Universal welcome

December 21, 2012

The selection of Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has, rightly, been met with warmth from across the community - and not just from those who recognise his rabbinic authority. He is near-universally liked and, perhaps more importantly, respected, not least for his hugely successful tenure at Kinloss.

If he can achieve half as much as chief rabbi as he has managed in his current post then he will have performed good service to the community. He has made a good start, pressing all the right buttons in his limited words so far. When the then Rabbi Sacks took office in 1991, he, too, seemed set fair. And in many ways he has been uniquely successful.

No other religious leader in Britain today commands such attention as Lord Sacks. We could not have had a more superb ambassador to the outside world. But that tells its own story. He has had to focus on his own writing and ambassadorial role because he early on allowed himself to be stymied by his Beth Din and never really recovered. Last week, we reported that the United Synagogue has voted to allow women to chair synagogues. Yet the role of women was supposed to be one of the main areas of Lord Sacks's focus. It has taken 21 years for this change, at the very end of his tenure.

Lord Sacks allowed himself to be defined not by his own agenda but by the die-hards, at whose hands he suffered, for instance, the humiliation of having to apologise for the supposed heresy of his book, The Dignity of Difference. Rabbi Mirvis starts with a clean slate. He can be his own man and must insist, as did Lord Jakobovits, that as chief rabbi he will brook no intereference from the Beth Din.

At Kinloss, Rabbi Mirvis has shown that he is prepared to travel along his own path, such as this week's appointment of a yoetzet halachah. Not least among his tasks should be to heal frayed relations with Progressives. We number just 0.5 per cent of the population. It is simply ludicrous that we should erect barriers within the community. We should be dismantling them.

Allowing US rabbis to attend Limmud would be a start - attending himself, even better. It is a sizeable in-tray. But the signs are good.

Last updated: 1:43pm, December 21 2012