French Rabbi Denies Report He Stabbed Self

By Noga Tarnopolsky

Published January 31, 2003, issue of January 31, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

JERUSALEM — The strange case of the assault on French Rabbi Gabriel Farhi turns ever stranger.

Early in the evening of Friday, January 3, Farhi called the police to say he had been stabbed by a helmeted man screaming “God is great” in Arabic as he prepared to enter his small Paris synagogue. Later on, he presented himself, with torn shirt and wounded stomach, in a hospital emergency room. He was released shortly thereafter.

The incident, as well a fire set in the rabbi’s car the following Monday and a fire at the rabbi’s synagogue last May, forced police to investigate what seemed to have been a coordinated harassment campaign against the rabbi, possibly by Islamic elements.

On January 20, however, the iconoclastic weekly magazine Marianne published an article quoting unnamed police and medical sources stating that the rabbi’s wound appeared to be self-inflicted. The next day, the mainstream daily Figaro picked up on the story. And on January 22, Farhi, 34, the son of Rabbi Daniel Farhi, who in 1977 established France’s tiny Reform movement, was forced to defend his version at a hastily arranged press conference at his lawyer’s office.

Referring to himself as “a man of religion and … a man of peace,” Farhi, who has become known for spearheading Jewish-Muslim dialogue, said accusations that he had stabbed himself were “unfounded” and equivalent to “a second attack even more violent than the first.”

He accused skeptical police officers of being behind the allegations. “From the first minute I was heard by the [police] I wasn’t ‘Rabbi Gabriel Farhi — victim,’ but I was a suspect,” he said.

Rumors involving the identity of the attacker had circulated almost immediately after the stabbing, even within the highly fractionalized Jewish community itself. Returning home early on the morning after the stabbing from a weekend in Normandy, Francis Lentschner, vice president of the French Jewish Liberal Movement, said he found his community “overrun by rumors.”

Among these was one, widely whispered among Reform Jews stung by their long-standing rejection by France’s Orthodox communities, alleging that a Jewish extremist was behind the attack, perhaps a member of the right-wing Betar movement or of the new French branch of the Jewish Defense League.

Farhi’s attorney, Michel Zaoui, said, “all the possibilities are open. The Jewish religious or political extremist trail, involving Betar or the JDL, and the Arab trail. I am not excluding any possibility.”

Lentschner was more cryptic in his response: “I cannot believe an extremist Jew did this like I cannot believe an Israeli Jew killed the prime minister of Israel.”

Clémant Veil-Reynal, legal affairs correspondent for France’s Channel 3 and president of the Association of French Jewish Journalists, said allegations that the attacker was Jewish is “the most grotesque of all the rumors.”

Nobody disputes the fact that the wound was light and required no stitches and that there were no witnesses to the attack. According to Marianne magazine, a medical report indicated that the gash in Farhi’s shirt did not match the lesion on his belly.

Zaoui, a prominent trial attorney, argues that neither the police nor the medical reports alludes to a possible “self-mutilation,” as Marianne, naming no sources, claimed they did.

The attack came after a two-year period that saw a sharp rise in attacks against French Jews, including a fire eight months ago that severely damaged Farhi’s synagogue in the 11th Arrondissement. On January 6, the Monday following the knifing, the rabbi’s car was torched outside his home. No one has accused the rabbi of involvement in those incidents.

In terms of the Jewish community’s image in the press, said Veil-Reynal, who has spent much of the past two years publicly denouncing the wave of antisemitism in France, “it would be a disaster” if Farhi were found to have engaged in an act of self-mutilation.

Meanwhile, after appearing healthy and vigorous at his press conference, Farhi is taking an extended break. “He is on sick leave through February,” a secretary in his office told the Forward.

“Well, he’s not sick, but he is resting. He is tired,” explained Michel Muscat, secretary-general of the Liberal Movement. “In any event, he is not responding to journalists.”

Many are predicting the case will go unresolved or will be handled very slowly. “This is the kind of case that may just be forgotten,” said Veil-Reynal. “Almost every aspect of it is strange, and it is politically hyper-sensitive.”

If nothing else, the case has exposed the deep rifts that characterize French Jewry, where the Reform movement is virtually boycotted by Orthodoxy.

While four high-ranking French officials attended a solidarity event held days after the attack on Farhi, not a single Orthodox rabbi attended. “Let’s just say that I would have been very pleased if an Orthodox rabbi had come and leave it at that,” Lentschner said.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.