Misogyny and homophobia on the rise among French Jews
Last month we reported on the launch of a liberal mosque in Germany that drew fire from Islamists because it allowed men and women to interact and was welcoming to gays.
Well, today we learn some Jews in Marseille have taken to aping Muslim zealots by targeting the Edmond Fleg Centre, run by Martine Yana, above because it hosted an event at which women were allowed to read from the Torah alongside men.
According to this report, the June event triggered furious criticism by religious authorities – including a rabbinical judge who warned of an impending divine reckoning. It also prompted two small demonstrations by young Orthodox men and a slew of insults and threats by other French Jews, in Marseille and beyond.
The vitriolic reaction to the event – a graduation ceremony for a seminar about women in Judaism – surprised and shocked Yana, the center’s Director. She said the protests demonstrated the need for conversations about women’s roles within Orthodox Judaism in France.
Yana said of Marseille, where only three out of some 50 synagogue are not Orthodox:
I know this is a very conservative community, but even I never imagined it would generate such reactions. I would have canceled the event to keep the peace, but we found ourselves under attack. It’s a very painful position for an institution like ours.
The scandal, which Yana said is indicative of growing radicalisation and insularity in France’s traumatised Jewish communities, erupted a few days before the event. Shmouel Melloul, a dayan, or rabbinical judge, wrote an impassioned plea for its cancellation and for prayers to God so He may “spare the city His wrath” over the affair. He said:
We are all furious, terribly disturbed and outraged over this precedent. It is urgent and imperative to forcefully and rapidly protest for its cancellation.
Answering this call to arms, a small group of young men twice gathered around the center, asking visitors to boycott the institution in what Yana said was acts of intimidation. Dozens of men and women left offensive remarks on the center’s Facebook page or called the center’s switchboard.
One of them, a Facebook user by the name of David Bendennoune, wished the center “the same fate as Korah”, a biblical rebel whom the earth swallowed whole without a trace.
Yana, for her part, published a statement on the center’s Facebook page condemning the violent rhetoric. She said:
The growing radicalism exposed in this affair makes me afraid for my safety, not only from Muslim radicals, but now also from Jewish ones.
As the affair intensified, there was an attempt to temper the flames by the Marseille branch of the Consistoire – a 210-year-old state-recognized Orthodox body that employs rabbis and caters to the religious needs of Jewish communities.
Events featuring women reading aloud from the Torah are “not forbidden but not recommended either,” Consistoire spokesman Michel Cohen-Tenoudji said. But, he added, his organisation was opposed to the event because it mixes women and men.
Several prominent Orthodox rabbis have ruled that the reading aloud of the Torah by women at synagogue is permissible according to halachah, the Jewish code of law, as long as the sexes remain separated at synagogue. And in the United States and Israel, some Orthodox synagogues allow women to chant from the Torah, and some employ women as clergy.
But the French Jewish community is “30 years arrears, and continuing to regress”, according to Liliane Vana, a philologist and expert on Jewish law and the Talmud.
Vana, a co-organizer of the controversial event in Marseille, sees this radicalisation also in the treatment of gay people. Deviating from a don’t-ask-don’t-tell modus vivendi of previous years, some Orthodox rabbis in France have begun to refuse to allow gays to take part in religious ceremonies.
The increase in violent anti-Semitism in France – hundreds of cases are now recorded annually, compared with dozens prior to the year 2000 – is further contributing to isolationism, according to Delphine Horvilleur, a Liberal, or Reform, rabbi from Paris.
It’s shutting down the debate and adding to an atmosphere of siege that does not encourage self-reflection.
The perceived radicalisation is alienating some French Jews from Orthodoxy and sending into the open arms of the country’s small but growing Liberal stream of Judaism. Horvilleur’s synagogue, MJLF Beaugrenelle, is one of the best attended in Paris, with hundreds of families filling the synagogue to capacity on holidays.
Horvilleur was recently invited to officiate alongside the Orthodox chief rabbi, Haim Korsia, at the funeral of Simone Weil, a Holocaust survivor who became health minister and one of France’s most influential politicians before her death on June 30 at 89. Though it was not Korsia’s choice – his office attempted to downplay Horvilleur’s role at the funeral – the ceremony was nonetheless an interdenominational first in France.
The Edmond Fleg Center, a five-storey building, is the cultural heart of France’s second largest Jewish community. It has security cameras and blast-proof doors – a response to anti-Semitic attacks in recent years on members of Marseille’s Jewish community of 80,000.
Jews of all denominations come here for activities and workshops. There’s a state-of-the-art cinema, a breezy terrace roof and regional offices of the major Jewish groups in France. What it doesn’t have is a synagogue. That’s by design. The lack of a dedicated space for worship at the center, which was established 53 years ago, is meant to emphasise the shared culture that connects all French Jews, regardless of their level of observance, the center’s president, Raymond Arouch, said.
We are here to unite.