Stammers on Reinach, ed. Czerny (2020)

Reinach, Salomon. Correspondance 1888-1932: Un polygraphe sous le signe d’Amalthée. Boris Czerny, editor. Honoré Champion, 2020, pp. 561, ISBN 978-2-7453-5405-1

One member of the trio of brothers who defined Jewish political and intellectual pre-eminence in the Third Republic, Salomon Reinach, has never attracted the critical attention he deserves. Despite important research by Hervé Duchêne and Perrin Simon-Nahum, Reinach’s extraordinarily rich corpus of texts—numbering 471 entries in the catalogue of the Bibliothèque Nationale, and comprising ninety works and 7,000 notices written for over 223 different journals—have generally been relegated to a learned footnote in the history of the human sciences. One problem is his sheer intellectual versatility, as Reinach published in diverse fields like epigraphy, papyrology, art history, archaeology, and anthropology. Narrow disciplinary approaches, though valuable, have failed to capture his startling breadth of vision; Reinach pictured himself in the service of the mythical nymph Amalthea, foster-mother of Zeus, who was remembered for her ever-generative horn of plenty. Reinach was at heart a comparativist, and an ambitious, synthetic work like his Orphée (1909) was cited no fewer than three times by Freud in Totem and Tattoo for the bold and subversive way in which it re-cast the history of myths, religions, and civilizations. His centrality to such debates about the origins of human society in the early twentieth century should not be overlooked.  

This edition of Reinach’s letters by Boris Czerny presents the French scholar in a new light by connecting his scholarly achievements to his many years of participation within Jewish communal institutions. From 1894, Reinach sat on the council of the Jewish Colonization Association, the organization founded by baron Maurice de Hirsch and dedicated to creating new agricultural colonies in South America, Eastern Europe, and Palestine for Jewish refugees from Tsarist Russia; from 1892, until his bitter resignation in 1912, he served as the vice-president for the Alliance Israélite Universelle, which was concerned with the welfare of Jewish schools and Jewish communities throughout the French Empire and beyond; Reinach also served twice, in 1896 and 1911, as president of the Société des études juives, the premier learned society in France dedicated the study of Jews and Judaism. That scholars have tended to pass over these Jewish commitments reflects a bigger blind-spot when it comes to Franco-Jewish cultural elites. Eminent Israélites like Reinach have been remembered as devotees of the Third Republic, who identified strongly with secular values and sought to assimilate into French society. Through his involvement in philanthropic associations, however, Reinach was deeply aware of the painful persistence of Jewish difference, and the specific challenges Jews faced in terms of discrimination and prejudice. At the same time, his own relation to Judaism was inseparable from his universalism: he was convinced that, once recognized as a tradition, and stripped of its particularist habits and rituals, the true superiority of Judaism over other religions would be revealed, since it was “par essence a-nationale et donc universelle” (20). 

To illuminate how Reinach negotiated these competing perspectives, Czerny has gathered together a large body of correspondence culled from core archives in France—especially the Bibliothèque Diderot in Lyons, where the Reinach family donated many of his books in 1936, and the Bibliothèque Méjanes in Aix-en-Provence (now housed in 171 boxes)—supplemented by materials found in Germany, Britain, Belgium, Czechia, Russia, and Israel. As a result, this volume does not just recover the interplay of scholarly and political considerations in the career of one omnivorous French savant; it also reconstitutes the pan-European Jewish and philosemitic networks around 1900 to which Reinach actively contributed. His correspondents ranged from unknown Jewish students desperate for his patronage as part of the Comité des étudiants israélites, to major players within the Jewish affairs of their respective nations, such as Franz Philippson and Léo Errera in Belgium, and Lucien Wolf in Britain, with whom he exchanged letters about the revival of antisemitism and the diffusion of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the wake of the First World War.  

Within these “reseaux culturels,” Reinach’s engagement with Russia, and the plight of Russian Jews, is afforded a sustained analysis. This engagement was propelled by marriage—in 1891 he married the medical student Rose (Rivka) Morgoulieff, whose family came from Odessa—but also by curiosity about the early “Scythian” peoples and the material vestiges of the ancient world found in the Crimea. Reinach translated into French and published the first three volumes of Antiquités de la Russe Méridionale, authored by the pioneering historian of Byzantine art, Nikodim Kondakov, and by Count Ivan Tolstoy, the first mayor of St Petersburg, and a passionate campaigner against the persecution of Russia’s Jews. Tolstoy, for his part, provided Reinach with archaeological information, translated Orphée into Russian, and collaborated with him, and with another Jewish historian, Iouli Gessen, on an audacious 1907 brochure, L’Antisémitise en Russie: Faits et pensées, which failed to rouse European opinion. In Reinach’s melding of antiquarianism and activism, Czerny argues persuasively that “ces deux sphères ou domaines d’activités ne s’opposaient pas, mais au contraire, s’enrichissait et se complétaient dans un même mouvement” (88). 

This generous edition of Reinach correspondence is not exhaustive: it is centered on his Jewish political commitments, especially viz-à-viz Eastern Europe, in keeping with Czerny’s own expertise in Russian nineteenth and twentieth-century literature and culture. It reveals less about his Hellenism, his connection with Parisian high society, or indeed his own activity as a collector (and discrete dealer) of antiquities. But Czerny succeeds in capturing Reinach’s complex allegiances, and by extension, nuances common assumptions about Judaisme à la française. No less than his Zionist contemporaries, and against the backdrop of shattering events like the Dreyfus Affair and the Bolshevik Revolution, Reinach’s claims about antiquity were never divorced from present-day priorities—what Czernay calls “ce double ancrage dans le passé et la modernité” (308). Editor of the Revue Archéologique, and curator for three decades of the Musée des antiquiés nationales at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Salomon Reinach was also an engaged Jewish intellectual whose horizons were truly “panchronique.” After his death, historian and connoisseur Seymour de Ricci paid tribute to the legacy and achievements of the friend he dubbed “mon maître”: “peu de travailleurs exércèrent à notre époque une influence mondiale aussi bienfaisante” (60). 

Thomas Stammers
Durham University