The incoming Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said today he was “totally committed” to working with non-Orthodox colleagues but declined to say whether he would visit non-Orthodox synagogues.
In a short BBC radio interview, he also sidestepped a question on whether he would enable women to enjoy a fuller role within synagogue life.
Asked about women, he said; “Within our communities we are seeing huge vitality, many congregations which are bursting with highly successful programmes and here and there we are thinning out.
“There are those who are calling for some elements of change and we have already seen a lot that has been done. I am delighted for example that the United Synagogue recently announced that women can become chairmen of congregations and as a result we already have a number of women who are now the leaders of their communities.”
As for the possibility of women rabbis, he responded that “in our tradition, men have occupied that role, and that is the format for Orthodox congregations”.
Rabbi Mirvis was speaking to BBC religious correspondent Robert Pigott on the World at One.
When asked whether the central Orthodox were lagging behind the Progressives on issues of gender and sexuality, including gay marriage, he said: “We have a very clear biblical definition of marriage, which is the union of one man and one woman and through that we value traditional family life.
“But I would like to reiterate our genuine sentiment to every single Jewish man and woman you have a home in our synagogues and we will make you feel comfortable, regardless of who you are.”
Equality was not uniformity, he explained. “When it comes for example to men and for women, and the opportunity within synagogues, within community life, there are clear roles that different people can play and in that way, everyone can achieve his or her own amazing potential.”
Asked about whether he would step into a non-Orthodox synagogue, he responded, “There are many ways in which we can express friendship and togetherness and as the incoming chief rabbi, I extend a hand of warmth and friendship to my colleagues who are in movements outside of the Orthodox movements.
“I would like them to know I’d like to work closely with them. Unity of the Jewish people is of enormous importance. We have enough problems from those on the outside.
“Within our own ranks, we need to build on that which unites us, and not concentrate so much on that which separates us.”
He said he was “totally committed and dedicated to working with the non-Orthodox community and they will find in me a friend, somebody who is genuinely willing to work together with them at all times”.