Get a chief rabbi, but not with a roadshow

By Marcus Dysch, August 18, 2011

The United Synagogue has not ruled out offering members the chance to vote on the next chief rabbi.

The JC launched a campaign last week for the next chief rabbi - to succeed Lord Sacks when he retires in September 2013 - to be democratically elected, with synagogue members and a wider section of the community having a say in the process.

The US said it was too early to decide what the procedure for choosing the new chief rabbi would be, but pledged to make the process "as democratic as possible".

Stephen Pack, the new US president, last week indicated his willingness to offer religious groups both to the right and left of central Orthodoxy a role in choosing Lord Sacks's successor.

Mr Pack intends to create two selection panels to decide on an appointee by Rosh Hashanah 2012.

The groups are likely to comprise an inner circle which will draw up a shortlist, interview candidates and recommend a name, and a larger representative group to ratify the choice.

Former Board of Deputies president Lionel Kopelowitz took part in the 1964 selection process which chose Immanuel Jakobovits as chief rabbi.

He said much could be learned from past experiences. "In 1964 the president of the US convened a conference. People from all over the country attended to represent their communities.

"That could be recreated. We have almost two years to consider candidates and that's ample time."

Dr Kopelowitz did not support the idea of an X-Factor-style public vote, or a series of public debates similar to those in which the political party leaders took part before last year's general election.

He said: "That's not a good idea at all. How do you expect average shul members to be able to decide between candidates?

"We need to move forward but not with a roadshow to elect a chief rabbi. That would not work at all. It would be absolutely wrong."

Other factors, he believed, such as the funding of the new chief rabbi's office, were now more important than the selection process.

Last updated: 12:50pm, August 18 2011