French chief rabbi resigns over plagiarism affair

After admitting to plagiarism and deception in his academic credentials Rabbi Bernheim decides do step down.

French chief rabbi Gilles Bernheim 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier)
French chief rabbi Gilles Bernheim 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier)
French Chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim handed in his resignation on Thursday after he admitted that he had committed plagiarism and claimed unearned academic titles, French newspaper Le Figaro reported.
The board met in Paris to hear his decision, and lauded his decision as "courageous."
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.
This week, 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.
Concerning the 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.Le 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 Consistoire.
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.
But 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.”
Bernheim said last week that his 2011 book, Quarante méditations juives, contained one passage that his ghostwriter plagiarized without his knowledge.
Since 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.