Item #290 Plaidoyers. Pierre-Louis de LACRETELLE.
A Critical Milestone in the History of Hebrew Printing and the Emancipation of Jews in France.


In 1775, the Mercantile Corps of Thionville declined to grant a license for a commercial venture to a Jew of Metz, Moyse May, an industrious printer and publisher of Hebrew liturgical texts who had operated under the name Joseph Antoine since the late 1750s. In 1767 Louis XV had granted limited protections to Jews involved in certain commercial enterprises; the Corps of Thionville's refusal resulted in a lawsuit. The case attracted national attention, and the young lawyer of the ancien régime, Pierre-Louis de Lacretelle, represented May and his stepson Abraham Lévy at the sovereign court at Nancy (the Parliament of Metz having been recently suppressed), arguing eloquently that Jews were in fact French citizens, and thus should enjoy the same rights to commercial activity. Lacretelle remarked in his arguments that if a Jew could not work in the profession of his choice, he would be "by force of oppression reduced to seek refuge in fraud and to revenge himself by the practice of usury." The argument of course shudders with antisemitism now, and indeed  it failed—Lacretelle lost the case—but at the time they were the sharpest and most resounding words uttered on the road to the emancipation of Jews in France, presaging Abbé Grégoire's essay and eventual emancipation on 28 September 1791, the first nation to grant Jewish equality under law since Poland five hundred years earlier. The first 36 pages of our book comprise the first appearance in print of Lacretelle's historic arguments. Lacretelle would go on to be a voice for equality of Protestants, and as an agent of the French abolitionist movement. May would not print again, but his sacrifce would be the first moment in the rebirth of Hebrew printing in France. One copy located in American libraries (Harvard), and three abroad.

Brussels [i.e. Nancy]: S. n., 1775.

Octavo, 208 x 130 x 18 mm (binding), 204 x 127 x 16 mm (text block). A-K8 L5; [1-2], 169, [1] pp. Mid-20th-century pastiche binding of 3/4 marbled boards over maroon sheepskin gilt, by Devauchelle. Covers slightly worn. Interior: clean; an excellent copy.


Mid-20th-century ink stamp of Bibliothèque de Trélissac to title.

Ginsburger, M., “The First Jewish Printers in France,” Review of Jewish Studies, vol. LXXXVI, No, 171, 1928; “Hebrew Typography in Metz,” Revue Orientale, vol. III, Brussels: 1843-4, pp. 209-215 (with a list of books printed by May); Szajkowski, Zosa, Jews and the French Revolutions of 1789, 1830 and 1848, Paris: KTAV, 1970, pp. 501-505; Schechter, Ronald, "The Jewish Question in Eighteenth-Century France," Eighteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1, 1998, pp. 85-6.

Item #290

Price: $6,400.00