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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 • France • Judaism • Technology

soundoff (312 Responses)
  1. mattifolks

    If xtians were doing good things instead of trying to deny science and education, deny their fellow humans their basic rights to marry wom they want, and to molest little children and cover it up, then maybe good things would be said about them on this site.

    Just a thought...

    September 20, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Just behave

      You need to grow up, stop generalizing, and recognize the need for tolerance to all groups.

      September 20, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  2. steve

    Didn't Adam Sandler do this as a skit on SNL?

    September 20, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  3. Susan

    It's one thing to play "Jewish geography" with friends/relatives or get a laugh out of the Hanukah song, it's another to provide an easy way for Anti-Semitic people or Neo-Nazis to identify high visibility targets. More than one famous person has been killed by a crazy person because of their ethnicity/religion etc.

    September 20, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • hZ

      Oh, please. Do you really think neo-Nazi hater types need a phone app to find targets?

      September 20, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • Blake

      Oh no! Protect Jon Stewart! He's our most important Jew!

      September 20, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • John

      So its okay for Adam Sandler to point out jews on national TV in front of millions of people, but its not okay to have an app that someone has to go looking for, download and use?

      September 20, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  4. a slozomby

    "“The issue of Judaism and ‘who is Jewish’ and ‘who is not’ is particularly complex. " actually its not. your born of a jewish mother or you convert. thats it.

    September 20, 2011 at 1:41 am |
    • Doug

      Unless you're part of the Reform Judiaism...which permits either parent to be Jewish and still have the children count. Such as it is with my kids...

      September 20, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  5. Scott

    wish we had as strict a policy for seperation of church and state in the US

    September 20, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • neoritter

      Well once those atheists stop trying to make people take down christmas ornaments because it offends them, maybe we can.

      September 20, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • S1N

      I'm atheist and I put up Christmas ornaments. My daughter likes the presents. I don't have any angels or crosses (or other religious symbols), but I'm all for presents. If you want to have a nativity scene on your porch, I really don't care.

      September 20, 2011 at 7:00 am |
    • petercha

      Would you take out all laws that have their roots in religion, like the ones against murders, theft, etc? The separation of church and state doesn't sound like a good idea at all to me.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Mark

      You really need a religion to know it's wrong to murder? Geez, you really do need help.

      September 20, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Bryon Morrigan

      Yeah, those Greeks, Romans, Hindus, etc., never had any conception that murder was wrong until the Ten Commandments showed up. I suppose this guy thinks that the world is 4000 years old, and dinosaur bones were put here by "Satan" to trick people. Gods...the lack of intelligence in some people is astounding...

      September 20, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • glyder

      impossible with progressives thinking government is GOD.

      September 20, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • marie williams

      So Apple is now the state? think about what you are actually saying before you say it, moron

      September 20, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  6. J

    This just reminds me of how stupid the laws in some European countries are. I mean, really, compiling details of someone's life is illegal? That's called "research". Does that mean Wikipedia pages about people are illegal?

    September 19, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • S1N

      Apparently adding to them is.

      September 20, 2011 at 7:00 am |
    • glyder

      do the same thing with muslims and the ADL will be all over it.

      September 20, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • glyder

      is that you stephen lerner?

      September 20, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  7. Mike damajio

    Ha ha ha

    September 19, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  8. Mike damajio

    Juses, Moses, Ibrahim and all prophits and messangers were all Muslims.
    Current bible, torat were missed with only the holly quran is still the God's last untouched book.

    September 19, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • abaddon

      one celled dipsh1t.

      September 20, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • petercha

      Jesus, Abraham, etc., were all muslims? That's funny, I always thought that Mohammed (the founder of the muslim religion) lived hundreds of years after them. Silly me.

      September 20, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  9. Dano

    Yawn. What a waste of two bucks.

    September 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  10. Mike

    why pay for something you can look up online for free ?

    September 19, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  11. Naceur CHEMAM

    Do you know that either Jewish and arabs are semit ???? so when we say " semit" we meen both of them because they come from SEM !!

    September 18, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
  12. Rob

    LOL.... Jewish celebrities in Hollywood? We need an APP for that like we need to be told water's wet.

    The info the APP has is already public knowledge, it's not like it's all a secret.

    September 18, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  13. scndnv

    I love how cnn doesn't jump all over this the way they did when it came to 'censoring' social media during the uk riots. Apple knows what's best for you; they're rich, after all 🙂

    September 17, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  14. JonathanL

    The thing is it doesn't matter what religion someone is, they do whatever they do anyway.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  15. smrtaz

    wasn't this a skit on Saturday Night Live?

    September 16, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  16. Annexian

    So "The Jews don't control the media, that's Hate Speech" but if you gather any data that strongly suggests it, well who cares the truth?

    September 16, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  17. skinnymulligan

    Which is hilarious because in Israel you have to PROVE you are a Jew in order to get that stamped on your passport and receive the benefits therein.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Mycology

      Not even a little bit true.

      September 16, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  18. clarke

    Why does this matter? Maybe I missed something.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  19. skinnymulligan

    I need that app here in NY...only it would be called 'Jew or Super Jew!'

    September 16, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  20. sonofgadfly

    I wish the US had separation of church and state.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:39 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.