Jean Halpérin, a Swiss academic, leading Jewish intellectual and longtime associate of the World Jewish Congress, has died in Geneva at the age of 91. World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder called Halpérin one of the finest contemporary Jewish thinkers who during the 1980s and 90s, together with Gerhart M. Riegner, had spearheaded the WJC's groundbreaking efforts for dialogue with the Christian churches.
Born in 1921 to Russian Jewish parents in Wiesbaden, Germany, Jean Halpérin and his two brothers grew up in France, and Jean graduated in Law and Humanities, and later in Economics and Political Sciences, from Lyon University. In 1943, the family managed to flee the Nazi persecution of Jews in France and to settle in Switzerland, where Jean wrote a Ph.D. thesis on ‘The impact of insurance companies in Switzerland and the world on social and economic change’.
He later became a lecturer and then a professor at the universities of Zurich and Grenoble, France. At the same time, he worked as an official for the United Nations in Geneva, where he ran the translation service.
Working closely with the renowned French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995), Jean Halpérin was a member and later the chairman of the Preparatory Committee of the Colloques des intellectuels juifs de langue française, an annual meeting of leading French-speaking Jewish thinkers and academics hosted by the French Section of the World Jewish Congress and held until the year 2000. Halpérin succeeded Levinas as professor of Jewish Thought at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, where he taught from 1993 to 2000.