France's top rabbi takes leave amid scandal

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 11, 2013 at 10:55 am •  Published: April 11, 2013
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PARIS (AP) — France's top rabbi announced Thursday he is taking leave from his post, hoping to end a scandal that has unsettled the Jewish community after he acknowledged "borrowing" other people's work and lying about his educational pedigree.

The Central Consistory of France accepted Rabbi Gilles Bernheim's request for time away at an urgent meeting to discuss fallout from the case. Bernheim, 60, later issued a statement apologizing to France's Jewish community, his family and friends, and saying he could no longer do his job with the necessary "serenity."

"He hopes that the serious events he is blamed for and which mark him, don't obscure all the actions carried out in the name of his various rabbinical functions over the years in the service of the divine," the statement said. "He prays to be heard in his request for forgiveness..."

Richard Prasquier, the head of France's largest umbrella group of Jewish organizations, CRIF, said by phone that two other rabbis would temporarily fill the post of Grand Rabbi of France, while Bernheim is away for at least six months. Talks about whether he might return at all will take place in the coming months, he said.

Bernheim faced accusations by a French academic who tracks suspected plagiarism that parts of his 2011 book "Forty Jewish Meditations," and part of a text he wrote breaking down arguments in favor of gay marriage, same-sex parenting and adoption, were lifted from others. That text, written last fall, was cited in the Christmas address of Pope Benedict XVI last year.

Asked about the allegations Tuesday on Radio Shalom as the scandal swelled, Bernheim said he had carried out "borrowings ... what others might call plagiarism" from others. "Not only do I deeply regret it, but I recognize it as a moral flaw," he said of one instance.