Are all eyes on Meir Soloveichik for Chief?

By Miriam Shaviv, August 30, 2012
Rabbi Meir Soloveichik at the Republican National Convention

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik at the Republican National Convention

When Rabbi Meir Soloveichik delivered the blessing at the opening of the Republican National Convention on Tuesday, all eyes in America were on him - as were, probably, quite a few eyes in United Synagogue HQ in London. Although the US will not confirm its list of candidates, there are clear indications that young Rabbi Soloveichik - he is only 35 - has been in serious discussions regarding the soon-to-be-vacant post of British chief rabbi.

Soloveichik is commonly regarded as the brightest Orthodox rabbi of his generation, drawing comparisons with Lord Sacks. He is assistant rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan, and director of the Straus Centre for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University, which combines Jewish studies with secular philosophy.

For the Republicans, the fit is natural. Soloveichik writes regularly for conservative publications and has testified in Congress against a bill that would force Catholic organisations to pay for contraception for their employees through their medical insurance.

For Britain, Soloveichik may be more complicated. He was first approached as a potential chief rabbi earlier this summer, when the search committee decided that local candidates lacked "star power". Whether he is still in the race is unclear, but just three weeks ago a source close to the search process said he dazzled in interview.

Counting against him are his age and nationality. How his political activism affects his chances is unclear. Many American Jews, who lean to the heavily Democratic, regard his Republican affiliation with disaste. But Rabbi Soloveichik's appearance at the Republican convention proves that here is a rare candidate who can be taken seriously on the national, if not international, stage.

Next month, British rabbis can judge for themselves, as Soloveichik is due to appear at the Chief Rabbi's annual High Holy Day conference – an invitation that was extended months ago, rumour has it, on the understanding he was not a candidate for Chief. If he plays his cards right, next year he can host it.

Last updated: 9:57am, August 30 2012