Chief Rabbi of France Resigns after Admitting to Plagiarism, Falsifications

Former Chief Rabbi of France Gilles Bernheim. Photo: Olevy for Wikimedia Commons

Former Chief Rabbi of France Gilles Bernheim. Photo: Olevy for Wikimedia Commons

On Tuesday, April 9, the former Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, publicly confessed to multiple instances of plagiarism and deceit over credentials. The sixty-year-old rabbi had been a strong moral voice in the French Jewish community and wrote several works on religious and societal issues. He has resigned his post as Chief Rabbi, and his downfall has astonished the Jewish community.

Despite his recent admission, Berheim hopes that his past work in Jewish communities will not be overshadowed. Since the information has gone public, many in the Jewish community have given opinions, mostly anonymously. They are split between contempt and defense of the Chief Rabbi. One person who has unconditionally and publically supported the rabbi is Yves Kamami, a member of the executive bureau of the Israeli Consistory in Paris, who considers the attacks on Bernheim to be “sudden and excessive.”

In the interview on Tuesday during which he first admitted to plagiarizing in some of his publications, the rabbi promised that he would not step down from his post, claiming that, to him, it would be the equivalent of deserting his religion. However, on Thursday, April 11 the Chief Rabbi’s resignation was announced by the vice president of the Israeli Consistory, Elie Korchia.

The Israeli Consistory, established by Napoleon in 1808 to administer Jewish worship in France, called an emergency meeting in Paris on Thursday to arbitrate Bernheim’s case. Pending the election of a new Chief Rabbi, the Consistory will be run in the interim by the Chief Rabbi of Paris, Michel Guggenheim, and by the director of the Rabbinical School, Rabbi Olivier Kaufmann.

The extent to which Bernheim plagiarized has come as a great surprise to observers. He admitted to many instances in a multitude of his own printed works, many of which proved egregious. The publications include Quarante méditations juives (Forty Jewish Meditations), Le souci des autres au fondement de la loi juive (Concern for Others in the Foundation of Jewish Law), and in an essay against gay marriage, Mariage homosexual, homoparentalité, et adoption: ce que l’on oublie souvent de dire (Gay Marriage, Gay Parenting, and Adoption: what we frequently forget to mention). In one of his publications, he blatantly copied an interview with Beatrice Bourges word for word. Bourges is the president of a Collective for Children, which is essentially a child protective services institution. A hard-line Catholic, she had spoken out against gay marriage and adoption of children by couples of the same sex.

His background as a philosophy specialist, claimed in several biographical sources, was revealed to be a falsification, and he admitted to lying about obtaining a degree in philosophy from the Sorbonne. Bernheim claims no responsibility for what is printed in the biographical sources, stating that they were all written by other authors. He recognizes that there are “errors conveyed that end up becoming truths,” which “profoundly saddens” him.

The Chief Rabbi defended himself in an interview on Tuesday, on Radio Shalom. He discussed how one difficult event in life can cause a person to “crack,” be it in personal life or as a result of external events, and this can alter a person’s trajectory in life dramatically. Without specifying, he claimed that there was such a moment in his life. “This has happened: a tragic event, and then one enters denial,” he continued, saying that one must simply find a way to bandage that wound in a way that will allow one to continue living. Bernheim’s wish now is to find a way to move on from this scandal and continue to live as a role model for the Jews in France.

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