Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to be next UK chief rabbi

By Jenni Frazer, December 17, 2012
Chief Rabbi designate Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis (Photo: John Rifkin)

Chief Rabbi designate Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis (Photo: John Rifkin)

Britain's chief rabbi-designate is to be Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis of Finchley Synagogue, the United Synagogue has announced.

He will be Anglo-Jewry's 11th chief rabbi. And, like most of his predecessors, Rabbi Mirvis is not British-born.

But the 56-year-old South African-born rabbi, the son and grandson of religious leaders, has spent a large part of his career serving Anglo-Saxon communities.

This, of course, is not his first chief rabbinate. He was Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1985 to 1992, and for three years before that was minister of Dublin's Adelaide Road Synagogue.

Rabbi Mirvis comes from a family of rabbis and teachers. His grandfather, Rev Lazar Mirvis, was a minister in Johannesburg, while his father, Rabbi Dr Lionel Mirvis, led the Claremont Synagogue and also the Wynberg Hebrew Congregation in Cape Town.

His mother, Freida, was principal of the Athlone Teachers Training College, which, during the apartheid years, was the only college for black teachers of pre-school instruction in South Africa.

After leaving Cape Town for Israel, where he attended a number of yeshivot and obtained his semicha (rabbinical qualification), Rabbi Mirvis married Zimbabwe-born Valerie Kaplan, a former senior social worker with Jewish Care, who now works for a local authority in the same capacity. The couple have four sons.

Along the way Rabbi Mirvis qualified as a shochet, mohel and chazan. Between 1992 and 1996 he was the rabbi of Marble Arch Synagogue. Since 1996 he has become synonymous with the ever-growing Finchley Synagogue, one of the biggest congregations in London.

A member of his congregation said on Monday night: "The congregation is torn. They know he is the best candidate to be chief rabbi. But they will miss him desperately. They think he is irreplaceable."

It is more than two years since Lord Sacks’ retirement date was announced.

His departure was announced at a United Synagogue council meeting on December 13, 2010.

Then US President Simon Hochhauser made clear that there would be a successor and said focus groups would be used during the recruitment process.

Rabbi Mirvis was the long-time frontrunner for the role, but the US selection procedure nonetheless took months longer than expected. It was first intended to name the new chief by Rosh Hashanah 2012.

Last updated: 11:56am, December 18 2012