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Apple bids adieu to 'Jew or not Jew?' iPhone app in France
iPhone app "Jew or not Jew?" allows the user to scour a database of famous Jewish personalities.
September 15th, 2011
07:08 PM ET

Apple bids adieu to 'Jew or not Jew?' iPhone app in France

By Jessica Ravitz and Saskya Vandoorne, CNN

“Jew or not Jew?”: That is just part of the question.

An iPhone app bearing this name has been yanked from Apple’s App Store in France amid threats of a lawsuit and demands for its removal.

The app, still available elsewhere, pulls together a database of thousands of famous Jews – including movie stars, musicians, Nobel Prize winners and more – and offers insights into their backgrounds. Jewish mother? Jewish father? A convert? For $1.99 in the United States, app owners can know.

In an iTunes store description, it says: “Hey, did you know that Bob Dylan is Jewish? Of course I did! But was Marilyn Monroe really Jewish? And what about Harrison Ford? How many times have we had this conversation without being able to know for sure? You can now find the answer.”

The intention was all in fun, app creator Johann Lévy told Le Parisien. The 35-year-old research and development engineer, who is British, French and Jewish, said he doesn’t understand the outcry.

“I’m not a spokesman for all Jews, but, being Jewish myself, I know that in our community we ask ourselves often if this or that celebrity is Jewish or not,” he told the French newspaper. “For me, there’s nothing pejorative in saying publicly that this person or that person is Jewish. Instead, it’s something to be proud of.”

But no matter Lévy’s personal background or motivation, compiling details about peoples’ identities without their consent is against the law in France. And that was all Apple needed to know to swipe “Jew or not Jew?” from France’s App Store shelf.

France’s secular nature and adamant separation between state and religion is something that’s “very difficult for American people to understand,” said Richard Prasquier, president of CRIF, an umbrella organization for French Jewish institutions.

If an individual shares with someone his or her religion, that’s fine, he said. But if that person’s faith is recorded in a public file, that crosses a legal line.

“What is public is public, and religion is private,” Prasquier said, and by its very virtue this app makes people’s religion public. “In France, it is absolutely impossible for a president to give any kind of religious speech. Swearing on the Bible would be absolutely inappropriate.”

Another concern is how to determine who, in fact, is a Jew.

“The issue of Judaism and ‘who is Jewish’ and ‘who is not’ is particularly complex. Nobody has the authority to decide on the Jewishness of others,” Marc Eisenberg, president of Alliance Israelite Universelle, said in written statement. “The fact that (the app) was created by someone who is of Jewish faith does not excuse a thing.”

Part of the French Jewish community’s discomfort is rooted in the country’s history, suggested Rabbi Michel Serfaty of Paris.

“This census of Jews resembles France’s time under Vichy,” he said, referring to the government established during World War II, which collaborated with Nazi occupiers to identify and deport Jews to death camps.

Le Parisien prodded app creator Lévy along these lines.

“The idea of selling information on Jews never appeared shocking to you?” the paper asked.

“Anti-Semites don’t need my app to determine who is Jewish,” he answered. “As for the question of a file – it recalls the Second World War, but that was 65 years ago! … This information was already public record.”

For app shoppers elsewhere, they can continue this Jew or not Jew exploration. They can peer into award-winning actress Jennifer Connelly’s life and learn that she was born to a Jewish mother. They can explore stats, facts and the most viewed Jews. They can click a “Random Jew” button to discover celebrities they never knew were in the club.

Indeed, in the United States, where the First Amendment reigns, it doesn't look like this app is going anywhere.

The whole business, while slightly odd and “somewhat distasteful” to him, just isn’t something the Anti-Defamation League will complain about, said Ken Jacobson, the agency’s deputy national director.

“Maybe it reflects my age,” Jacobson, who’s been with the ADL for 40 years, said with a laugh. Reality TV, the obsession with online social networking – it’s just a different world.

“Everyone is sharing their whole lives with everyone else,” he said. “That’s not the way things used to be.”

CNN’s Alanne Orjoux contributed to this report.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Culture wars • Faith Now • France • Judaism • Technology

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  4. venu

    We need similar app "Muslim or Not Muslim". This app will be certainly a great help to FBI to nab terrorists.

    September 22, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  5. Jim

    I have this APP and its not all that. I bought to check out the controversy and just don't get it. So I know Bernie Madoff is Jewish... Lke I didn't already know that... or the Cohen is a popular Jewish Surname..... Hello???!!! Relax people... Its a fun simple app that you'll look at once ina while and thats all.

    September 21, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  6. funnyman

    Obama is Jewish,so is Hillary Clinton ,whoops! ...must be my laptop battery .

    September 21, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  7. Hannah

    I'm Jewish, and I want this app! Ugh, I'm annoyed they took it off. Oh, well. There's always Wikipedia. Still. Sigh...

    September 20, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • marie williams

      you can still get it, as of right now, in the states. This guy from France is a numb-skull. I get the separation between religion and "the state" but since when is Apple "the state?"

      September 20, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
  8. Peter

    I thought that the rule was actually pretty simple, if you have a Jewish mother, you are Jewish too?

    September 20, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • Me

      Only if you can trace it back 3 generations of Jewish Mothers.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  9. Murray Rosen

    A Jew is someone that says he is Jewish

    September 20, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  10. Murray Rosen

    The question of who is a Jew has long persists. A Jew is someone that says he is Jewish.

    September 20, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  11. EzDre

    Okay I am Jewish and see no problem with this app. The name is actually kind of catchy. Everyone needs to stop being so darn sensitive!

    September 20, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • marie williams

      the ONLY people I have ever known to play this game in real life are Jews. And they love the game – could play it for hours on end

      September 20, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  12. Thomas

    Gay or not gay? Come on. Christian or not Christian. Rich or not rich. Get real.

    September 20, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.