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Reflecting on a mission involving a religion with universal but non-proselytizing ambitions such as Judaism obviously entails reflecting from the viewpoint of the “inner mission.” However, beginning in the late eighteenth century, in the wake of the dual phenomenon of emancipation and assimilation, the Judaicities of Western Europe transformed, and imagined a confessionalised and nationalized Judaism compatible with modernity. Paradoxically, this new form of Judaism led to the development of a philanthropy directed especially toward the Jewish communities of the Mediterranean basin. Beginning with private initiatives such as those of Moses Montefiore, this phenomenon became institutionalized during the second half of the nineteenth century via associations such as l’Alliance israélite universelle (AIU) founded in 1860, and its counterparts the Anglo-Jewish Association (AJA, 1871) and the HilfsVerein der Deutschen Juden (HdDJ, 1901). While these organizations claimed to be defending a national model, their grasp of Oriental Judaicities—everywhere considered archaic from the standpoint of the ideal of progress embodied by Europe—were broadly in agreement, as were their strategies for regeneration. These strategies used the same approach as Christian missionaries: founding institutions such as schools, hospitals, and other charities, which would serve as crucibles for the unification of Judaism on the model of Europe’s “regenerated” Judaicities, with respect to both the renewal of religious practices and support for the idea of civilization. The phenomenon expanded rapidly in both the Ottoman and Persian Empires, as well as in North Africa. Leaders were quickly recruited on site from among local populations, demonstrating the theoretical relevance of this project that some have called the “interior colonization of Judaism,” one that left a lasting mark despite the resistance it met.

Open Access
In: Missions and Preaching