Rabbi Joseph Haim Sitruk, who was Chief Rabbi of France for more than two decades, has passed away aged 71.
The first non-British president of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) after the death of Lord Jakobovits, Sitruk was Chief Rabbi of France for 21 years, from 1987 to 2008, after moving from Tunisia, where he was born in 1944.
Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, current CER president, said Sitruk “generated a spiritual renaissance” among French Jewry, which “counterbalanced assimilationist tendencies prevalent in France”.
Goldschmidt, who remembered meeting Sitruk when he was a rabbi in Strasbourg, and later in Marseille, added: “He was a young energetic and charismatic leader with integrity and faith.”
When he became the spiritual figurehead for France’s half a million Jews, Sitruk led the opening of dozens of synagogues and Jewish schools, for which he was later appointed commander of the Legion d’Honor.
A father-of-nine, he called Tel Aviv’s gay pride parade “an abomination” and sought advice from Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who said the six million Jewish Holocaust victims were reincarnations of the souls of sinners, and that Hurricane Katrina was divine punishment for U.S. support for a withdrawal from Gaza.
Sitruk had reportedly been suffering from a long illness and had spent the last several days in hospital. His body has been flown to Israel for burial, with a memorial service held in Paris on Sunday night.