Is this the end of Golders Green Charedi giants?

Does the death of Rabbi Elchonon Halpern mark the end of an era?


The death last week of the nonagenarian president of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, Rabbi Elchonon Halpern, not only deprived Golders Green of one of its most influential post-war Jewish figures, it marked the passing of the area's Charedi old guard.

Last month, Rabbi Pinchas Roberts, the presiding rabbi of another of the original strictly Orthodox settlements in north-west London, the Hendon Adath Yisroel, retired without fanfare after close to half-a-century in charge. So far, no successor is in sight.

"It's left a leadership vacuum," said one younger member of the shtibl belt. "No one has stepped up to the plate, although people are trying. But there's not a dominant figure."

Rabbis Halpern and Roberts had zealously protected the Union's north-west borders. When the London Beth Din established the North-West London Eruv in 2003, the Union conservatives declared the innovation invalid and told their flock to avoid using it.

Rabbi Halpern, popularly known as Reb Chuna, has been succeeded in his own synagogue by his son, Moshe. But it was another son, Chaim, who was long seen as the heir apparent and regarded as the most charismatic Charedi leader in town.

He might even have emerged with greater kudos than his father, had not scandal engulfed him in 2012 over allegations about his counselling sessions for married women. Though protesting his innocence, he resigned his position on the Union rabbinate. A police investigation resulted in no charges.

The episode wounded him and the spell of the Halpern clan was broken. Moreover, the Union's position is felt to be generally on the wane in Golders Green, while the Federation, keen to reassert its presence, would be only too happy to welcome new recruits.

So who could be the top tallit in future? The recent launch of a rabbinical helpline by Rabbi Yisroel Meir Greenberg, head of the Golders Green Beth Hamedrash has been seen as a sign of broader ambitions.

Meanwhile, new shtibls pop up every so often. Individual rabbis may be happy to operate as masters of their houses without any alpha-rabbis blowing a louder shofar. It is possible we may not see the like of Reb Chuna again.

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