UK Jewry names its next chief rabbi

Appointment of South African-born Ephraim Mirvis ends delay-filled selection process

UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis (YouTube screenshot)
UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis (YouTube screenshot)

LONDON — Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis will be the next British chief rabbi, the United Synagogue press office announced Monday.

The appointment has been confirmed by both committees that make the selection.

Mirvis has been the rabbi of Finchley United Synagogue, one of London’s flagship modern Orthodox shuls, since 1996. South African-born, he was chief rabbi of Ireland between 1984 and 1992.

In recent weeks, pressure has grown from the UK’s Jewish press to appoint Mirvis, who has been rumored to be the last candidate standing. Other candidates have included two other British rabbis, Harvey Belovski and Alan Kimche, as well as Jonathan Rosenblatt of New York and Michael Broyde of Atlanta.

The current chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, is due to retire in September 2013.

Highly respected among his rabbinic colleagues, Mirvis is a good speaker and has a reputation for warmth, though he is not considered a bold thinker.

According to one United Synagogue rabbi, speaking to The Times of Israel recently, Mirvis “represents the status quo,” and will be unlikely to push for change on gender issues, grapple with internal political issues or “be the star appointment” the selection committee promised. Said this rabbi, “It’s a safe choice.”

Nevertheless, the appointment has been broadly welcomed by the community, which in the past few weeks has come to regard the announcement as inevitable.

According to Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, who publicly endorsed Mirvis in May when he withdrew his own candidacy, “I have always maintained he is the right man for the job, with the right sort of character, experience and his finger on the pulse of Anglo-Jewry.

“The present appointment is a critical one confronting the various challenges facing Anglo-Jewry, both inwardly in terms of making traditional Judaism relevant to the 21st century and more broadly in terms of Israel, anti-Semitism and the various challenges we all face collectively. I believe Rabbi Mirvis can navigate these varied roles successfully, and I for one certainly feel more secure about Anglo-Jewry’s future in light of his appointment.”

Jeremy Newmark, the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, called the appointment “immensely popular.”

The Movement for Reform Judaism in the UK welcomed Mirvis’ selection “as the next Orthodox chief rabbi,” highlighting the increasing reluctance of the non-Orthodox to accept the chief rabbi as the figurehead for all of British Jewry. Officially, Mirvis represents only the 60-odd shuls belonging to the Orthodox United Synagogue.

Laura Janner-Klausner, the head rabbi of the Movement for Reform Judaism, which represents about one-third of British Jewry, said: “I welcome the appointment of Rabbi Mirvis as another powerful voice for British Jewry. I look forward to working closely with him as a partner on areas of common interests to the Jewish and wider community.”

Meanwhile, one of the former candidates, Broyde, said that “while being considered as a candidate was a wonderful honor, I have little doubt that Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis will be a spectacular chief rabbi. In him one cannot help but see many of the wonderful traits that both his immediate predecessor and current chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, has, as well as many of the attributes other impressive holders of the office have shown and shared. He will accomplish much, and I am honored to help him in any way I can.”

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed