French President François Hollande has paid tribute to the life of Tunisian born former Chief Rabbi of France, Joseph Sitruk who passed away yesterday, 25 September, at the age of 71.
President François Hollande praised Rabbi Joseph Sitruk earlier today, characterizing him as an “outstanding figure of French Judaism.” Hollande praised the Rabbi’s commitment to “Human dialogue,” and described him as a”defender of secularism”.
The President of the Jewish Community in Tunis remembered the former Chief Rabbi fondly, saying: “He was a Rabbi who could make people like reading. He was intelligent he was funny, he liked people and he was very interested in the young people.”
Rabbi Sitruk served as France’s Chief Rabbi from June 1987 to June 22, 2008. Born on 17th October 1944 in Tunis, Tunisia, he was known for his charisma that earned him what journalist Stephanie Bars described as “a certain reverence”, among the French Jewish community, particularly the Sephardi Jews (Jews of North African Origin).
The former Chief Rabbi’s death followed a long illness. The Rabbi had previously suffered a stroke in 2001, after which he added the name “Haim” which means “Life” as is Jewish tradition.
Rabbi Joseph Sitruk graduated from his rabbinical training in 1970 before being appointed Rabbi of Strasbourg. Rabbi Sitruk rose to prominence when he was first elected as the Chief Rabbi of Marseille in 1975. In 1977 he was elected as France’s Chief Rabbi and was then re-elected for two more seven year terms, losing the chance of a fourth term of office in 2008 to Rabbi Gilles Bernheim. For a time he was also the president of the Conference of European Rabbis and on 16th of March 2007 France honored Rabbi Sitruk, naming him Commander of the Legion of Honor.
Rabbi Sitruk never forgot his homeland during difficult periods.After Tunis suffered a bomb attack in November 2015, Rabbi Sitruk led a delegation of representatives of Paris’ Tunisian Jewish Community to the Tunisian Embassy to express solidarity, stating publicly that Tunisia is a “land of coexistence and tolerance.”
On his role as Rabbi and teacher of the community he said that: “The rabbi is a lamplighter. There is, especially among youth, immense spiritual needs, and I light the doorway where it is most needed. ”
Rabbi Sitruk leaves a wife and nine children. Remembrance services will be conducted tonight at the Tunis Central Synagogue and the Synagogue in La Guelette at 6pm.