Britain names Ephraim Mirvis new chief rabbi

Long-serving communal rabbi in Britain selected by the Orthodox communal association to be its new chief rabbi.

December 19, 2012 02:23
2 minute read.

EPHRAIM MIRVIS 370. (photo credit: Courtesy Rabbinical Center of Europe)


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The UK’s United Synagogue announced Monday that Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, a long-serving communal rabbi in Britain, has been selected by the Orthodox communal association to be its new chief rabbi.

Mirvis – who was selected in a unanimous vote by some 30 members of the Consultative Committee of the Chief Rabbinate Trust – will take over from current Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who has held the post since 1991.

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The UK’s chief rabbi, whose full title is Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, represents the 65 member-synagogues of the United Synagogue association of Orthodox communities in London, as well as some 80 provincial Orthodox communities around the UK that recognize the authority of the chief rabbi but are not formal members of the association.

Mirvis, 55, has served as the communal rabbi of Finchley Synagogue in London for the past 16 years, and held the position of chief rabbi of Ireland from 1984-1992.

Born and raised in South Africa, Mirvis, a qualified shohet (ritual slaughterer) and mohel (ritual circumciser), has spent much of his professional life in the UK and will take office in September 2013 when Sacks steps down.

Peter Sheldon, chairman of the Chief Rabbinate Trust and a former president of the United Synagogue, told The Jerusalem Post that Mirvis would be a big gain for the Jewish community in the UK, but a big loss for Finchley Synagogue.

“Rabbi Mirvis has had an enormous impact in Finchley; he transformed what was frankly a dispirited and ailing community into one of the most exciting and dynamic communities in the UK,” said Sheldon.

He added that Mirvis’s skills as a communal rabbi would help him strengthen the communal aspect of Jewish life in the UK, and that he would seek to emulate his achievements in Finchley on a national scale.

Regarding the challenges facing contemporary Jewish life and Orthodox Judaism in the UK, Sheldon said that Mirvis has a modern Orthodox outlook and would be able to deal with such issues with compassion and understanding, while firmly applying the tenets of Jewish law.

Sacks was criticized by several public figures within the UK Jewish community earlier this year for opposing gay marriage.

He is, however, expected to maintain his public presence and will continue to play a part in communal Jewish life.

Sacks is greatly respected by the Jewish community in the UK as well as wider society. He is a member of the House of Lords, the upper house of the UK’s parliament, has written numerous books on Judaism, religion and society, and is a frequent guest on radio and television.

Sheldon said that there is no concern that Mirvis might be overshadowed by Sacks’s legacy, explaining that the new chief rabbi would bring “a new perspective and abilities to the public role.”

Mirvis’s previous position as chief rabbi of Ireland and his experience liaising with government officials as well as church and other faith leaders, is expected to keep him in good stead with regard to the more public aspects of his new role.

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