Who will be the chief behind the Chief?

March 29, 2012
Lady Sacks: decision-maker

Lady Sacks: decision-maker

It's not usual for a columnist of my stature to debase himself by commenting on actual "news", but I feel I must throw my two shekels worth at the vexed question of the appointment of the next Chief Rebbetzin. Besides, it's hardly news any more.

While employment lawyers are rubbing their palms in excitement at the possibility of an unfair treatment claim, I think it's time to get one thing clear: while the advertised job was for a Chief Rabbi, this is no different to any other appointment of a Jew. You may ask for the man, but what you get is the woman.

Ask any recruitment consultant and they will tell you that it is unwise to offer a Jewish man a job if you are eager for a quick response. If you need an instant answer you must bypass the candidate and go straight to the decision-maker. Married Jewish men simply don't have the authority. Only this week I took my suit into the dry-cleaners and I'm waiting for Mrs J to let me know whether I can tell him his offer has been accepted.

Do you think that the incumbent has ever made any decision alone since he tied the knot? Of course not. He's an honourable and loyal man. First he finds out what the dayanim want and then he asks Lady S to ratify their decision.

Given the importance of the woman's role, then, you would think that the sensible approach would be to interview them together. However, this defeats another objective, which is to find the couple that is most knowledgeable, and by that I don't mean Jewishly knowledgeable, I mean knowledgeable about each other. Only in this way can Jewish role models the equivalent of Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh be identified, for that is exactly what this appointment is all about.

He finds out what the Dyanim want and then asks ladys to retify their decision

Did you ever see the 1970s quiz show Mr and Mrs? This is essentially the format for the appointment of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. If you remember, one partner was whisked away into a sound-proofed room while the other was asked a series of questions about their temporarily encased spouse. The spouse was then released and asked the same questions, the couple with the greatest consistency in their answers being the winners of the show.

A source inside the United Synagogue has passed me the interview questions, a selection of which follow: does the Rabbi prefer kneidlach or those little square croutons in his soup?

What colour is the rebbetzin's favourite snood?

Does your husband prefer the old, the centenary or the green edition of the Siddur?

How long before kiddush does the rebbetzin like to arrive at synagogue on Shabbat? Is it five minutes, 10 minutes or 20 minutes?

In a bid to demonstrate the openness and transparency of the United Synagogue the entire interview process will be televised. However, you will probably need to set your recorders because like almost all programmes with Jewish interest, it will be screened on a Friday evening.

But that's just the first stage of the interview process. When they get down to the final two candidates, Family Fortunes will be the format employed.

The purpose of this will be to establish the rabbi more in touch with the hoi polloi. Typical questions designed to achieve this might be: name a road with free parking on a Saturday morning in the vicinity of St John's Wood Synagogue; name something a child would like to do on a Sunday morning even less than attend cheder, and name a popular topic of pews conversation on Yom Kippur.

You may think this selection method devalues such a serious appointment, but can it be any worse than a bunch of old men sitting in the Vatican for days on end trying to get a wood fire started? There's nothing particularly entertaining in the Catholic approach and the advertising opportunities pale in comparison.

Personally, I can't wait to find out who is named as the first Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth Sponsored by Osem.

Last updated: 10:02am, April 2 2012