Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Another Fallen Religious Leader

Chief Rabbi of France Gilles Bernheim Photo credit: Getty images via the Forward
I do not know him at all – or anything about him, really. But I believe that Gilles Bernheim - the Chief Rabbi of France - is not Charedi. Although one may assume he is based on the photo, his activities as Chief Rabbi as described in a Forward article speak to a very open minded individual. Open to things no Charedi would ever approve of. If anything he leans left of center on most issues. This would belie any attempts to describe him as Charedi. Which shows that looks can be deceiving.

But it doesn’t really matter what side of the Hashakfic fence he resides. His deceptive practices which he has admitted to are an embarrassment to all of world Jewry… and, I might add a Chilul HaShem. Having a major position like being a Chief Rabbi of a country like France gives him that dubious honor. He is out there representing French Jewry as their ‘chief’! A rabbinic leader of high standing in the Jewish world.

Pretending to be writing scholarly philosophical works pertaining to Judaism; he was found to be guilty of plagiarizing much of it from others some of which were not even Jewish: 
A French academic noticed that long passages in Bernheim’s critically acclaimed 2011 book “Forty Jewish Meditations repeated word for word an earlier book by the eminent philosopher Jean-François Lyotard…

The scholar Jean-Noel Danarde who specializes in literary plagiarism, flagged other passages in Bernheim’s book taken from thinkers as diverse as Elie Wiesel, Jean-Marie Domenach (who, ironically, had been accused of anti-Semitism toward the end of his career) and Vladimir Jankelevitch. Moreover, [Danarde ??] revealed that one thing left unsaid in “What Is Often Left Unsaid” was that Bernheim hijacked entire passages from the writings of the reactionary Catholic priest Joseph-Marie Verlinde and Beatrice Bourges, the Pasionaria of the anti-gay movement.
At first he denied it but then he admitted it and tried to blame others. He was also found to be lying about his credentials. Claiming to hold a PhD in philosophy - some good investigative work on the part of reporters has determined that he held no such degree. Officials at the university he claimed to have granted him a doctorate, the Sorbonne declared that Bernheim never finished it.

This goes beyond just lying about oneself for purposes of self promotion. That would be bad enough - but ultimately forgivable via an admission of guilt and a contrite apology. But when one involves himself in a consistent pattern of deception which includes plagiarizing word for word the work of others -  claiming them as his own, it shows that aside from being a liar he is an empty shell. That he has no depth and nothing personal to offer.  All of this makes him unworthy of any kind of leadership. To say the least.

To add insult to injury, he has the Chutzpah to insist on remaining France’s Chief Rabbi – claiming that to resign would be an act of desertion.

Desertion - my foot! He wanted to keep his job. And was probably more motivated by the Kavod he got than he is by any desire to help his people.

I don’t know if what he did will have any legal consequences. But they do have moral and ethical consequences. There is no way that he should have any position of authority or respect.  Fortunately the French Jewish community has forced him to resign. Had he stayed on he would have brought dishonor to his office, the Jews of France, and ultimately the entire Jewish people.

Update (5:07 PM CDT)
I would like to express my appreciation for those who pointed out an error in this post. Although my feelings about Rabbi Bernheim have not changed, I had somehow overlooked the clear and unambiguous statement in the Forward article that he was forced to resign by officials from the French Jewish community. I have altered the post to reflect that and I apologize for my lapse.