The Chief Rabbinate (S)Election

I’ve been invited to participate in a public debate on whether Britain needs a new Chief Rabbi. What with the media hoopla surrounding different candidates and my name being linked I think it would be imprudent for me to participate in such a discussion. But only if I was advocating for the position as it would then be misinterpreted as my wanting the job. In the event, I agreed to partake in the debate, the details yet to be confirmed, mostly because I am not convinced that we in the UK need a new Chief Rabbi. Perhaps a Chief Rabbinate is a better option but that’s for an altogether different discussion.

The one matter of immediate concern I have is the process by which the Chief Rabbi is to be appointed. It now emerges, that a sort of ratings sheet is being distributed to members of different interested parties who are advised to rate 1-10 what they define as key characteristics for a Chief Rabbi as well as what his primary remit should be. The Chief Rabbinate Trust will define a job description based on the consensus gleaned these papers and the position will then be advertised. Candidates all over the world can apply and will face the members of the Chief Rabbinate Trust for an interview. It is they who will make the ultimate decision.

This means that in all maybe 200-300 people will be involved in the consultation process and the ultimate decision will be made by a small band of merry men sitting behind closed doors. That works if you consider the Chief Rabbi to be the chief executive of a public company board members decide who they want to lead them forward.

But the Chief Rabbi represents the overwhelming majority of Anglo-Jewry which is made up of the constituent and affiliate synagogues of the United Hebrew Congregations. As such he is much more like an elected official or the President of Anglo-Jewry if you like and the process of appointment should be radically ed. In this, the 21’st century, it should no longer be about ion and every bit about election. If he is the Chief Rabbi of the people then he should be elected by the people. I would like to see this run American presidential election style. There can be a process by which certain candidates meeting with specific criteria could put themselves forward and then through a series of high profile lectures and debates on that which matters to the people it’ll all whittle down to a few who would then be subject to a vote.

The only ones who might really object to this are those who are already vying for the position and know they stand more of a chance being ed than if this route was to be followed. That further demonstrates why the system is flawed and people need to start thinking out of the box. I’m thoroughly convinced if the ratings sheet was much more widely disseminated with the final question being simply, “do you think the appointment should go to public vote,” the responses would score consistently higher than any other question.

One leading Rabbi in Manchester (Yossi Chazan) has publically advocated this idea as did renowned journalist Miriam Shaviv in the pages of the Jewish Chronicle. The only question that remains is whether the trustees, who are empowered to implement this change, have the courage to do so. Let’s hope they will all put a 10 as their answer.