Time for the Jew in the pew to ask search­ing ques­tions

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - BY RABBI YITZCHAK SCHOCHET

WHEN THE elec­tion for pres­i­dent of the United Synagogue was un­der way, ru­mours were cir­cu­lat­ing that the con­tenders each had his own pre­ferred can­di­date he would like to see “se­lected” as the next chief rabbi. The pres­i­dent would de facto be­come a mem­ber of the am­bigu­ous group known as the Chief Rab­binate Trust and could then ex­ert his in­flu­ence to achieve his aims.

Whether or not those ru­mours were true and whether the re­sult re­flected more than just who peo­ple wanted to see as pres­i­dent, the re­al­ity is that the process of se­lec­tion is flawed.

Who are the Chief Rab­binate trustees? How are they ap­pointed and what makes them rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the United Synagogue con­stituency? In­deed, who gave them the man­date to se­lect the next chief rabbi, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that for the most part the post op­er­ates in­de­pen­dent of the United Synagogue? How many un­der the age of 40, rep­re­sent­ing a crit­i­cal el­e­ment of theUnit­edSy­n­a­gogue,siton­this­board? How many women are in­volved?

One­former­mem­berof theChief Rab­binate Trust, who re­signed some time ago, told me: “If you were to be­come Chief Rabbi I would con­sider re­join­ing the trust.” Flat­ter­ing though that may be, it re­flects the fal­lacy of the sys­tem.

Rather than a se­lec­tion process which is fraught with com­plex­ity and lack­ing in trans­parency, there should be an elec­tion to in­clude a far wider rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the US. Wher­ever I have pre­sented the case for an elec­tion, I find an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity in agree­ment with me. Those who dis­agree make one of two ar­gu­ments. Some draw com­par­isons with other Jewish re­li­gious lead­er­ship, such as Cha­sidic “Rebbes,” who are never elected. True, but they are not quite se­lected ei­ther. They emerge of their own, most of­ten by fa­mil­ial suc­ces­sion and by virtue of their unique spir­i­tual stature.

Oth­ers will in­sist that no world re­li­gious lead­ers are elected by uni­ver­sal vote. Maybe not a uni­ver­sal vote, but isn’t the Pope elected by 120 men from the Col­lege of Car­di­nals? On that ba­sis, the rab­binate should cer­tainly have a vote. In­deed, the chief rabbi is first and fore­most the rab­bis’ rabbi. What say, if any, do rab­bis have in the process? