What is a Jew? This question becomes more complicated during the nineteenth century when many Jews were assimilating to majority societies. “Modern” French Jews (or Israelites, as they preferred to be called) thought of themselves as both Frenchmen and Jews. An individual’s identification with Jewishness could have been both religious and cultural. His Frenchness was also cultural and very definitely political. Assimilated Jews were devoted and grateful to a Republic which had made them full citizens and opened to them the same opportunities as other Frenchmen. For an historical figure like Alfred Dreyfus, or a fictional one like Daniel Singer, this complicated identity shaped their emotional and intellectual allegiances and the way they lived their lives.
The immigration of more orthodox, less urbane Jews from Eastern Europe during this period complicated the picture even more. Were these new arrivals “brothers” to be embraced or embarrassing vestiges of the past? In The Blood of Lorraine, David Singer and his wife, Noémie have very different reactions to the plight of these immigrants.