, PARIS, Apr 11 – France’s Grand Rabbi – the country’s leading Jewish religious figure – resigned on Thursday after admitting to plagiarism and to lying about his academic record on his CV.
Gilles Bernheim had been under pressure to step down after admitting to the unattributed copying and acknowledging that a claim on his CV that he was awarded a prestigious philosophy academic status was not true.
The resignation came as dozens of members of the Central Israeli Consistory, the top Jewish religious authority in France, met in Paris to discuss the growing scandal in an emergency session.
Bernheim had initially refused to resign, but agreed to step down after a meeting with the head of the Consistory, Joel Mergui, who hailed the move as “a courageous decision”.
Bernheim’s office said in a statement that he had offered “his apologies to the Jewish community of France, to the rabbinical corps, to his family and to his loved ones for the suffering they may have endured” because of his actions.
The statement said Bernheim hoped the scandal would not “overshadow all the actions he carried out as part of his various rabbinical functions.”
The 60-year-old had come under increasing pressure as the scandal grew and threatened the credibility of the Consistory, the official body representing the 550,000-strong French Jewish community, the second-largest in Europe.
Mergui admitted that the organisation has been facing “a serious crisis”.
“I hope that the decisions that we have taken will allow us to preserve the future” of the organisation, he said.
An interim Grand Rabbi, Michel Gugenheim, was named, and the Consistory will meet later to set the date for a fresh election, Mergui said.
“It’s the right decision. Everyone agreed with this solution, it firstly protects him, and then it protects the position and the Consistory,” said Jacques-Hubert Gahnassia, the head of a Paris synagogue.
Bernheim, who was elected France’s Grand Rabbi in 2008 for a seven-year term, was found to have plagiarised from several authors, including late French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard.
He also admitted that he had never received the prestigious but extremely difficult-to-obtain philosophy academic status from Sorbonne University that was on his public CV.
Nicknamed the “philosophical rabbi”, Bernheim’s projected image of an intellectual man with strong moral principles earned him praise and respect in the Jewish community.
He was considered relatively open, particularly towards other religions, earning him another nickname – “rabbi of the Catholics.”
Pope Benedict XVI even quoted from one of his essays as part of an argument against gay marriage last December.
Bernheim, who is married and has four children, was awarded France’s Legion of Honour – the country’s highest decoration – in 2010 by then-president Nicolas Sarkozy.