The people’s chief: Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis appointed as Sacks's successor

By Jenni Frazer, December 20, 2012
Chief Rabbi-elect Ephraim Mirvis

Chief Rabbi-elect Ephraim Mirvis

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who on Monday night was chosen as the successor to Lord Sacks, has said he wants to be an accessible chief rabbi and to have “warm… constructive” relations with “sister Jewish movements”.

He will use his office to act as “a catalyst for deepening commitment to Jewish identity, values and learning.”

Speaking to the JC the day after his appointment, the current rabbi of Finchley Synagogue said he has already been developing his vision. “I have a very clear idea of it and have an appetite for it. My wife and I are hugely excited at the prospect”.

Rabbi Mirvis also revealed that the decision to apply for the post was “easy”, a result of many people telling him he had what it takes.

“It didn’t start out with me thinking, ‘I want this position’. Rather, over a number of years, people have told me that they think I have the makings for a good chief rabbi. Obviously, during the past year or two that has intensified. I have drawn a lot of encouragement from the huge amount of support expressed by many people.”

He said that his role at Finchley shul and previous experience as Chief Rabbi of Ireland was what made others think of his suitability.

“I have been involved in the transformation of a dysfunctional community into a flagship congregation.”

Although Rabbi Mirvis has been careful not to spell out the specifics of what he intends to do, he outlined three areas in which he wants to work.

“The first is national leadership, representing the community at the highest possible levels, including government level and interfaith level.

“Second is education, both formal and informal for all ages and interest groups.

“And the third is community development. It is there that I see our rabbis as the keys to strengthening our communities.”

Rabbi Mirvis pledged commitment to “those who are involved in our communities and those who are not yet involved in our communities.”

He said he drew encouragement from the recent census “because there was a presumption that there was a steady slide of decline”.

But he is “troubled” by one aspect of it: “There is every indication that there are many more Jewish people in Britain — there are numerous Israelis, there are many who are Jewish and who do not express it in a ready fashion.”

His aim would be to serve both “the interests of those already involved and also those who are not.”

Asked how he would interact with other denominations, Rabbi Mirvis said: “I would seek to have — hopefully — warm, friendly and constructive relationships with the heads of our sister Jewish movements.”

He said that now was not the time to talk about Limmud, which Lord Sacks has refused to visit. “Obviously, I have a very clear idea. But Lord Sacks is chief rabbi until August 2013. My policies will become known on the day after he steps down. There will be a lot to say about that.”

Perhaps the biggest clue to the Mirvis chief rabbinate style came when he spoke about the d’var Torah which he gave to the group which endorsed his appointment on Monday evening.

“I spoke about Joseph, who adopted a dual form of leadership. One was a gentle mensch, and at the same time he was an authority. He needed to get some tough moves going in order to save that country.

"And I, likewise, would see a great leader as somebody who is a man of the people, who loves people and reaches out to them — being a mensch is of critical importance to me, but at the same time one needs to be a strong leader and to use one’s authority where appropriate in order to ensure one’s success.”

“Overall, accessibility is the key,” Rabbi Mirvis declared. “I have always prided myself on being an accessible rabbi, and I certainly want to be an accessible chief rabbi.

"My wife and I are looking forward to spending as many Shabbatot as possible within communities, reaching out, educating and hopefully inspiring communities.”

Last updated: 2:34pm, December 20 2012