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. ImAJew

    I flew down from the Father, but the Holy Spirit gave me flesh in my mother's womb. Even though I am a Jew, Jesus the Christ has already overcome the whole world, therefore, my bloodline is listed in the book of Matthew. I do not have Moses in my bloodline. I do not have Adam in my bloodline. I do not have Noah in my bloodline. Jesus, the Jew from Nazareth has overcome the whole world and I have his blood, directly. I do not need to go through the Catholic Pope or priest to get to Jesus. He chooses us one from a thousand, two from ten thousand. He is available directly. No need for priests now. The Holy of Holies has been torn open. There is no rabbi or priest or pastor that has access to the Holy Spirit through some miraculous curtain anymore. God is with us now. Immanuel. The concept of a priest is that he can administer something to you that you don't have access to. That is the opposite of immanuel. (God is with us.). I'm a Jew now. get it?

    September 16, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  2. Socrates

    Personally I think it is fine for the average person to be religious, however, I have big problems to even consider that intelligent and intellectuals can be religious, I don't care what kind of dogma they follow. It just doesn't make any sense to believe in something that nobody have seen, nobody have talked to it, etc...etc...Religion make me go the toilette. It is so idiotic. Unless some people use religion to get something such as to get a job in Hollywood. Become a Jewish? Then it makes sense.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Nietzsche

      Do you have to work at being close minded, intolerant, judgemental and unable to grasp non-tangible concepts, or does it just come naturally to you?

      September 16, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • mmkk007

      @Nietzsche: Can you tolerate people who don't believe in religion?

      September 16, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • arthurrrr

      WHAT???? Hundreds of MILLIONS of people have SEEN AND TALKED to God!!!

      September 16, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • NOo..oON

      We are talking about reality here, not what goes on in someone's imagination.

      September 16, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Melody

      You know, I'm atheist, but when people say things like this it makes us all look bad. Believing in something you don't see doesn't make you unintelligent. Explorer's thought the world was flat, because they thought they could see the edge of the world. Obviously, it turned out that the world is round but when Aristarchus said that, everyone laughed and thought you would see if the Earth was round by the curve on the ground. There is logic to not believing in invisible people, but not seeing something isn't proof of it's nonexistence either. Plus, name calling is just plain rude.

      September 16, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  3. ff

    funny that an app that points out successful jews, designed by a jew, is somehow now made to appear anti-semetic. WAKE UP AMERICA you are being played. Would anyone whine about this? compare this to the true tragedies on the globe (many of which occuring in Israel). Ive read this story on 3 different major news websites already. Give it a break. NOTHING HAPPENED! nobody died, and yes, some people who are jewish were identified as... JEWISH!. what a conspiracy to keep down the Jew! thank you for enlightening all of us. We will be careful not to ask if a person is Jewish next time. In return, how about Jews identify themselves as Americans and not Israelis and start promoting peace instead of more settllements and violence. (quick fact, you can check for yourself: Israeli settlements have not ceased for one single day in the last 14 year. Not a single day did they stop! no think about how ridiculous this story is in the larger context)

    September 16, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Normon

      "WAKE UP AMERICA you are being played. "

      Excellent point! If this article weren't about France.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • jon

      The only thing going on in Israel that the world should be concerned about is the ongoing terrorist activities from just outside its borders. In America, owning a home is a dream fulfilled, so what's wrong with a settlement? On the other hand, go talk to your average American what they think of terrorism, and what religion is primarily associated with it.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Normon

      Another excellent point. Although the analogy would work even better if the US annexed British Columbia and Americans just started building "settlements" there.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Fernt

      Story is from France. chill.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Kfun

      They won a war outright to gain that land, the should have the right to build on it. Or should we give back the East Coast so the Brits can establish some settlements.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • RKW

      Norman, If Canada invaded the US with the intent to destroy it's people and kick them out, and we fought back, kicked them off or land and pushed them back into their own territory. Your damn right that the territory "British Columbia" we took when we pushed back is ours for the taking. They would be lucky that we didn't take all of Canada from them. But instead we would give most of it back except for some buffer even though "Canada" was still intent in trying to destroy us. Get the picture???

      September 16, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Normon

      Hey it's a mess over there, so I could easily be mistaken, but wasn't the PA given jurisdiction over their own land in '93? If so, shouldn't they be able to say who builds and who doesn't?

      September 16, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Normon

      And then there's items like the following:
      "The United Nations and the European Union have also called the settlements 'illegal under international law.'"
      But that's from Wiki, so it could be wrong, too. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli-Palestinian_conflict)

      September 16, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Melody

      Wake up FF, the article is about France.

      September 16, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Mycology

      what are you talking about? the "settlements" (also known as Jews returning to live in the lands they live in prior to 1948 when they were ETHNICALLY CLEANSED by Jordan) stopped for a full 10 months by Netanyahu just to try and get Abbas to the negotiating table.

      Of course, they did not come to the table,

      but they did in the final month of that freeze ask for another freeze, without any offer to return to the negotiating table.

