The Arty Semite

Rabbi Josy Eisenberg, France's Jewish Media Star

By Benjamin Ivry

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At 76, Rabbi Josy Eisenberg is a longtime representative of Judaism for the French public. He is the genial host of the half-hour religious program “La Source de Vie,” broadcast in various formats since 1962, and he helped write the 1973 hit comedy film “The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob,” starring comedian Louis de Funès. In France, Rabbi Jacob is still so popular that in 2008, comedian Patrick Timsit, of Algerian Jewish origin, directed a music stage version complete with a Hasidic rap.

Eisenberg has also published a dozen books of which only one, “The Seven Lights: On the Major Jewish Festivals,” has appeared in English. His latest title from Albin Michel Publishers, “Livres de vie: de la Bible à Albert Cohen” (“Books of Life: from the Bible to Albert Cohen”), surely deserves to be translated, as it features transcripts of his best TV interviews from the 1960s until today. Of these, the most gripping is a chat with the Greek-born Sephardic Jewish novelist Albert Cohen, who discusses his 1972 book, “O vous, frères humains,” (“O fellow human beings”), itself shockingly still untranslated into English, which dwells on a boyhood encounter with antisemitism after Cohen’s family moved to Marseilles.

“Lives de vie” also contains a lively interview with the noted French linguist Claude Hagège, of Tunisian Jewish origin, author of “On the Death and Life of Languages,” and the forthcoming “Adpositions.” Hagège discourses delightfully on Israeli slang words like “Phudnik” (A nudnik with a PhD).

Eisenberg’s book also presents the Nice-born French Jewish comic book author and film director Joann Sfar, author of the popular “The Rabbi’s Cat,” and Ruth Reichelberg, the late literature professor from Bar-Ilan University whose odd study, “Don Quixote: or, the Novel of a Disguised Jew” explores possible Jewish subtexts in Cervantes. To all guests, however unusual, Eisenberg lends an amiably tolerant ear.

Watch the film co-written by Rabbi Josy Eisenberg, ‘The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob’:


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