France’s Chief Rabbi Warns of Dangers Threatening French Jews

France’s newly elected Chief Rabbi Rene Sirat warned yesterday that “many dangers threaten France’s Jews but none as serious as the risk of losing their Jewish identity.” Sirat, who spoke at the installation ceremony at which he assumed his office, said that this process “has already started and is now in the midst of a slow but dramatic evolution.”

The 51-year-old Sirat, who was elected last June and succeeded Chief Rabbi Jacob Kaplan, is a former teacher and educator and is the second Sephardic Jew to hold office as Chief Rabbi of France. To emphasize the universality of his role, Sirat asked that prayers recited during the ceremony should reflect all trends in religious Judaism. Kaplan, who recited the traditional blessings, warned Sirat that he will serve at a time of crisis and difficulties in French Jewry’s history.

Among those attending the ceremony as personal representatives of President Valery Giscard d’Estaing were former Premiers Jacques Chirac and Michel Debre; also Senate President Alain Poher; European Parliament President Simone Veil; the Labor and Interior Ministers; and representatives of the Catholic Church, the Federation of Protestant Churches and the Paris Mosque.

CITES DANGERS FACING JEWS

Among the dangers which threaten the French Jewish community, Sirat enumerated “pseudo-scientific theories” which seek to prove that the Holocaust never occurred, the fact that six months after the Rue Copernic synagogue bomb attack the culprits have not been identified and arrested, and the popular tendency to believe that the Jewish religion provides for “an eye for an eye” philosophy.

In a reference to the recent election of a converted Jew, Jean-Marie Lustiger, as Archbishop of Paris, Sirat warned against the “increasingly flimsy line separating Jews from Christians.” “You can’t be both: You are either a Christian or a Jew, ” he said.

STRANGE TWIST OF HISTORY

By a strange twist of history, the new Chief Rabbi’s first official function will be to recite Kaddish at the tomb of Father Jean Braun, a Jew who converted to Catholicism, who died here last Saturday at the age of 74. He had requested in his will that the Chief Rabbi recite the prayer as “I always felt close to Judaism, the religion of my parents.”

Braun was active during World War II in the French resistance movement and saved countless Jews from deportation. He was counted as one of the “Just” by the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Braun was one of several Catholic priests of Jewish origin, like Father Gasberg, who died last month, who openly declared their Judaism during the Nazi occupation of France.

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