Reform to choose movement rabbi

The Reform movement is to appoint a rabbi to act as its official voice and maintain its public profile.

But leaders insist that the new post of movement rabbi - agreed by its board and its Assembly of Rabbis - is not an attempt to create a Progressive Chief Rabbi.

New chief executive Ben Rich explained: "It is to provide a face for the movement specifically, as opposed to the synagogues, both internally and externally. There needs to be someone capable of speaking on behalf of the movement on rabbinical and religious issues."

Mark Goldsmith, principal rabbi of London's North Western Reform Synagogue, said: "The movement rabbi will be the first line of response when issues come up in the Jewish community."

The need for the post emerged following the retirement at the end of 2010 of head of movement Rabbi Tony Bayfield, who had been its primary spokesman.

Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand had been designated to become chief executive but she left for a position at JHub, the Jewish innovation centre.

"It's been the intention that the movement should have a rabbi on its senior team," Mr Rich added. "When Shoshana announced she was leaving, that made it clear there was a gap. Over the last month we were able to flesh out a job description."

He said Reform was already "fortunate to have a quite a number of well-known and respected rabbis".

Baroness Neuberger's recent return to the pulpit at West London Synagogue has brought one media-savvy rabbi into the movement's ranks.

Among a younger generation, Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner of North Western Reform has begun to make her mark as a broadcaster on Radio 4's Thought for the Day and BBC1's The Big Questions.

Mr Rich said that when the appointment was made, it would be clear that it was not envisaged as an alternative Chief Rabbi.

But he added: "We see an opportunity for the voice of Judaism to be a Progressive voice."

    Last updated: 3:23pm, May 19 2011