Chief Rabbi: Who will throw their hat into the ring?

The Orthodox world is fascinated by the potential successors to the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks following the announcement this week that he is to step down


December 16, 2010
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Lord Sacks, who will retire in September 2013

Lord Sacks, who will retire in September 2013

United Synagogue president Simon Hochhauser's announcement this week that the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, would be retiring after his 65th birthday in September 2013, has set off fevered speculation across the rabbinical world as to who may succeed him.

But there is a long way to go before then: not until July 2011, when Mr Hochhauser himself will be retiring, will an announcement be made as to how a chief rabbi will be chosen for the 21st century. Mr Hochhauser will lead a wide consultation process until then, primarily within the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth but also outside: he says that the US "will be delighted to hear from other denominations," and may even hear submissions from outside the Jewish community itself. We look at some of the prospective successors, with commentator Miriam Shaviv.

The leading candidates

Rabbi Shaul Robinson: Senior rabbi at Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan since 2005, Glasgow-born Rabbi Robinson was national secretary of UJS and later became the first rabbi for students at Cambridge. His last UK post was at Barnet. Miriam Shaviv says: Landing a major New York pulpit was a coup for Rabbi Robinson, instantly catapulting him into the ranks of rabbinic heavy-hitters. Many regard him as the strongest of the candidates. But with his New York shul currently building a new $40 million campus, can he be tempted back from the diaspora's most exciting Jewish city?

Rabbi Harvey Belovski: An Oxford maths graduate, Rabbi Belovski also studied at Gateshead Yeshivah and has been rabbi at Golders Green Synagogue since 2003. He is the rabbinic mentor for University Jewish Chaplaincy and is a fellow at the London School of Jewish Studies. MS: Rabbi Belovski is comfortable with both modern and Orthodox. Popular with the other rabbis, he could be a uniting figure for the community. But some have speculated he may be heading for the Beth Din instead.

Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet: At Mill Hill Synagogue in north west London for the past 17 years, Canadian-born Rabbi Schochet previously served at Richmond Synagogue. MS: A seasoned media performer, Rabbi Schochet could continue Lord Sacks's ambassadorship to the outside world. His recent indication that he may attend Limmud may be read as an attempt to soften his right-wing image. Some, however, may judge his outspokenness too risky.

Rabbi Naftali Brawer: Boston-born rabbi of Borehamwood and Elstree Synagogue. He moved to Britain in 1996 to serve at Northwood Synagogue. He holds the Jewish-Muslim portfolio in the Chief Rabbi's cabinet. MS: One of the US's brightest minds, he has shown courage challenging the rabbinic establishment on moral and religious issues such as conversion. A champion of Jewish learning and interfaith relations, he is possibly too left-wing for the other rabbis.

Dayan Ivan Binstock: With a degree in chemistry, the dynamic orator has served at a number of London communities, including Golders Green Synagogue and St John's Wood Synagogue, where he has been rabbi since 1996. He is also principal of North West London Jewish Day School. MS: Do not underestimate the most modern of the dayanim, highly respected by his peers on the Beth Din and with wide experience in the community. Just a few years younger than Lord Sacks, he would be a safe pair of hands if the US needed more time to find its way.

The longer-shots

Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag: Newcastle-born rabbi of Whitefield Hebrew Congregation, in north Manchester, he has a BA in Jewish studies from Jews' College. Joint president of the Manchester Council of Christians and Jews, he is convenor of the National Association of Orthodox Schools. MS: A successful communal rabbi, he is intelligent and sophisticated, and active in the educational arena. However, any chief rabbinical ambitions may be stymied by his low profile in London and among the rabbinate.

Rabbi Warren Goldstein: At 37, the youngest ever Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Goldstein, a trained lawyer, has held the post in his home country since 2005. He is a regular contributor in the South African media and has his own website complete with podcasts and video blogs. MS: Young and charismatic, you will know he is interested in the job if he books a UK speaking tour soon.

Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence: Chief minister at Sydney's Great Synagogue in Australia, Rabbi Lawrence was the research assistant to Lord Sacks for his 1990 Reith Lectures. He was executive director of the Association of Jewish Sixth-Formers and later deputy head of Jewish studies at Carmel College. His interests include the environment and Gilbert and Sullivan. MS: The Oxford-educated British expat may seem like a natural candidate, but much depends on his performance in Hampstead Garden Suburb last Shabbat - a rare opportunity for him to make a local impression.

Rabbi Benny Lau: Rabbi of the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem and director of the Centre for Judaism and Society, he lectures at Bar-Ilan University where he himself studied.The nephew of former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, he previously worked in Britain as a Bnei Akiva shaliach and is regarded as a charismatic community leader and social activist. MS: Securing one of Israel's up-and-coming national-religious leaders, with that evocative surname, would be a triumph for the US. But an Israeli rabbi may experience severe culture shock in the British system.

Last updated: 4:00pm, December 16 2010