In he was appointed assistant to Chief Rabbi Lazare Isidor of Paris, whom he succeeded in the following year, when Isidor became chief rabbi of France. As Kahn had not yet reached the prescribed age of 30, he had to obtain a dispensation before he could accept the office, his election to which had been largely due to his thesis L'Esclavage Selon la Bible et le Talmud ; later translated into German and Hebrew. The community of Paris attained to a high degree of prosperity and enlightenment under Kahn's administration. On Chief Rabbi Isidor's death in Kahn was unanimously elected chief rabbi of France, and was inducted on 25 March He then entered upon a period of many-sided philanthropic activity.
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Born in Mommenheim, Alsace, Kahn was the son of a village peddler. Kahn was educated in a yeshivah at Strasbourg and from at the Ecole Rabbinique in Metz later in Paris , from which he graduated in He then became director of the Talmud Torah, a preparatory school of the Ecole. Kahn's appointment over many candidates was determined by his excellent thesis, L'Esclavage selon la Bible et le Talmud In Kahn was appointed chief rabbi of France.
His position both as chief rabbi of Paris and chief rabbi of France was marked by a series of critical events in the history of French and world Jewry. His freedom of action was often limited by the attitude of the official Franco-Jewish leaders, so that Kahn never really became one of the great Jewish leaders who developed out of the period.
French Jewry lost its most active communities during his tenure of office, when Alsace-Lorraine was annexed by Germany. The years —82 witnessed the beginning of a mass emigration of East European Jews, some of whom turned to France. Kahn called a few meetings for the purpose of drafting a new policy, but they were unsuccessful, and the defense of Dreyfus was left in the hands of Jewish individuals and non-Jews.
The same conservative attitude prevailed in response to the violent antisemitic campaign in Algeria. He was also the editor of a French Bible translation known as the "Bible of the Rabbinate," and of the Bible de la Jeunesse both Kahn published a few volumes of his sermons. He was the last official chief rabbi of France. Shortly after his death the law of the Separation of the Church and the State was adopted and the Jewish Consistories were reorganized as nongovernmental religious bodies.
Before his death Kahn tried to prepare the Consistories for such an event and took part in drafting the bylaws of the new nonofficial Consistories. Weill, Zadok Kahn Fr. Levy, in: Cahiers de l' AIU , 94 , 15— Download our mobile app for on-the-go access to the Jewish Virtual Library.
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