Gilles Bernheim, the rabbi of Paris’s largest synagogue, defeated incumbent Joseph Sitruk to become France’s new chief rabbi in a hotly contested election decided June 22.
Bernheim, a 56-year-old philosopher and proponent of a more modern Orthodoxy, will take over from Sitruk, 63, a popular figure who held the position since 1987. Bernheim garnered a clear majority, 184-99, to win the seven-year mandate, which will begin in January 2009. In addition to overseeing the training of rabbis and relations with other faiths, Bernheim has been immediately confronted with France’s realities: A Jewish youth was beaten up in a Paris neighborhood, an incident that Bernheim condemned as antisemitic. Mohammed Moussaoui, who was just elected head of France’s Representative Muslim Council, joined him in his condemnation.
In interviews in the French media, both leaders called for a new openness, with Bernheim stressing the need to reach out to those outside the Jewish faith — a position some of his opponents had tried to use against him during the campaign.