Could Israel's Metzger succeed Sacks?

By Anshel Pfeffer and Marcus Dysch, December 15, 2011
Who, me? No, no, I couldn’t possibly… well, all right then, since you ask, I'll come to Britain.

Who, me? No, no, I couldn’t possibly… well, all right then, since you ask, I'll come to Britain.

Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger has declared his interest in becoming Britain's new chief rabbi when Lord Sacks steps down in 2013.

Rabbi Metzger's aides and his spokesman Avi Blumenfeld said he had been approached by a prominent member of the UK's Orthodox community regarding his possible candidacy.

But the United Synagogue said it was "taken aback" by the suggestion that an offer might have been made to Rabbi Metzger, and denied that there had been any such approach.

Sources close to Rabbi Metzger were reluctant to identify who had approached him about the job, saying only that the individual was "a prominent leader in the strictly Orthodox community who is also well-connected in the British government and Buckingham Palace."

The same sources said senior Charedi politicians in Israel supported Rabbi Metzger's candidacy, "out of gratitude for his co-operation over the years. He is seen as someone who will toe the line of the Charedi rabbis in matters of conversion, which have global Jewish significance".

There is currently a push in Israel to amend a law which bars chief rabbis from standing for more than 10 years. Many people hope Sephardi Chief Rabbi Moshe Amar will stay on, but it is widely expected that Rabbi Metzger will be looking for a new job.

He has made it clear in private conversations that he would prefer to move abroad after ending his 10-year term as chief rabbi in Israel, and would prefer to lead a Jewish community in the diaspora.

"There is no question," said a rabbi who spoke to him, "that he would love to take the job in London if it was offered to him."

Given that Rabbi Metzger is 58, he would be an unlikely choice: Lord Sacks was 44 when he became chief rabbi.

The suggestion that the offer to Rabbi Metzger came from someone with links to Buckingham Palace was thought to be a reference to British businessman Michael Gross, a supporter of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. But Mr Gross insisted: "It's absolutely news to me. I am not involved. If I was, I would look at Rabbi Meir Soloveichik in the United States."

United Synagogue president Stephen Pack said: "While I fully expect leading rabbinic figures around the world to be a focus of speculation in connection with the appointment of the next chief rabbi, I am taken aback by the suggestion that there has been any kind of 'offer' made to anybody in this regard.

"An enormous amount of effort has gone into creating a process that is designed to transparently produce the best possible range of candidates for this world-leading role. Nobody involved in this process has, or could ever, make such an offer."

Rabbi Metzger was a controversial choice for Israeli chief rabbi as many in the national-religious community, where he grew up, viewed him as lacking the necessary credentials. He had never served as a city rabbi, dayan (rabbinical judge) or the head of a yeshivah before becoming chief rabbi.

As chief rabbi, he has left most of the halachic work to Rabbi Amar while concerning himself mainly with interfaith issues and work with Jewish communities around the world.

In 2005, he was the subject of a police investigation over charges of fraud and bribery. The Attorney-General at the time, Menachem Mazuz, decided not to press charges but severely reprimanded him, said he had lied to the police and called on him to resign. Rabbi Metzger responded that the allegations were part of a "smear campaign" against him.

Last updated: 2:09pm, December 15 2011