Plagiarism by chief rabbi shocks France

By Shirli Sitbon, April 11, 2013
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Under pressure to go: Bernheim (Photo: AP)

Under pressure to go: Bernheim (Photo: AP)

France’s chief rabbi has stunned the Jewish community after admitting to plagiarism in his latest book, Forty Jewish Meditations, and to deception about his academic credentials.

Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, who initially denied plagiarism, defended himself last week saying that his ghostwriter had fooled him and copied other writers. Bloggers were arguing that the Chief Rabbi had lifted passages from books by Jean-François Lyotard, Elie Wiesel and Jean-Marie Domenach.

Referring to his ghostwriter, the Chief Rabbi wrote in an statement: “It’s the only time I have had such an arrangement.”

But, instead of dying down, the controversy grew even bigger. Bloggers began to claim that Rabbi Bernheim had copied another philosopher in a previous book in 2002.

He said he failed to take his final exam because he had an injury

Then, weekly magazine L’Express published an article saying that the rabbi had also lied about getting the prestigious French philosophy degree, l’agrégation. Journalists examined graduate lists from 1968 to 1986 and found no trace of Rabbi Bernheim’s name.

This week, in a radio interview, the rabbi admitted that he did not obtain the degree. He said he had suffered an injury just before he was supposed to take the exam. He refused to resign, however.

L’Express argued that the Chief Rabbi should step down. “Are forgery and plagiarism compatible with a highly moral position such as Chief Rabbi? This sensitive question can only be answered by Gilles Bernheim,” the magazine wrote.

Last updated: 9:45pm, April 11 2013