyer Adolph Crémieux and eventually acquitted. In 1846, the oath was declared unconstitutional in France. The next year, Isidor became Chief Rabbi of Paris at the young age of 33. Twenty years later, he was named Chief Rabbi of France, as depicted here.

Rabbi Isidor was a supporter of a united Jewish religion and therefore opposed the Reform movement. During his time as Chief Rabbi, he worked on unifying the Jewish community in France and assimilating Algerian Jews and Jewish institutions into the French consistory system. Isidor served as Chief Rabbi from 1867 until his death in 1888.