chapter  8
15 Pages


If Voltaire were alive today, he might be pleasantly surprised to find that his

appeal to Isaac de Pinto to think as a philosopher, that is, in one of his

meanings of the term-as a critic of prevailing practices-was more or less

the path that, as we have seen, considerable numbers of Jews in France have

taken, either as philosophers, members of the liberal professions, or public

intellectuals. At the same time, he would be puzzled to discover that most of

them were, after the traumas and disappointments of assimilationism in its

various manifestations, quite able to live both as Jews and as Frenchmen.1

We must also recall that Voltaire asked Isaac de Pinto to leave his Jewish-

ness at home. This double request had not been meant as a call to the wider

Jewish community, which he contemptuously referred to as ‘‘your nation,’’

to join instead the ranks of the enlightened and become citizens of a larger

community. He not only knew that Jews like de Pinto were few, but also

that it was not likely that the Jews as a whole would or could. Ever opposed

to particularism, he went on to say that Jewishness was a domestic loyalty,

best kept out of sight. When he spoke of ‘‘homeland,’’ rather than ‘‘nation,’’ he associated it with good government, as when he said, that ‘‘you have a

country under a good king; you do not have one under a bad king,’’ but

more important for him was the idea that a homeland is constituted when

people whose private interests, such as protecting their lives and property,

discover that others share these goals as well, when, in short, private inter-

ests become the general interest.2 Unfortunately, on the international scene,

a nation’s prosperity was gained by reducing another’s (‘‘Patrie,’’ OC, 36,

411-15). Jews were, however, destined to live outside any homeland. He remarked, for example, how they had been scorned and burned in Coimbra

and could not possibly feel at home in Jerusalem, occupied as it was by the

Turks. The Jew, he said, does not have ‘‘a square foot of land anywhere on

earth that belongs to him.’’3 Now, it seemed that territory was an essential

condition for the constitution of a homeland; and this was not what Jews

possessed. Such would be, he appeared to say, their eternal condition. The

Jew belonged nowhere and yet he was everywhere; neither an integrated

being in a fixed place, nor a true cosmopolitan. He was, in short, a liminal being.