      September 16, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  4. RKW

    Good for France actually. I wish the US would do this. That way we wouldn't elect officials solely based on their religion and elect them based on actual policies.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  5. Joe Fattal

    Lets not get religion in it. It has nothing to do with religion. Many people in different industry change their religion to Jewish to be accepted in that group, that field or wherever its convenient for them. If someone wants to join Al-Qaeda he has to convert to Islam, and if someone wants to join a Jewish movie company he'll have a better chance at it if he was Jewish. That's the way it is. And religon has nothing to do with it. A good example is Sammy Davis Jr. Years ago he was between Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Don Rickels, Jews, so he change his religion to Jewish, he couldn't have made it otherwise, he couldn't sing, act or even walk straight. Woopie Goldberg, she married a Jew, I want to meet that man, the woman is just ugly, and her hair due is terrible, look like a dry mop, but she is in the news now, and host a show"The view". Sometimes religion have its advantage without making it a holy affair with God.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  6. RudeandNasty

    Culturally, a great many of you are a-h*les and I don't gives a rat's a*s about your religious beliefs. It's the culture, stupid!

    September 16, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • TODAY

      you are the one of chosen people

      September 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  7. TODAY

    Why is this important to know?...Unless you are going to marry Bob Dylan...LOL

    September 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  8. Andulamb

    The more I think about the supposed French law that got this app pulled, the dumber it seems. You can't tell me that the French can't go online and read biographical information about celebrities. All this app does is dish out trivia about famous people. If that's illegal in France, that's pretty ridiculous.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  9. Chad

    I'm irish, and I don't think I've ever been curious to know if someone is Irish or not. Sometimes I google if someone is Jewish, but it's usually because I think that person is an ass, and am looking for some backup to prove it

    September 16, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Eric in Italy

      Good for you, Chad.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Mike

      Whereas your status as an ass is obvious, thus negating the need to inquire further. Good job on sharing your hate and internal sickness !

      September 16, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • NOo..oON

      Go have another drink, you bloody Mick.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • AlbanyMike

      So to you, being Jewish = being an ass? The next time I want to know if someone is a narrow minded, ignorant hate monger, I'll also check to see if they are Irish.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Stuart

      Chad? Eric in Italy? Scr*w both of you! Bigoted ignoramuses!

      September 16, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Fernt

      well said, mike.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Chad

      Stuart, I think Eric in Italy was being sarcastic. I alone will bear the blame for this ignorance.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  10. Peter

    Why do some people refer to Jewish as religious instead of ethinc? If you were a Catholic would you go around saying you're Italian? Or how about, "What nationality are you?" "I'm of the Roman religion". Talk about self loathing.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Mike

      Your confusion is because you fail to understand that being Jewish is not simply an ethnic group and not simply a religion. As regards ethnicity, you have middle eastern Jews, Ethiopian Jews, Ashkenazi (white European) Jews, Argentinian Jews, as well as converts who ethnically might have been any ethnicity or background. However, it is also not simply a religion, as the definition of a Jew also includes those born to a Jewish mother. This would include people who have no religious belief. And such Jews have been identified and persecuted all over Europe, the Middle East and Russia, as well as by the Nazis, regardless of their belief. Therefore, the definition of being Jewish is neither simply ethnic or religious. Your comment about self-loathing merely betrays your ignorance and desire to denigrate. This ignorance and negativity will affect you more than any Jew you slander. Work on that.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  11. android

    need an android version now

    September 16, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • NOo..oON

      Golem anyone?

      September 16, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  12. Paqrat137

    I think the app was fun and did not deserve to be pulled but I can also see a reason in the world of 2011. In the past, when I was growing up, the threats, the rhetoric, terrorism, rampant anti-Antisemitism disguised as anti-Israel sentiment were not as blatant, not as scary. Now with what is going on, this could become a hit list...this is a sad world we live in.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  13. duh

    You don't need an app, just wait for another version of Adam Sandler's song to come out.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Kristin


      September 16, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  14. Dean

    Kenyan or not Kenyan?

    September 16, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  15. Jeff

    People are so touchy feely these days. I'm Jewish, and I love the concept! I've always loved learning that a celebrity is actually Jewish.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Harry

      What would you think about a "Muslim or not Muslim" app?

      September 16, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Pat

      People have a right to be "touchy feely" because as history & current environment shows, any person who identifies with any religion, political belief, gender, race, ethnicity, orientation, etc. has or continues to be persecuted or prejudiced against in some form or another for their beliefs/opinions/perspectives/skin color/age/race/nationality/etc. So yes, it's understandable that people have heightened sensitivities over these things. It's just a shame that you have NO sensitivity and can only see the issue through your own eyes.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  16. Hoofleau

    Why would you care? Religion is a personal thing that has gotten out of hand. It is an opiate that seems to really stimulate people now days. People, you are wasting precious time on religion. Get back to work or you're fired!!

    September 16, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  17. DoubleTap

    how insensitive, we have to continue to be persecuted?

    September 16, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  18. Stevo


    September 16, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  19. Leopold

    I'm a jew and I don't have a problem with this app. I'm sometimes curious of so and so is jewish. This information is already all over the internet. This app just makes it more reachable. What most jews don't realize is that the majority of people around them are anti-semites to some degree and probably already know they're jewish.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Rachel

      I am Jewish and I do have a problem with it. My vote cancels out yours.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  20. Just Sayin'

    Well, it certainly makes it easier for fanatics to find who to target now doesn't it?

    September 16, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
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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.