Poll shows Finchley's Ephraim Mirvis is favourite for Chief Rabbi role

By Simon Rocker, June 7, 2012

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of Finchley United Synagogue is the favourite to succeed Lord Sacks as chief rabbi according to a straw poll of UK rabbis conducted by the JC.

Four of 20 United Synagogue and regional Orthodox rabbis opted outright for Rabbi Mirvis, a former Chief Rabbi of Ireland who now heads one of the United Synagogue’s largest and most dynamic congregations.

Two chose Rabbi Harvey Belovski, the Gateshead Yeshivah and Oxford University-educated minister of Golders Green United Synagogue; two wanted Rabbi Warren Goldstein, Chief Rabbi of South Africa; and one backed Rabbi Michael Broyde, a law professor and member of the Beth Din of America.

Two other rabbis said they would be happy with either Rabbi Mirvis or Rabbi Belovski. But the results also suggested that no candidate is truly ahead of the pack: five rabbis were undecided, two unwilling to declare a preference, one hoped Lord Sacks would stay on “for a few more years” and one believed there should be no chief rabbi at all.

Rabbi Mirvis, who will be 57 at the time of Rabbi Sacks’s scheduled retirement in September 2013, “looks like a chief rabbi, speaks like a chief rabbi and behaves like a chief rabbi,” said one supporter. He “understands and knows the community well,” another said. “He shows exceptional common sense in many ways.”

A pro-Belovski rabbi said the Golders Green spiritual leader “ticks a lot of boxes. He is eloquent, has charisma and can relate to the non-Jewish community.” Another described Rabbi Belovski as “the rabbis’ rabbi, who is the mentor for a lot of rabbis.”

Rabbis do not have a seat on the selection panel for the new chief rabbi, although Dayan Menachem Gelley of the London Beth Din and Rabbi Baruch Davis, chairman of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue, act as advisers.

The Chief Rabbinate Trust has drawn a tight veil of secrecy around the appointment by making those involved sign confidentiality pledges — a necessary measure, it has argued, to attract candidates who might not want their congregations to know they have applied.

Most rabbis indicated their preference for a local candidate. “What worries me,” said one rabbi, “is bringing somebody from abroad who has no idea of how Anglo-Jewry operates.”

But one of Rabbi Goldstein’s advocates argued that he “has a track record of making a public contribution despite his young years. If he can be persuaded, it would be a good thing for the community.”

One undecided rabbi commented: “It’s a shame, but I honestly can’t think of somebody within the terms of the very broad remit the chief rabbi has. With the possible exception of Rabbi Mirvis, I don’t think any of the names suggested would be suitable.”

According to the published timetable, the first round of interviews for chief rabbi are due to be completed by the end of the month — but the Chief Rabbinate Trust would not divulge the number of candidates.

Last updated: 9:52am, June 8 2012