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. ldpresso

    Jeet yet? No. Jew?

    September 15, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • mauijew

      Jeet yet? That's Pittsburgese! (yup, grew up there)

      September 15, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • The real john

      Stammatta wit jew?!!

      September 15, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  2. DB

    Have you ever considered seeing a psychiatrist?

    September 15, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  3. A Non Jew

    lol excuse my typo's ....I was laughing while typing that post

    September 15, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
  4. MashaSobaka

    'France’s secular nature and adamant separation between state and religion is something that’s 'very difficult for American people to understand.'" Oh, France. I don't know whether to pinch your adorable little cheeks or put my boot up your butt for being so hypocritical.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  5. Stopit

    The word "goy" is pejorative. So is shiksa. Anti-gentilism.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • DB

      Oh grow up.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • Steve

      The word goy comes from a town in Russia back in the 16th or 17th century and for whatever reason there were very simply no Jews living there, so if you came from goy then you were not Jewish, so the word became synonymous with not being Jewish and shiksa which is also a Yiddish word simply means a non- Jewish female, but bigotry is where you find it.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • jacob

      The Hebrew word goy is found in the original language of the Bible...it most certainly has nothing whatsoever to do with a Russian town. "Goy" just means "nation" in Hebrew. So if someone was not from around here or a part of your tribe or community, he is from "among the nations" Of course, when "the nations" are conducting pogroms against you, herding you into the Pale of Settlement, or denying you citizenship or basic civil rights, the term might develop a tinge of a negative connotation 🙂

      September 15, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  6. hello!!!!!

    What's with all this rabbit stuff? anyway, I'm jewish and so is everybody that falls under the .2 % population. and since there are so many jews (gasp) i think it just isn't right to discuss religion on cnn.

    imagine a rabitt wearing a vampire costume
    if you don't laugh, you are sick.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • *frank*

      Jennifer Connelly used a double dong in Requiem for a Dream; there's a sex toy called a Rabbit; there was an evil rabbit in Donnie Darko; the evil rabbit and Jennifer Connelly are both Jews. I think that's how it all ties in.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Awkward Situations

      That was terrific.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • Bugs Bunny

      Wow, that was the greatest sx i've ever had, doc! Tanks!

      September 16, 2011 at 12:46 am |
  7. AR

    The only things stupider than France yanking this app are the comments on this article about how the Jews control the media and that's why the media focuses on Jews... I never thought anti-semites were smart, but my god do you guys set the bar low...

    September 15, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • Rezza

      Hi Matthias All your images have a gouorges feel to them Your skies are always so dynamic I always get overexposed skies when I take such a shot. Cheers,Sumit

      September 7, 2012 at 6:10 am |
  8. Steve the Goat

    I like rabbits.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Reeder

      To eat or what? Elaborate please.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  9. dan

    btw, she is,Jennifer connelly,in the picture, yeah, she's Jewish. Eat your hearts out, goys.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  10. Atheist

    How about an app called, Neurotic Jewish Mother....Every Jew has one.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Reeder

      That's not an app. That's your mother!

      September 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • Stevelb1

      Story of my life.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  11. Terry Moore

    Religion IS private...Or should be...At least the French have the good sense to stick to their laws... Unlike some other country who claims that it separates Church and State and then turns around and claims protection from the 1st Amendment..Which gives us the privilege of listening to bigots on a constant basis...Talk about hypocrisy.....The USA must be the world leader in that category.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  12. Jenn

    Can CNN ever stop writing articles about Jewish for God's sake?! Jews are only 0.2% of the world's population; yet 95% of the media is about them.... and the funny part is that you never find something bad about the Jewish people written at all.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • youreright

      Agreed. I'm getting sick of it too.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Carole

      Have either of you bigots ever heard of Bernie Madoff? He may have gotten a bit of bad press.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • Reeder

      If you can prove Madoff did what he did because of his reliigon, you can bet they'd put it in here. Duh.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • Silent Protagonist

      maybe nothing bad is written about Jews because the Jews don't do any bad things. and If you didn't know, that ".2%" of the population has (I can't remember the exact number) the most nobel prize winners and scientific discoveries BY FAR. Jews are mentioned positively in the news a lot because they have contributed more to society than many other ethnic/ religious groups combined! It's people like you who think that "all Muslims are terrorists and hate America..." and people like you are the reason that most of the world hates America.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • Oscar

      This is a wonderful shot! The corols are very nice, and laid out perfectly with the shapes within the image. I love the action on the flag, as well as the shadow that it casts on the ground creating more depth in the image. This is very well done. Also, as Riika points out, it was very nice to know how you did it. Great shot.Cheers

      September 7, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Ngantuk

      Hey Matze. Wahnsinn, das fcbertrifft jede Vorstellung von dem, was ich erwartet hab, elrcihh. Old Habit hat genau das, wovon wir schon einmal gesprochen haben : Es macht das Gesehene zu einem Erlebnis.

      September 9, 2012 at 1:36 am |
  13. Silvia L

    I'm and sick and tired reading CNN articles now. It's always about Jewish-related stuff, or articles being anti-Christian & anti-Muslim (Such as 'Why America is not a Christian Nation', 'Why Muslims are mad at the U.S.' etc. CNN is owned by Jewish, so all their articles will always be about Jewish, how great they are etc. Say something good about Christians too!!!

    September 15, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • Reeder

      You'd have to look at the main CNN site to see what you seek. In this blog, only this stuff is featured.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • DB

      CNN is owned by Time/Warner, you lunatic.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • jacob

      Um, this is the faith blog. Of course the articles are all about religion!

      September 15, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • jacob

      By the way, not one of the major television news operations—Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, CBS News, or NBC News—is currently headed by a Jewish executive.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Snookums

      They're so clever, those Joos! They use figureheads and scapegoatse to hide the fact they are in control!!!
      That's what I'd do if I wuz in charge of everything.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  14. Keksi

    I am working on game called Angry Jews.
    I hope Apple approves it.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  15. angryirish

    1-800-OOPS JEW

    September 15, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  16. pimpson

    Not Jew

    September 15, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  17. ibrad

    Good! The sooner we can get rid of ALL religions the better. Maybe we can stop fighting who is this,I am chosen because... The work on more important issues. You know crazy stuff like water/food for all people,medicine/education for all. A better quality of life for all children around the world. Then.....What`s in space?

    September 15, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Carole

      Amen! Good for you!!!

      September 15, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
  18. Just a second...

    Mel Gibson's gonna flip without that app...

    September 15, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  19. Wzrd1

    Well, we'll know that the French Wikipedia entry for Famous Jews, Famous Roma, Famous Roman Catholics, etc will remain blank. No religion or ethnicity shall be permitted to be famous in France, save for famous French people.
    While, I DO understand the intent, their enforcement is stifling.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  20. *frank*


    September 15, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • Awkward Situations

      Are you a demon rabbit by any chance?

      September 15, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • *frank*

      Ha. Only if you're into that sort of thing. 🙂

      September 15, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • *frank*

      what was that movie called again?

      September 15, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • Lukee

      "Donny Darko"

      September 15, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • Awkward Situations

      Donnie Darko!

      And yea I'm sort of into the psychotic demon rabbit suit wearing thing. It's an acquired taste.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • wat


      September 15, 2011 at 9:22 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.