Sephardi leaders search for spiritual head

Sephardi leaders have started the search for a new spiritual head to succeed Rabbi Abraham Levy, who has led the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation for 30 years.

Gibraltar-born Rabbi Levy is 71 and has served the congregation for more than 50 years in total.

"I am very ready to retire and to help find a successor," he said. "We need to find someone we can train to succeed me. Our traditions and liturgy are unique in the world."

Edward Shaoul, the parnas presidente - chairman of the executive committee - anticipated a transition period. "I can't imagine that Rabbi Levy will go until he knows the right person is in place. He is very committed to the congregation."

If the search team "push the right button", the process would take two years.

The next leader was likely to be recruited from a post abroad as "we lost a generation that was home-grown", Dr Shaoul acknowledged.

"I saw someone in Israel who could fit the job very nicely. I invited him for dinner and we had a chat. Hopefully, he will apply if and when we put an advert out."

As well as being the presiding rabbi of the congregation and its representative to the outside world, Rabbi Levy is the founding principal of the Naima Jewish Preparatory School and the principal of the Montefiore Kollel, the new rabbinical training programme. He was awarded the OBE six years ago for his interfaith work.

His successor will come in at a time of significant change among the religious leadership of British Jewry with Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks due to retire in three years. The head of the Movement for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Tony Bayfield, reaches 65 next summer.

    Last updated: 3:45pm, March 18 2010