Portrait of Chief Rabbi David Sintzheim


France, early 19th century

Oil on canvas, 32.5 x 24 cm

Anonymous, Portrait of Chief Rabbi David Sintzheim, France, early 19th century

Anonymous, Portrait of Chief Rabbi David Sintzheim, France, early 19th century

David Sintzheim (Trier, 1745 – Paris, 1812) was born into a family of rabbis in Germany and arrived in Alsace around 1762, when his father was appointed rabbi of Niedernai. Around 1765, he married Esther Baer, sister of Herz Cerfbeer of Medelsheim (1726-1794), the future head of the Jewish nation in Alsace. David Sintzheim was initially rabbi of Bischheim, near Strasbourg, then lived in Strasbourg from 1794, shortly after the Emancipation, Jews having been prohibited from living in the city since 1390.

In 1806, he took part in the Assembly of Notables, convened by Napoleon to advise on the compatibility of Jewish Law with the values of the French nation. The following year he was appointed chairman of the Grand Sanhedrin, the new assembly of 71 rabbis and laymen created by the emperor to define the religious consequences of the decisions of the Assembly of Notables and whose name explicitly refers to the high court of seventy-one wise men that sat until the 3rd century. He diplomatically used his influence to preserve the fundamental values of Judaism and in 1808 became the first chief rabbi of France and chairman of the newly established Central Consistory.

In this official portrait, David Sintzheim is wearing the ecclesiastical costume that Napoleon imposed on rabbis. The curious fur-trimmed hat with two horns was supposed to recall the high priest Aaron’s mitre. This headdress, considered ridiculous and even defamatory, was rapidly abandoned.

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