The city of Metz in eastern France has closed one of its streets to vehicular traffic for the High Holiday season through the end of Yom Kippur.
The closure of Rabbin Bloch Street was announced by TCRM, the public transport company of the Messine region, approximately 40 miles northwest of Strasbourg, citing “the Jewish holidays.” The closure began on the afternoon of Sept. 6 and will continue until the end of Yom Kippur, the night of Sept. 14, its website said.
The announcement of the closure provoked angry reactions by some Muslims, who said it reflected a double standard in French authorities’ attitude to Jewish and Muslim sensibilities in applying separation of church and state.
One of France’s leading Muslim news sites, islametinfo.fr, published an editorial on Friday stating that although “it is normal for residents to respect the wishes of others in special moments,” the hitherto uncontested closure at Metz “begs comparison” with a ban imposed in 2011 on street prayers by Muslims in Paris.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the ultranationalist Front National, compared the prayers to “the occupation” — a reference to the Nazi occupation of France. The street prayers at Barbes were the result of overcrowded conditions at the local mosque.
“Strangely, extremist politicians have not found it important to intervene at Metz,” the editorial read. “The double standard that has been applied on secularism has been allowed to endure for too long.”
Metz’s Jewish community, which first established itself in the city in the 16th century, had approximately 4,000 members in 1987, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica. Several Jewish institutions are located on Rabbin Bloch Street.
Rabbi Elie Bloch, head of the Metz community during the Holocaust, saved the lives of 15 Jewish children whom he helped hide from the Nazi occupation. He died at the age of 34 with his family after the Nazis arrested them and sent them to their deaths in a concentration camp in Poland.JTA