France's long-time spiritual leader dies in Paris aged 71


French Jewry is in mourning for Joseph Sitruk, France's Chief Rabbi for three successive terms, from 1987 to 2008.

Born in Tunisia, he helped consolidate a Sephardi hold over Europe's largest Jewish community, succeeding Rene-Samuel Sirat, the first-ever Sephardi Chief Rabbi of France.

Le Monde described Rabbi Sitruk as a man "of absolute intransigence, hidden by a permanent smile."

On the conservative wing of Orthodoxy, he required individuals to seek rabbinic permission before using contraception, forbade voting in elections which took place on High Holy Days, and sought to extend the jurisdiction of rabbinical courts to all litigation between Jews. "We have to learn to settle our own problems by ourselves," he once said.

He relished life in the limelight, was close to former president Jaques Chirac, and was famous for his oratory. He encouraged young Jews to lead Torah-based lives and to eschew intermarriage. He said: "The rabbi is one who switches on the streetlights of the spirit. People, especially youth, have a great need for spirituality. I carry the torch to those who most need the light."

Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis, said: "Rabbi Sitruck… generated a spiritual renaissance of France's Jewry."

Rabbi Sitruck fathered nine children and died in Paris on Sunday. A passionate Zionist, he was buried on the Mount of Olives.

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