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France's top rabbi takes leave amid scandal

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 11, 2013 at 10:55 am •  Published: April 11, 2013

Last month, Bernheim noted that pages from Meditation No. 26 were "nearly identical" to an excerpt from a 1991 interview with late French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard, compiled in a later book entitled "Questions on Judaism."

Later, Bernheim wrote that he'd relied on an unspecified student to help research and write the book — "a terrible error ... but for all that, I am responsible." And in the radio interview, he insisted his mistakes were not related to his job as top rabbi, and said he would not resign.

Bernheim had also come under scrutiny for claiming to have received an "aggregation" — or high-level certification — in philosophy. On Radio Shalom, he acknowledged he did not actually have one, but had made the claim 37 years ago during an unspecified "tragic event."

Bernheim in the radio interview also alluded to a phrase that he attributed to Hasidim founder Israel Baal Shem Tov: "Man is the stuttering of God, and that one must know how to accept sometimes to only be able to stutter without speaking perfectly or brilliantly."

France is home to the largest Jewish community in Western Europe, at some 500,000 people. The Consistory brings together nearly 500 synagogues and oratories in France and its overseas territories. Bernheim has been in the post since 2009. It normally has a seven-year term.

Bernheim helped guide the Jewish community through one of its most wrenching episodes in recent years — the shooting deaths of Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi in the southwestern city of Toulouse by a radical Islamist in March last year.