COVENTRY, UK – Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the “rabbi to the stars” who penned the
best seller Kosher Sex: A Recipe for Love and Intimacy, is sorry, but he cannot
accept the position of chief rabbi of the UK.
“I’ve recently been voted
intergalactic chief rabbi of the Milky Way and several solar systems,” he told a
crowd of British Jews at Limmud UK on Monday, a Jewish education confab held in
Coventry. “Anything else will be a demotion and will come with a paycheck
Who could replace Sacks?
All joking aside, the New Jersey native - and Jerusalem Post
columnist – who spent over a decade setting up L’Chaim, a successful and
sometimes controversial Jewish student union at Oxford University, isn’t ruling
it out. Not that he’s been offered the job. The decision as to who the
succeeds Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, UK’s longtime chief rabbi, when he steps down
next year, will only be announced by an ad hoc committee of eight in
September. But if the right set of circumstances were to present
themselves, the Orthodox rabbi famous for his unorthodox methods and for being a
one-time friend of the late pop star Michael Jackson would think favorably upon
“It’s not impossible,” he said of such a
hypothetical. He “became a man” during his time at Oxford, holds British
citizenship and is well acquainted with Anglo Jewry.
“If they want
someone with strong conviction and to breathe new life into it with lots of
things that I spoke about today, they would open their pool of candidates – not
just to me but to others,” he said.
If he were offered the job – and he
was careful during the interview not to outright declare his candidacy, falling
just short of such a move – it would have to be redefined.
rabbinate would be one thing and one thing only: Save a dying
community. Inspire them, resuscitate them, rejuvenate them, get Jewish
students on campus to be proud, get them to respectfully fight back as we did in
“Create some sort of unity with Reform and Reform Jews because in
such a small community how can we have so much conflict? It’s not a
He said the next chief rabbi should act to improve
relations between the rabbinate and gays, an issue which some liberal Jews say
was one of Sacks’s biggest failures.
Gay Jews should be invited to
synagogue, Boteach said.
“Who cares what your persuasion is? Come put on
tefillin and daven (pray).” But not everybody would be onboard with the idea of
Boteach being at the religious helm of Anglo Jewry – and he knows
Jewish educator and Limmud legend Clive Lawton, who moderated the
panel where Boteach spoke, mercilessly roasted the rabbi, presenting him as a
person “who writes books about things that aren’t supposed to be kosher and then
makes them kosher like kosher bacon, kosher Jesus [the title of Boteach’s newest
tome] and so on.”
The other panelists also took turns flinging barbs at
him while the audience giggled in delight.
Boteach shrugged off the
not-so-veiled criticism and drove home his main message for the evening, which
was the importance of fighting anti-Semitism in Britain, with the usual mix of
eloquence and confidence.
He received several rounds of applause from the
audience but not all were won over.
One prominent British Jew said
afterwards “there’s no way he’d be given [the rabbinate].”
So who, if not
Boteach? Rabbi Jonathan Romain of the Maidenhead Synagogue, a Reform
congregation, has a strong opinion on who the next chief rabbi should
Sacks, he said, should be the last religious leader to
hold the “strange” office created by the British in 1840.
reject the title that shackles British Jewry,” he said at a panel. “It is a
misnomer which gives the impression that he is representing all Jews whereas he
only represents the United Synagogue,” an Orthodox coalition of
And yet, the search for the next chief rabbi of the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland continues. But one thing is
certain, said Romain in his lecture. Whoever the next chief rabbi will
be, it will “definitely be a he.”