Meir Persoff: 'Time for an alternative to Chief Rabbi'

By Simon Rocker, March 11, 2010

The Chief Rabbinate is a cause of division and Lord Sacks should be the last to hold the office, says a new book published next week.

Meir Persoff, the JC's former Judaism editor, in the first book-length study of the policies of Lord Sacks since he took office in 1991, argues that the role has become increasingly contentious in a religiously diverse Jewish community.

He writes in Another Way, Another Time: "The Chief Rabbinate has run its course and an alternative form of leadership is called for which recognises the plurality of the community."

Lord Sacks is due to retire in 2013 when he reaches 65, and the United Synagogue and Chief Rabbinate Trust have yet to announce how - or whether - a successor will be chosen.

Dr Persoff has edited a collection of Lord Jakobovits's writings and published a book on the relations of Britain's chief rabbis with the non-Orthodox. His new book looks at the main controversies that have befallen the Chief Rabbinate during Lord Sacks's tenure, from the events that followed his absence from the funeral of Reform leader Rabbi Hugo Gryn to the recent court case on JFS admissions

It includes previously unpublished material, including the notorious letter from the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations asking the Chief Rabbi to cancel a subsequent appearance at a memorial for Rabbi Gryn.

It was the Chief's reply to the head of the Union, Rabbi Chenoch Padwa - leaked to the JC and in which he portrayed himself as an "enemy" of the non-Orthodox movements - that sparked the worst conflict of his rabbinate.

The book argues that the Chief Rabbi, "in the opinion of many - including some fervent supporters", has failed to fulfil the platform of inclusivism set out at the start of his office. In his installation address, the Chief Rabbi had stated his wish to reach out "to every Jew with open arms and an open heart".

Dr Persoff wrote that he asked the Chief Rabbi to respond but "the Chief Rabbi declined to do so, saying, through his office, that 'as he does not accept the premise, he is unable to respond to it'".

Last updated: 3:39pm, March 11 2010