Calls for an elected chief rabbi

Rabbi Schochet

Rabbi Schochet

A prominent United Synagogue rabbi this week put his weight behind calls for publicly electing the next chief rabbi.

Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, of Mill Hill Synagogue, who chairs the US Rabbinical Council, challenged the prospect of Lord Sacks's successor in two years being chosen "by a small band of merry men sitting behind closed doors".

Rabbi Yossi Chazan of Manchester's Holy Law Synagogue last week aired the idea of a ballot to approve the next chief rabbi.

Now Rabbi Schochet has gone further and advocated a US-style presidential campaign. A number of candidates who meet the job criteria, he said, "could put themselves forward and then, through a series of high-profile lectures and debates on [what] matters to the people, it'll all whittle down to a select few, who would then be subject to a vote".

Responsibility for choosing a chief rabbi currently lies with the nine trustees of the Chief Rabbinate Trust. They are chaired by former United Synagogue president Peter Sheldon and include Lady Winston, Professor Leslie Wagner and hedge-fund manager Stuart Roden.

Malvyn Benjamin, a member of the US's lay council, which discussed the chief rabbinate on Monday, was in favour of a ballot. "I'd like to see all of the United Synagogues have polling stations where we can cast our votes," he said.

But Rabbi Daniel Levy of the United Hebrew Congregation, Leeds, said: "I would approach any form of election with caution, because there is a danger that the person will be chosen not necessarily on merit, but how well his election campaign is orchestrated."

The Orthodox rabbinate holds divergent views about its future leader. Names of preferred candidates doing the rounds range from the Gateshead Rav, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, to more modern Orthodox Americans such as Dayan Michael Broyde, and Rabbis JJ Schachter and Meir Soloveitchik.

The scheduled appearance of South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein at Lord Sacks's High Holy Day conference in autumn has increased speculation about his chances.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Schochet ventured that he was "not convinced" whether a single chief rabbi was the way ahead.

    Last updated: 2:09pm, May 26 2011