An elected Chief Rabbi? If only

By Geoffrey Alderman, September 9, 2011

If I thought there was a cat in hell's chance of our being able to elect the next Chief Rabbi of "the United Hebrew Congregations", believe me I would hurry to don my second-best streimel and dance with a Sefer through the streets of St John's Wood, declaring as I went that not only do we all want Moshiach Now but that I would wager what, if anything, remains of my reputation that the Moshiach had indeed arrived, and was in all probability just waiting to change trains at Baker Street so that he could hurry to my humble abode - the modest 1930s semi that goes by the name and title of Wits' End - to tell me the good news.

If I thought there was a cat in hell's chance of our being able to elect the next Chief Rabbi of "the United Hebrew Congregations", believe me I would lose not a moment in making haste to join this entity.

I would pay whatever subscription was asked - with or without burial-society membership. I would even pay the "voluntary levy" to support the Board of Deputies. I would embrace (if they let me) every male member of the Jewish Leadership Council. I would promise to tell all my friends that the Community Security Trust was the best thing since sliced matzah. I would sponsor a full-page advertisement in the Jewish Tribune (in unvowelled Yiddish, naturally) agreeing that black could indeed be white, and white black, if that is what the Gedolai Hatorah of Agudas Yisroel decreed because (I would declaim) truth exists only to support dogma and can, to that end, be twisted in whatever way these worthy gentlemen instruct.

Friends, I would do all this, and more besides, if I thought there was a cat in hell's chance of us being able to elect the next Chief Rabbi.

But there is no such chance. And that, however entertaining and enlightening it might be to speculate as to the method of election that might be used - and remember, friends, that I am the author (am I not?) of a learned tome on British elections and electoral systems - such musings will never progress from cogitation to implementation. Let me explain why.

The US's idea to consult other bodies can be dismissed as posturing

In the first place, we can dismiss as silly posturing the recent noises emanating from the United Synagogue to the effect that it would like nothing better than to consult with other synagogal bodies as to who the next tenant of Hamilton Terrace might be.

Its new leadership will - at the very most - listen politely to what the leaders of other synagogal bodies might have to say, offering them, perhaps, a glass of Scotch and a slice of apple strudel. But then it will ignore what they have said.

It will ignore what they have said because the leadership of the United Synagogue knows very well that it cannot afford to run the risk of a media announcement to the effect that the person who is chosen to succeed Jonathan Sacks was appointed only after consultation with a non-Orthodox body or bodies.

If - for the sake of argument - any media outlet were to feel justified in running such a story, the Taleban of Stamford Hill would have a field day. There would indeed be dancing in the streets.

But if this is a risk the leadership of the United Synagogue (and the so-called "United Hebrew Congregations" amounts to little more) dares not run, how much less inclined would that leadership be - and (much more importantly) how much less inclined would the paymasters of the Office of the Chief Rabbi be - to place the authority to choose Lord Sacks's successor in the hands of what one United Synagogue macher dismissively described to me recently as "the rank and file?"

In this connection, I have to come to the defence of Dr Lionel Kopelowitz. When he asked (JC, August 19) how one might expect "average shul members" to be able to decide between chief rabbinical candidates, what I suspect he really meant was that he who pays the next Hamilton Terrace piper will insist upon calling the tune.

Besides which, while the next Chief Rabbi will presumably wish to feel reasonably safe crossing the threshold of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, a candidate chosen by "average shul members" is likely to have its door firmly shut in his face.

Last updated: 11:40am, September 9 2011