AFP, LE MONDE (France), HAARETZ (Israel)
PARIS - The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has admitted to having plagiarized and lied, after it emerged that several parts of his book Forty Jewish Meditations were taken from other sources, reports Le Monde.
“The plagiarizing unmasked on the Internet is true,” Bernheim wrote in a statement from Jerusalem, after suspicion had spread about the authenticity of his last work, published in 2011 by Stock editions.
The religious leader cited a “lack of time” in his having commissioned one of his students to do some of the research and writing work for the book, AFP reported. “It is the one and only time I made such an arrangement,” he wrote in the statement released Wednesday. “It was a terrible mistake...I have been fooled. However, I am responsible.”
A trained philosopher, Bernheim, 60, was elected Chief Rabbi of France in 2008. He is the leading religious figure for the approximately 600,000 French Jews, the world’s third-largest Jewish community after Israel and the United States. In December, then Pope Benedict XVI quoted a recent Bernheim essay opposing same-sex marriage.
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Bernheim with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010 (Alain Azria)
In his statement, the rabbi apologized to the authors whose texts had been copied, to readers and to his publisher who had not been informed of the collaboration of the student, the Israeli daily Haaretz reports.
Bernheim added that he “regretted” his previous reactions to accusations. “My reaction against the first evidence of plagiarizing was emotional, impetuous and awkward. I retrospectively analyze it as denial.”
The affair started in early March, when the Strass de la philosophie website discovered similarities between Bernheim's work and an interview of the philosopher Jean-François Lyotard in the 1996 book Questioning Judaism by Elizabeth Weber.
A few days later, Bernheim replied to the disclosure by saying that some of the meditations in the books were transcripts of lessons he gave in the 1980s, as a chaplain for Jewish students, that these lessons were often recorded while copies of his personal notes were handed to pupils, thus implying that Lyotard, who died in 1998, plagiarized him, and not the opposite.
Subsequently, Elizabeth Weber refuted Bernheim's version, saying that Lyotard had answered her questions without any notes. Also, Jean-Noel Darde, a senior lecturer at Paris 8 University, who runs a website specialized in academic plagiarizing, suggested that the Chief Rabbi might have also used fragments of other books, written well before the 1980s, by authors such as Elie Wiesel, Jean-Marie Domenach and Charles Dobzynski.
Bernheim asked on Wednesday that his book be recalled from bookstores and removed from his bibliography. Le Monde cited aides to Bernheim saying the rabbi had no plan to resign.