US must get a grip

November 30, 2012

The process of choosing a new Chief Rabbi is in danger of moving from chaos to farce. At the start, the United Synagogue claimed that it would consult widely.

The US must have a unique definition of consultation. Rabbi Schochet was right to describe it as "little more than a piece of paper distributed to members of interested parties". The absence of any worthwhile consultation might have been acceptable had it been in the cause of pushing the process to a swift conclusion. It took the Church of England, riven with splits, eight months to appoint a successor to Rowan Williams - and that led to complaints that it was too drawn out.

It has so far taken the US over two years to nominate a successor to Lord Sacks. Two years! But developments over the past few weeks have gone from bad to worse. The hiatus in recent months means that when the new man is eventually appointed, he will already have been undermined by the very organisation which has chosen him.

Back in 1989, when the US last sought a Chief Rabbi, Chaim Bermant wrote that it was "a little like looking for a bride. One knows what one wants, but one finally settles for what one can get". The worst-kept secret in the community is that there is now a shortlist of one, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of Kinloss. He is an outstanding candidate who is universally liked and admired.

But for weeks now his nomination has been placed on hold in the vague hope by the selection committee that someone better will emerge. Quite who that might be, or what better even means, no one appears to know. Meanwhile, a good man who has done nothing to deserve such treatment must endure the indignity of waiting while the US continues to scour the globe for this mythical rabbi. After two years, no such figure has appeared. Nor will he after three.

And when Rabbi Mirvis is, finally, appointed, the message from the US's behaviour will be clear: we tried to find someone better but couldn't.

That is no way to treat anyone, let alone the next Chief Rabbi.

Last updated: 4:35pm, December 2 2012