PARIS – French Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim admitted on Tuesday that he committed
plagiarism and claimed unearned academic titles, but rejected growing calls to
“Resigning now would be an act of pride, while I must remain
as a show of humility,” Bernheim said in an interview with the Paris-based Radio
Shalom, one of the two French-Jewish stations.
Bernheim is usually
introduced as an “agrégé,” a sort of “doctor,” a prestigious academic title
obtained by civil servants in competitive tests.
In Who’s Who, in
biographies and in an official book of the Consistoire central des Juifs de
France, which administers religious services, the title agrégé of philosophy
always appears under Bernheim’s name.
Now, two weeks after French media
launched the so-called Bernheim affair, Bernheim finally admitted he did not
obtain an agrégation in philosophy, explaining that he had suffered an injury
just before he was supposed to sit for the exam, and that “personal tragedy”
prevented him from taking it.
He also admitted to “serious ethical
mistakes” but “ones that do not directly concern the tasks I was entrusted with
as chief rabbi.”
Bernheim expressed the hope that his explanations during
the interview would help “restore trust” in him.
accusations of plagiarism, he cited the work of a student who had helped him in
the writing and the editing of a book, and explained that he had used notes
without references to the authors, errors that then appeared in books.
Figaro on Tuesday reported that “there was heavy pressure” from officials in the
Jewish community for Bernheim to resign.
Another daily, Liberation, added
on Wednesday that a few hours before the interview to Radio Shalom, and after
taking part in commemorations of the Holocaust, Bernheim invited erstwhile
supporters to an “embarrassing” meeting at the Grand Synagogue of Paris,
Synagogue de la Victoire, seat of the Chief Rabbinate and of the
Sixty community leaders were present, but two principal
invited persons were missing: Richard Pasquier, the president of the CRIF
(Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France), and Joël Mergui,
president of the Consistoire.
Instead of coming to the synagogue,
Pasquier wrote on CRIF’s website that this organization is asking for “a clear
and complete explanation,” while assuring Bernheim of his friendship.
Bernard Guigui, vice president of the Marseille branch of the Consistoire, said
in an interview to JTA that while “we do not demand Bernheim resign, everybody
is talking about it. I think when you have such a huge responsibility and commit
such an error, it’s better not to embarrass and hurt the Jewish community but
step back and resign.”
Meanwhile, Le Monde reported that it obtained a
letter on Tuesday calling for Bernheim’s resignation that was signed by an
obscure entity called the “Collective Consistoire Community.”
said last week that his 2011 book, Quarante méditations juives, contained one
passage that his ghostwriter plagiarized without his knowledge.
then, he has been accused of at least three additional cases of plagiarism, in
the same book and in two earlier publications.
Jean-Noel Darde, a senior
lecturer at Paris VIII University, wrote on his blog Monday that Bernheim
plagiarized another text in his essay against gay marriage titled “Homosexual
Marriage, Gay Parenting and Adoption: What We Forgot to Say.” Then-Pope Benedict
quoted from the essay during a speech at the Vatican in December.