Rabbi Moshe Sebbag is no stranger to the world of politics. As chief rabbi of France's historic and prestigious Grande Synagogue de Paris, the Israeli-born cleric is invited regularly to political functions, including events with senior ministers. But for all this, Sebbag appeared shaken at the furor that followed his embrace of the bans on burkinis by 15 French municipalities. (A French court subsequently reversed the ban.)
In his August 23 interview with JTA, Sebbag, acknowledged, "It's a complicated subject and both sides have compelling arguments." But amid a pervasive atmosphere of fear in France following a string recent terrorist attacks, he said the municipalities' mayors "understood this is not about women's liberty to dress modestly but a statement as to who will rule here tomorrow." Asked if he agreed with the bans, Sebbag said: "Yes, because you see that going with it [a burkini] is not innocent, it's sending a message."
In an exclusive interview with the Forward on September 1, Sebbag sought to roll back that message.