L’abbé Grégoire and the Metz Contest: The View from New Documents

This article revisits the history of the Metz contest of 1785-8, commonly seen as a seminal event in the story of Jewish emancipation in France. Using newly discovered documents, it highlights a contest on Jews held even earlier: that of the Société des Philantropes of Strasbourg in 1778. Furthermore, this essay offers a new perspective on the abbé Grégoire’s participation in the Metz contest by analyzing his comments on the Strasbourg competition (which he also entered) as well as the manuscript of Grégoire’s original Metz entry, long thought lost by scholars. While Grégoire is widely reputed to have co-written his Metz entry with Jewish friends, in the interest of helping them, the manuscript suggests that Grégoire wrote his first entry on his own, motivated more by a desire to protect his Emberménil parishioners from Jewish usury than to aid the Jews themselves. Indeed, Grégoire seems to have befriended individual Jews only during his revisions for the second phase of the contest, as he sought to make his entry more appealing to the Academy’s prize committee. This new information helps us to better understand Grégoire’s motivations in becoming involved with Jews and his later frustrations with them. It also gives us a more complicated picture of the relationship between Grégoire and his Jewish associates than that of assistants who embraced his ideas uncritically. All digital publishing is through PDF