LONDON — Rabbi Shneur Odze has sparked headlines throughout his campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester. First for refusing to shake hands with female rivals, and then for burning a Bible, which he said came from a missionary group, while destroying leavened bread products before the Passover holiday. In the run-up to Thursday’s elections, even his sex life is on display.
Odze, 36, is running on behalf of UKIP, the right-wing anti-immigration party. He has previously been a Conservative councilman in London but parted ways with that party in 2009. The strictly Orthodox married father of four daughters currently lives in Salford, Lancashire.
Asked by The Times of Israel about his refusal to shake hands with female rivals, Odze said that “It was one opponent, in a very scripted, pre-planned attack, cynical, stereotyping, and aimed at delegitimizing me.”
He said that it had proved perfectly possible for other strictly Orthodox politicians to function in both London and Manchester without entering the “no handshake” debate, and he did not see how it was relevant to his bid to be Manchester’s mayor.
Odze, who dresses in typical ultra-Orthodox garb, said that people in areas of Greater Manchester who were not used to seeing Orthodox Jews were “intrigued.”
“[I have] a lot of support from people of other faiths and no faiths. I want to bring people in from the shadows,” he said.
“What Greater Manchester does not need is another Westminster insider. What I bring is a breath of fresh air,” he added.
Odze insisted that his religious observance would not be a bar to fully carrying out mayoral duties, and said that it was possible for him to have non-Jewish deputies who would be available if necessary on Shabbat or holidays. (Over Passover he apologized for tweeting pictures of the burning “missionary bible” which he said he had found at his synagogue. He later removed the photos from Twitter.)
‘What I bring is a breath of fresh air’
He said his campaign had received “overwhelming positive support” from the Jewish community and that there was “obvious warmth from the Jew in the street.”
Odze took time out from his mayoral campaign to work for the UKIP leader, Paul Nuttall, who ran unsuccessfully in a parliamentary by-election in Stoke in February. He is also said to be a close confidante of the former UKIP leader, Nigel Farage.
Odze denied that he was being used as “a fig leaf” by UKIP — “I would not allow myself to be used that way,” he said — and added that he was offering an alternative to “a system which would be laughed at in Russia, of cronyism.”
But Odze’s unbending optimism looks hollow in the light of the allegations recently found in the Mail on Sunday. The tabloid — a sister publication to the sensationalist Daily Mail — alleged Odze was involved in a sexual relationship with a woman he met on a bondage and sadomasochistic website. Odze, whom the paper nicknamed a “rampant rabbi,” allegedly styled himself in his online profile as a Catholic priest called Simon.
Odze has not denied the revelations, and instead referred the Mail reporters to his agent. A UKIP spokesman said in a press statement on Sunday that since Odze had not broken the law, what he may or may not have done was “a personal matter.”
The paper alleged that Odze met the 25-year-old office worker online, and bombarded her with sexually explicit texts — even on Shabbat. According to the office worker, he met her for sexual encounters on several occasions.
As of press time, Odze had not responded to a Times of Israel request for clarification as to whether he was prepared to sue The Mail on Sunday for libel or stand down as UKIP’s candidate for mayor.