7 May 2018

Conference of European Rabbis visits Tunisia, feels ‘more optimism today! Clad in traditional rabbinical dress, the rabbis travelled to Tunisia from Germany, France, Luxembourg and Russia.

Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the President of CER, led a delegation of senior Rabbis to discuss interfaith in the Tunisian island of Djerba, following an invitation from the Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi and the Tourism Minister Salma Elloumi.

During the five-day visit, the delegation participated in an interfaith conference, discussing recent European attacks on religious practice such as Iceland’s circumcision ban, and met with the Mufti of Tunisia, Usman Battykh as well as other Muslim leaders and senior Government officials. The rabbis also visited Jewish sites of interest in both Djerba and Tunisia, including synagogues and cemeteries.

Commenting on the importance of interfaith dialogue, Chief Rabbi Goldschmidt said: “the internet destroys the walls between countries, religions, different layers of society. Much more needs to them be done to establish other channels of communication and bring together religious leaders internationally. We need to establish a dialogue between Muslims and Jews. And our visit to Tunisia is proof that the Muslim community is also prioritising this.”

Rabbi Goldschmidt noted the Tunisian Government’s efforts to combat extremism and observed that: “terrorism is a danger that unfortunately exists today, regardless of the country of residence, whether Tunisia or Europe. But the government of Tunisia develops tolerance in their community, like the Tunisian imams, who are very much in demand in the Benelux countries because of their moderate views.”

The conference ended with Rabbi Goldschmidt extending his thanks and appreciation, on behalf of the Conference, for the Tunisian Government’s gracious invitation “It is truly a unique occasion when a Jewish delegation is invited to an Arab country thanks to the initiative of the authorities of said country. Djerba has one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world. Today, there are approximately 1,400 people in the Jewish community of Tunisia, and of this number, 1,200 reside on the island of Djerba. Although the numbers were once around 100,000, the remaining community is still developing and the Djerba community has a synagogue, a Jewish school, and a Jewish school for girls. Thanks to this visit, we have the opportunity to thank the Government of Tunisia for their support to the Tunisian community.”

The visit was especially poignant at this time of year when it is customary for Jews to travel to the El Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, in remembrance of the great Jewish sages, Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.