Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Scholar Argues Britain No Longer Needs Chief Rabbi

The Forward this week published an interesting opinion piece by a visiting scholar at Oxford arguing that in Britain, the position of Chief Rabbi has outlived its usefulness.  In December, a selection committee from Britain's Orthodox Jewish United Synagogue chose Rabbi Ephraim  Mervis to succeed Lord Jonathan Sacks as Chief Rabbi later this year.  According to op-ed author Keith Kahn-Harris:
[B]ehind the imposing title of chief rabbi lies an often beleaguered office, struggling to reconcile the United Synagogue’s different wings. Outside the United Synagogue, other denominations, from Reform to Haredi, are clear that the chief rabbi does not represent them. At the national level, other Jewish leaders are invited to most state events alongside him....
From the 18th to the early 20th century, the chief rabbi, whose office was modeled closely on the established Church of England, provided an arguably useful service in demonstrating to non-Jewish British society that Jews were respectable enough to be emancipated. But in today’s multicultural Britain, where even the established church doesn’t command the loyalty of more than a small minority of Britons, the chief rabbinate is clearly anachronistic.