What Was So Funny about Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob (1973)

A Comedic Film between History and Memory

in French Politics, Culture & Society
Michael Mulvey St. Thomas University mmulvey@stu.edu

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This article reappraises Gérard Oury’s Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob (1973), a comedy about a bigoted Frenchman and an Arab revolutionary disguised as orthodox rabbis, by considering the film’s original historical context, its attention to traumatic memories, and its place inside French culture as a cinematic lieu de mémoire. Rabbi Jacob represented a comedic medium through which Oury addressed the serious themes of racism and antisemitism as he envisioned multicultural reconciliation between the French, Arabs, and Jews. Rabbi Jacob was inseparable from the history of Jews in France, their deportation during the Second World War, and the postwar acceptance that being Jewish was compatible with integration into France. At the same time, Rabbi Jacob portrayed Arabs as a series of (post)colonial stereotypes leading one pro-Palestinian supporter to hijack an airplane in protest. Rabbi Jacob records an optimistic moment at the close of the trente glorieuses and continues to serve as a source for narratives on philo-Semitism, tolerance, and anti-racism in France.

Contributor Notes

Michael Mulvey is an Assistant Professor of History at St. Thomas University (Miami) where he teaches courses on France, the francophone Caribbean, and Atlantic Africa. Mulvey’s recent publications include “The Problem that Had a Name: French High-Rise Developments and the Fantasy of a Suburban Homemaker Pathology, 1954–73” in Gender & History and “Jules Vallès and Séverine: French Political Culture and a Late-Nineteenth Century Subversive Cross-Sex Friendship,” in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques. Mulvey’s book manuscript titled Moral Cities: Catholics, Community, and Urban Development in Post-war France studies how social Catholics attributed housing moral power in France and its colonies.

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