how the book of rabbi Delphine Horvilleur meets its time

how the book of rabbi Delphine Horvilleur meets its time

9:00 p.m., June 17, 2022

The author. Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur, ordained in 2008, is one of the voices of liberal Judaism in France. She is the editor of the journal Tenou’a, officiates at the Parisian synagogue of Beaugrenelle, writes profound essays. She intervenes in public debate, particularly on questions of anti-Semitism, identity and feminism. The liberal current is a minority in French Judaism. Delphine Horvilleur often finds herself caught between the anti-Semites and the Orthodox. She appears as a deviant figure. The rabbi remains a woman of openness and dialogue. In a fractured French society, she is the one who seeks to reconcile, bring together, mend, repair. Delphine Horvilleur is busy. His family life, his journal, his practice, his courses, his books. She has been a journalist, a doctor, and she has lived in Israel and the United States. A woman in motion.​

The book.​In Living with our dead, Delphine Horvilleur tells how she stands with the dying and the bereaved. She intertwines the story (the experience of the rabbinate), reflection (Talmudic exegesis), confession (personal memories) to compose a text that is both moving, burlesque, scholarly. It recounts, through eleven chapters, the way in which we give meaning to death through speech. The female rabbi takes on the role of storyteller to think about and heal intimate and collective wounds. The essay was published on March 2, 2021. It is received in a particular context: a third wave of Covid-19 coronavirus affected France at the start of 2021. In such an atmosphere, do readers want to immerse yourself in a book about death? Success is immediate.​

She is very melancholic behind a bright image

The editor. Delphine Horvilleur arrived at Grasset through Pascal Bruckner. She carried this book project, the preponderant role of death in Talmudic practice and the way she indulges in it, long before the onset of the pandemic in France. Olivier Nora, CEO of Grasset editions, immediately believed in it. A title was already taken by the novelist Lorette Nobécourt: In us the life of the dead. The word “consolation” in the subtitle (Little Consolation Treatise) is there to weaken the word ” dead “ in the final title (Living with our dead). The house therefore expected a success, but not in these proportions. Delphine Horvilleur embodies her books remarkably well with her clarity of expression and her joyful aura. Oliver Nora: “She is very melancholy behind a bright image. As there are upset left-handers, she is an upset melancholy. »

The sales. In eight short years at Grasset, Delphine Horvilleur has established herself as a major author. In Eve’s outfit in 2013 (15,730 copies); How Rabbis Make Children in 2015 (9,458 copies); Reflections on the antisemitic question in 2019 (31,318 copies). Living with our dead will therefore be published in March 2021. Today, the Grasset house has more than 200,000 copies and eleven foreign sales. The essay has yet to be published in paperback. In the end, it could reach half a million copies. It was the best non-fiction sale at the Lamartine bookstore, in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, throughout 2021. The book continues to sell. Stanislas Rigot, from the bookstore: “We had the best feedback. Readers came back to buy more copies to give to their loved ones. » Every time the book started to slide downward, an unexpected bounce occurred. François Busnel’s program La Grande Librairie (France 5) played a leading role. A meeting between Delphine Horvilleur and Leïla Slimani, broadcast on April 14, 2022, revived sales. They went from 300 copies to more than 2,000 copies per week. Living with our dead is still one of Grasset’s best sellers.​

Read also – Rabbi Delphine Horvilleur: “I do a lot of ceremonies on Zoom”

The explanation. This is his most personal, most accessible, most open text. The weapon was double-edged, after several confinements, but Living with our dead encountered the anxieties of the time. People wanted to move on and also think about this other thing. Delphine Horvilleur tells how we accompany our dead, when we were unable to do so. She finds a non-morbid form, with bursts of light and humor, to show disappearance and separation. She explains how the story of the life of the dead allows us to exorcise our ancestral fears in the face of the unknown. A cathartic element exists in the way we accompany our deceased with words. Oliver Nora: “Living with our dead is a palimpsest at the crossroads of religious practice, personal experience, Talmudic exegesis. The author touched on universality in the experience of mourning and death, but also in a secularized Judaism to which all those who have lost someone have access. Everyone now wants to die to be buried by her. Delphine Horvilleur is extremely busy. You have to wait to die until it becomes available. »​

The critics. From the beginning, the critics have been the same: isn’t Delphine Horvilleur too publicized? The cover of She (2020) shocked. We heard : “She is out of place. » Olivier Nora is aware of the crest line on which she stands: “How far can a religious practice enter the century, and, entering the century, enter the media? His risk is there. It is not active vis-à-vis the media, but reactive in relation to requests. The filter is important. But when she accompanies children at the end of life, she is not under the eye of the cameras. » Myriam Salama, her press officer at Grasset, still faces several requests each week: “Delphine Horvilleur wants to show another figure of Judaism. There is a part of combat in its will to carry an enlightened speech in the media. His words did not change with the success. From the reading grid that is hers, she tries to answer the questions of the time. »​

Delphine Horvilleur wants to show another figure of Judaism

The future. The producers came forward and the bidding went up. Lionel Uzan, from Production Entertainment, convinced. Living with our dead will be freely adapted into a television series by two very prominent screenwriters and directors: Noé Debré and Benjamin Charbit. The series is currently called The Rabbi and is more broadly interested in the life of a female rabbi. Delphine Horvilleur will only have the role of consultant on the series, in order to ensure rigor in the representation of rabbinic practice. The author was also approached by the French Academy. She could enter it not as a female rabbi, but as an intellectual. She will publish a monologue for the theater in mid-September, There is no Ajar, where she stands against identity house arrest based on the figure of Romain Gary. The play will be performed at Les Plateaux Sauvages in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. Olivier Nora would like it to return to open Talmudic exegesis.

The reactions. Over two thousand letters received. Delphine Horvilleur continues to open between ten to fifteen letters a week about Living with our dead. She tries to answer them all: “The book sparked family conversations, brought back ghosts. Readers speak of unresolved bereavements. » People write to her to find out if she would be willing to officiate at their funerals. They turn to a female rabbi, even though they are sometimes not part of any Judaic tradition. “The sum of the reactions made me aware of the lack of space and speech on mourning in our societies. The success of Living with Our Dead is the reflection of a kind of emptiness, of the vacancy of the places of speech. To talk about bereavement and death, people sometimes engage in therapy. Religious discourse is often seen as disconnected from real-life narratives. People are looking for meaning: to be attached to something greater than oneself, to something transcendent. The reception of the book has to do with a flaw in the language of mourning in our societies. » Many people have acknowledged their grief in the story of someone else’s.

Some also thanked Delphine Horvilleur for giving Judaism another image than that of a severe religion, between oneself, difficult to access. The doors of Jewish knowledge suddenly opened for them. The narrative largely transcended the question of a single religion. It echoed personal and also collective bereavements, such as those of Elsa Cayat or Simone Veil. Everyone could be sent back to their own questions about secularism or feminism. The readers’ reactions were overwhelming, complicated and moving for Delphine Horvilleur. From time to time, a phenomenon of transfer is established between readers and author. This one had to face excessive expectations. They stop her like this in the street, in the hope that she can intercede with the afterlife. As if she could make the link, there too, between different worlds. Living with our dead met the era well, in its ups and downs.

Living with our dead – a little treatise on consolationDelphine Horvilleur, Grasset, 222 pages, 19.50 euros.

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