Reform reject chance to choose Chief Rabbi

US leader suggests giving non-Orthodox a say, as JC calls for next chief to be elected


The man heading the search for the next chief rabbi wants to give the non-Orthodox community a say in the appointment, in a bold gesture intended to secure communal consensus over the position.

Stephen Pack, the new president of the United Synagogue, says he would like to offer religious groups both to the right and left of central Orthodoxy a role in choosing Lord Sacks's successor.

Explaining his thinking, Mr Pack said that he was conscious that the chief rabbi was a "figurehead in Anglo-Jewry. If we stretched our hand to other groups in going through the [selection] process, then that would make it easier for the new chief rabbi to have a role in Anglo-Jewry."

He added that while making the offer seemed "the right thing to do", he would not be surprised if the Progressive movements declined it. "If they chose not to take it up, I would respect that," he said.

Mr Pack says he intends to make the suggestion in a consultation paper about choosing the next chief rabbi to succeed Lord Sacks in September 2013.

His plan is to set up two selection panels with the aim of agreeing an appointment by Rosh Hashanah 2012; an inner circle of around seven people to draw up a shortlist, interview candidates and recommend a name; and then a larger representative group of around 30 people who would be asked to ratify the choice.

It is on the representative group where he suggests Charedi and non-Orthodox participation, alongside delegates from Orthodox groups under the authority of the Chief Rabbi and from other central Orthodox bodies such as the Federation and the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation.

But even if his ideas are approved by his United Synagogue colleagues, the non-Orthodox denominations appear unlikely to jump at the offer to take part.

Reform movement chairman Stephen Moss said the appointment of the chief rabbi had been discussed with Mr Pack's predecessor, Simon Hochhauser, at a recent meeting of the community consultative committee, a liaison forum for US and non-Orthodox leaders.

"We had a short discussion on the personal qualities any senior religious figure should have, but otherwise all agreed that this was an internal matter for the US," Mr Moss said.

Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, said: "I cannot imagine any circumstances in which a Liberal Jewish representative would be authorised to sit on a panel to select the United Synagogue chief rabbi."

But he added that "good, friendly and respectful" relationships had been built up with Dr Hochhauser. "If I were asked, I would recommend the US find somebody with an understanding of the pluralist nature of the British Jewish community."

Michael Gluckman, Masorti executive director, said: "Until we have a chief rabbi appointed by the whole community, who will genuinely validate all British Jewry, such a consultation, while courteous, will serve no purpose."

Before Lord Sacks's appointment in 1990, the Liberal movement asked the US whether there would be any consultation but this was refused. In retaliation, the Liberals issued a statement to say that the Chief Rabbi would not "represent us or speak on our behalf".

    Last updated: 8:11am, August 16 2011