French Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim 370.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
PARIS – What exactly happened at midday on Thursday in the great Synagogue of
Paris, at La Victoire Street, seat of both the Consistoire Central Israelite de
France – the organization that administers Jewish worship in France – and of the
national Chief Rabbinate? Anyone following the story knows that, engulfed by a
plagiarism scandal, Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim was forced to resign, and they
also know that he announced his decision during an emergency meeting of the
Bernheim served as the chief rabbi of France for five years,
but was brought down after the revelation in recent weeks that he plagiarized in
two of his books and an essay on gay marriage.
Michel Guggenheim, the
chief rabbi of Paris, and Olivier Kaufmann, the director of France’s rabbinical
school, the Séminaire israélite de France, will assume the leadership of the
Consistoire until an election can be held.
Bernheim was also accused of
failing to correct his official biographies in which he claimed to hold a degree
in philosophy. Last Tuesday, he acknowledged making “serious
But every Jew here, and indeed every Frenchman, is asking: How
did it happen? Was a decision made, a vote taken, a demand made that forced
Bernheim to give up? One day after the dramatic resignation, French media
started to report what happened behind the scenes of the last act in the
“Bernheim affair.” It seems that he came to Thursday’s meeting having already
taken the decision to resign and with the written text of his mea culpa in his
For 20 minutes, he talked in front of the 30 leaders of the
Consistoire who convened for this extraordinary session.
He repeated the
explanation he gave on Tuesday to Radio Shalom, the same statement he released
at the beginning of the affair when he was in Jerusalem for
From Bernheim’s point of view, it was all a
Plagiarism? A student working for him had not cited the
names of the authors of texts the rabbi had used. The missing academic title? He
now admits he never passed the civil service exam. A “personal tragedy”
prevented him from going to the test. He begged forgiveness from the embarrassed
Jewish leaders and offered his resignation. No one opposed.
Then the vice
president of the Consistoire, Samuel Gozlan, went outside and announced to the
many journalists waiting for the results of the meeting that Bernheim was “on
leave,” but that for the moment, till his successor was elected, he would remain
officially the chief rabbi. The word “resigned” was never used, all those
responsible preferring the phrase “time off.”
Joël Mergui, president of
the Consistoire, told Radio France: “It is a sad day...
There was a [lot
He [Bernheim] looked for protection for himself... We,
too, looked to protect the position of the Chief Rabbinate.”
Pasquier, president of the CRIF (the Representative Council of French Jewish
Institutions), demanded “a complete and clear explanation.”
He likely put
the pressure on Bernheim that forced him to resign in the end.
of this affair in France was demonstrated on Friday by the front page headline
of the daily paper Le Parisien: “Cahuzac, Bernheim, the liars of the Republic,”
(a reference to Jerome Cahuzac, France’s disgraced former budget minister) and
an analysis of the “lies” of politicians and other public personalities inside