France's Grand Rabbi resigns after plagiarism scandal
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
A file picture taken on January 7, 2011 in Paris, shows the great Rabbi of France Gilles Bernheim attending France's President New Year wishes to religious representatives at the Elysee presidential palace. AFP photoFrance's Grand Rabbi - the country's leading Jewish religious figure - on Thursday resigned with immediate effect, after admitting to plagiarism in his books.
Gilles Bernheim last week acknowledged the unattributed copying and later acknowledged that a claim on his CV that he was awarded a prestigious philosophy academic status was not true.
In the wake of the scandal, dozens of members of the Central Israeli Consistory of France met in Paris Thursday to discuss the issue in an emergency session, which Bernheim also attended.
"He recognised his faults, apologised and gave explanations," Sammy Ghozlan, vice president of the consistory, told AFP, adding Bernheim had decided to give up his duties as Grand Rabbi.
The 60-year-old had come under increasing pressure as the scandal grew, and his spokesman resigned Wednesday without giving a reason. But Bernheim himself had initially ruled out stepping down.
His resignation Thursday is "a solution that brings more serenity. We all agreed", Ghozlan said, adding Bernheim's post would be taken over in the interim by someone to be chosen soon by the consistory's president.
A more permanent replacement will then be appointed.
"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, president of a Paris synagogue.
According to Ghozlan, Bernheim held a meeting with the head of the consistory before the emergency session.
His resignation emerged from "his talks with the president", he added.
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.