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.