Women to interview Chief Rabbi hopefuls

The United Synagogue has ruled out holding an election for the next Chief Rabbi, arguing that it is not the way to get the best candidate for what it says is the world's top rabbinic job.

Stephen Pack, president of the US and chairman of the Chief Rabbinate Trust, announced this week that the choice of successor to Lord Sacks would largely rest with an inner circle of eight people.

But there would be a broader layer of decision-making that would, he said, "involve a lot more people than has hitherto been the case".

The selection process, which it is hoped will come up with a recommended candidate a year before Lord Sacks retires in September 2013, will begin with a meeting on December 11.

It will be attended by up to 250 representatives of synagogues, schools and other institutions under the aegis of the Chief Rabbinate, who will be asked to approve the job description of the next incumbent and the recruitment procedure.

The heads of the Federation of Synagogues, Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation and the Board of Deputies will be invited to the meeting as observers. But although a consultative role for non-Orthodox communities had been previously mooted, Mr Pack said; "I don't think any of them would like to be [involved]."

The actual choice of Chief Rabbi will be made by two other smaller committees, both chaired by Mr Pack. A working group of eight, including at least two women, will interview candidates and eventually make a recommendation. That name will go for approval to a wider consulting group.

Members of both the working and consultative groups will be asked to sign confidentiality agreements not to reveal the names of interviewees - otherwise, Mr Pack suggested, some candidates might be deterred from applying.

There is no place for rabbis on either of the working or consulting groups - although they will be advised by the London Beth Din's senior dayan, Dayan Menachem Gelley, and chairman of the US Rabbinical Council, Rabbi Baruch Davis.

Although the US understood the "clamour for democracy", Mr Pack said: "I don't think an election is necessarily going to help us appoint the best candidate." But the working-group members will all be people who have been elected to a communal post at some stage.

He had already received inquiries from Israel, South Africa and America. "In excess of a dozen" names are being touted as possible contenders, including half from the UK.

Last updated: 12:47pm, November 17 2011