TYPE: Prayerbook
DIMENSIONS: 8" x 5”
COMPONENTS: The pagination is 143, 40 + 51 leaves.
ITEM ID: 4858
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Jewish Prayer Book which Mentions Emperor Napoleon

DATE
Year: 1814
Decade: 1810s
Century: 19th (1801-1900)

A Jewish prayer book mentioning Emperor Napoleon.

If there is one prayer that would signify the history of the Jewish Exile, it would arguably be the Prayer on behalf of the King, traditionally recited during the opening of the Torah Ark in Shabbat morning prayers. Wherever they found themselves, in countries where they lived in peace, as well as countries where they were persecuted, the Jewish people would recite a prayer on behalf of the local ruler. The prayer is alluded to in sefer Yirmiyah (29:7), “And seek the peace of the city where I have exiled you and pray for it to the Lord, for in its peace you shall have peace,” mentioned in the Mishnah and records of an early example have been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This at times led to Jews in neighboring countries, each praying for their respective local rulers, while these same rulers may have been sworn enemies of each other currently at war.

This particular prayer book is an interesting example of the curious circumstances in which Jews found themselves in many situations, where the local ruler was often hard to determine and border towns found their nationality and governments alternating between various warring rulers. The Siddur was printed in 1814, in the city of Metz, today located in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. Metz was often claimed by the nearby Prussians and later Germans and found itself under foreign rule on and off for several extensive stretches of time in recent history. In 1814, Metz found itself as the center of the attention of attacking Prussian, Russian and Hessian troops, with the siege of Metz beginning on the the 17th of January of that year. In this siddur, we find the prayer for the King in Hebrew and French, with the ruler stated as Napoleon, “Emperour Des Francais, Roi d’Italie”, Emperor of France and King of Italy. The prayer would have had an added urgency during this period, while the city was under siege and the ability to move around freely was severely limited.

By April 6th of the same year, the prayer would have been outdated, as Napoleon was forced to abdicate his throne and was exiled to the Island of Elba, an island of 12,000 inhabitants in the Mediterranean. Shortly after, the siege was abandoned by the attacking armies and France found itself under the rule of Louis XVII. This prayer book thus had the correct ruler noted, at most for under 100 days.