Wednesday, April 8th: Geraldine Gudefin

Please join the European History Workshop on Wednesday, April 8th, 5:30-7:30pm for the following paper & discussion:

“Creating Legal Difference: The Impossible Divorce of Russian Jews in France” (see abstract below)

Geraldine Gudefin
Department of History
Brandeis University

The paper is now available on the EHW CTOOLS site. For a copy of the paper and/or access to the site, please contact one of the Workshop Coordinators.

The event will be held in 2713 Haven Hall. Dinner will be provided.

Paper abstract:

This chapter examines the development on French jurisprudence on the divorce of Russian Jews, from the beginning of Russian Jewish immigration to World War II. Even though French courts accepted to grant Russian Jews a divorce at the end of the 1880s and in the 1890s, they refused to do so after 1905, on the ground that secular French judges could not fill the roles of Russian rabbis. From that point on, Russian Jews in France could still marry at the city hall, but were not able to get civilly divorced- a Kafkaesque situation. During a three-year period, many Russian Jews were able to get religiously divorced through the Consistory, and their divorces were commonly inscribed on the civil registry, which amounted to a civil recognition of a religious divorce, and allowed them to remarry. However, in 1908 the French government banned the practice of transcription, and the Russian government affirmed that since the law of separation of Church and State, French rabbis had lost official government recognition and therefore were not qualified to grant Russian Jews a divorce. The secularization of family laws in the wake of the Russian Revolution might have eased the legal situation of Russian Jews in France, but the failure of the Soviet government to recognize former subjects of the Russian Empire who had lived abroad for more than five years as Soviet citizens deprived thousands of Russian Jews living in France of their citizenship. Since Russian family laws had ceased to apply to these individuals, French judges had to decide whether to apply French family laws to them. This chapter seeks to trace how and why French judges denied Russian Jews in France access to civil divorce, and how Jewish immigrants responded to this exclusion.