Following the assault with a machete upon an orthodox Jewish resident of Marseilles, France, by a 15 year old ISIS supporter, Zvi Ammar, head of the Israelite Consistory in Marseilles, called upon his fellow Jews in the city to remove their kippot and other religious identifiers for security reasons.
Many Rabbonim, including Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Rabbi David Lau, and Paris Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Corsia have criticized Ammar.
Rabbi Lau urged European Jews not to remove their “kippot” in public despite the increase in violence against Jews on the continent. He also called on European governments to boost security for Jewish communities.
“We should not give an inch, we should continue wearing the kippah,” Rabbi Corsia said, according to AFP.
Even France’s Prime Minister Hollande gave his opinion, declaring “It is intolerable that in our country citizens should feel so upset and under assault because of their religious choice that they would conclude that they have to hide.”
Most kippa wearers who either live in the diaspora or travel outside of Israel have been through this same dilemma. This is not a new issue.
On the one hand, there are real security risks out there and it is reasonable to assume that a kippa or other identifiers as being Jewish increase the risks of being a victim.
On the other hand, it is a central tenet of Western democracies that we will not be held ransom, nor change our fundamental values, due to fears of terrorist or other racial attacks. We will not buckle under pressure.
I often feel, particularly traveling in post-Holocaust Europe, that it is important to wear a kippa – the intrinsic message, I feel, is “Am Yisrael Chai” – The People of Israel Live!
However, this is a different evaluation for a visitor, than it is for a local. Practically, the chances of me, wearing my kippa, being victimised during a short visit to a different country is remote.
The mathematics work differently for local Jews, who live 24/7/52 in these at-risk locations.
In the same way that they may introduce police protection or private security guards at their synogogues and other community centers, and these do not constitute buckling under, so it is reasonable for locals to decide not to outwardly wear Jewish symbols, fearing these will atract attacks.
If this is what Zvi Ammar considers a reasonable security measure in the environment of Marseilles which he understands better than me, then it is a responsible position to take for himself personally and to advise his community.
Rabbi Lau is correct that it is the role of the French Government to make sure that Jews are safe, even when wearing a kippa.
However, demanding that the French Government make Jews FEEL safe in Marselles is a more ambitious project.
M. Hollande’s declarations and gestures of French MP wearing kippot in Parliament, are important statements of solidarity and validation for France’s Jews. These are steps in the right direction. “Je suis Juif” is an important campaign.
The bottom line is that Mr. Ammar is right to advise his community about reasonable security steps; Rabbi Lau is right to lay responsibility for the security situation on the French Government.
But it is not our right, from here, to demand behaviour of Jews there, which can place them at increased personal risk.