Should he be the last Chief Rabbi?

The Chief Rabbinate is a divisive institution and no longer needed by modern British Jewry, says Meir Persoff in a new book on Lord Sacks

March 11, 2010

The Chief Rabbinate has run its course and an alternative form of leadership is called for which recognises both the plurality of the community and the application of inclusivism in deed as well as word. Anglo-Jewry's movers and shakers might well heed the advice of a far-sighted observer commenting, a century ago, on factional strife.

Writing during the Chief Rabbinical interregnum following Hermann Adler's demise, he noted that "it has already been established that the community, as such, has been at least no worse off since it has been left to its own devices... and to judge from experience, it is more likely to enjoy this freedom without a Chief Rabbi than with one."

One hundred years on, Anglo-Jewry is more fragmented and disputatious than ever. In a polarising world, the Jews of Britain, steadily shrinking in number and affiliation, have little to celebrate. Few see signs of unity, let alone uniformity; many (if not most) regard the Chief Rabbinate as divisive, and would not miss it should it cease to exist.

The United Hebrew Congregations, of which the Chief Rabbi is the titular head, now constitute less than one-half of the community in nominal terms, and far less in terms of Orthodox allegiance. No other synagogal movement accepts his jurisdiction, and many have called for the abolition of his office.

Under a new leadership structure, things can only get better. A disestablished rabbinate and Board of Deputies could pave the way for the
elevation of an alternative figure as the recognised leader of a pluralistic - and, hopefully, inclusivist - Anglo-Jewry.

Last updated: 1:01pm, March 11 2010