French chief rabbi vows to stay on amid growing call for resignation

(JTA) — Amid calls for his resignation over revelations that he committed plagiarism and used unearned academic titles, France’s chief rabbi, Gilles Bernheim, said he made "serious mistakes."

"Resigning now would be an act of pride," Bernheim said Tuesday in an interview with the Paris-based Radio Shalom. "I must remain as a show of humility.”

Bernheim acknowledged he did not obtain the “agregation” — a title obtained by civil servants in competitive tests — in philosophy. He said he had suffered an injury just before he was supposed to take the exam. Several of his biographies said he passed the agregation, the French media reported.

He also admitted “serious 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.

The French daily Le Figaro on Tuesday reported that "there was heavy pressure" on the part of unnamed officials from the Jewish community for Bernheim to resign.

Bernard Guigui, vice president of the Marseille branch of the Consistoire, which is responsible for religious Jewish services, told JTA Tuesday morning 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."

Yael Hirschhorn, a spokeswoman for Bernheim, told JTA that her office would not comment on calls for Bernheim’s resignation.

Bernheim said last week that his 2011 book “40 Jewish Meditations” contained one passage that his ghostwriter plagiarized without Bernheim’s knowledge.

Since then, he has since been accused of at least three additional cases of plagiarism in the same book and in two earlier publications, and of obtaining the agregation.

Jean-Noel Darde, a senior lecturer at Paris 8 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.

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