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YU’s Soloveichik Being Considered for Chief Rabbi of United Kingdom

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Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is preparing to retire as England’s Chief Rabbi next year, and there is intense speculation over who his successor may be.A young rabbi with a famous last name and a reputation for brilliance is being strongly considered for the position of England’s Chief Rabbi.

Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik serves as director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University, and has a position as associate rabbi at one of Manhattan’s most prestigious synagogues, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun. He is also the great-nephew of Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveichik, known as “the Rav,” who was generally regarded as the leader of America’s Modern Orthodox community up until his passing in 1993.

“He is expected in London within a few days,” said a source with connections to the selection process. “My sense is that’s who they want.”

According to another source, a senior leader of the British Jewish community, Rabbi Soloveichik has the quiet support of the country’s current chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks. “He’s pushing Soloveichik in a discreet way… He is becoming more engaged in the process,” the source disclosed.

The source, who requested anonymity, said that Rabbi Sacks was hoping for a candidate who would have a broadly recognizable public image, like his own, and he believed that Rabbi Soloveichik emulated his own image to a great degree.

“Sacks and his advisors realize that there is a legacy issue here, and he doesn’t want to preside over an office that is then downgraded,” the source said. “There may be some timing issues with Soloveichik but Sacks is pushing that if they can get [Soloveichik], they should wait for him. When Sacks was appointed, he then spent a year learning in Israel. So it would not be unprecedented.”

At the same time, though, sources who are close to the chief rabbi have heatedly denied that he is a proponent of any candidate, while another source with significant knowledge of the selection process said that “the chief rabbi has kept resolutely out of it. He’s been incredibly sensible and aloof; he’s kept right out of it.”

Rabbi Sacks’ term of office ends in September of 2013. The leading candidates for his post until now have been assumed to be Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the rabbi of Finchley United Synagogue, one of the flagship Modern Orthodox congregations in North London, and a former chief rabbi of Ireland; and Rabbi Harvey Belovski, rabbi of Golders Green United Synagogue, another prestigious shul in the midst of Jewish London. Among overseas candidates, the most likely contenders are rumored to be Michael Broyde, a professor of law at Emory University in Atlanta; Daniel Beller, a British rabbi who moved to Israel 15 years ago, where he leads the Shivtei Yisrael congregation in Ra’anana; and Jonathan Rosenblatt of the Riverdale Jewish Center in New York.

Since the announcement by Rabbi Sacks two years ago that he plans to retire, British Jews have been engaged in extensive debate about the exact role they feel his successor should fulfill. While the chief rabbi’s actual position is only as leader of the United Synagogue, an organization of just over sixty Modern Orthodox synagogues, he is widely viewed as the key representative of British Jewry. Rabbi Sacks has been regarded as primarily functioning in the role of spokesperson for his country’s Jewish community to the outside world, while remaining essentially uninvolved in urgent internal communal issues such as women’s roles in Orthodoxy, interdenominational relations and the direction of the London Beth Din, which many consider to be too Chareidi for Britain’s Modern Orthodox community.

Apparently, the Jewish community in England is divided about what degree of influence the chief rabbi should exert in these roles. Most of the rumored candidates are considered to be particularly strong in internal affairs. In contrast, Rabbi Soloveichik, who is in his mid 30s, is celebrated for his extraordinary intellectual abilities, which may even be equivalent to that of Rabbi Sacks, as well as for his charisma as a public speaker.

“Like Sacks, he is wonderful at presenting Judaism to those who are curious about it but are not interested in it in terms of personal observance,” says the source close to the search process. “He can speak to unaffiliated people, to people of other faiths. He is interested in being the Jewish face to non-Jews. He is not interested in the internal structure of the Jewish community.”

Rabbi Soloveichik’s Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University has a self-proclaimed mission to cultivate “the Orthodox intellectual and civic leaders of the future.” According to the institution’s website, its students receive both an in-depth Jewish education and philosophical training, and they are “guided in learning the art of expressing ideas to the wider society, allowing them to serve mankind by bringing genuinely Jewish ideas to the world.”

In the opinion of the source close to the selection process, “If they’re looking for a model similar to Rabbi Sacks, Meir Soloveichik is the right guy.” However, this same source cautioned that it would be ultimately problematic for the community if it neglected its internal affairs. “Sacks has been a very powerful voice,” the source notes, “but the big problems eating away at the United Synagogue have not been dealt with.”

 No matter who ends up ascending to the position, they “will have their own persona,” the source asserted. “There are no pre-set ideas. It is completely open-minded. Most people would be very surprised at the range of different styles and qualities that have been looked at. The job specification and people specification are on the chief rabbi’s website, and they haven’t changed at all. Nothing has changed.”

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