Throughout the Middle Ages, Jews lived in self-governing corporations as guests of their host countries. Although falling short of political equality, the Edict of Tolerance in 1782 was designed to “make the Jewish nation useful and serviceable to the State, mainly through better education and enlightenment of its youth as well as by directing them to the sciences, the arts and the crafts.”
In Europe, Jews were first recognized as citizens of the country in which they lived as a result of the French Revolution (1790). There was an expectation amongst the Gentiles that citizenship would lead to “civic amelioration.” In other words, without persecution and segregation, the Jews would acculturate and lose their ethnic particularity. As citizens, Jews were no longer expected to yearn to return to the Land of Israel or consider themselves in exile. Being Jewish became optional because Judaism became, for the first time, “just” a religion.
[Courtesy: Professor Shai Cherry]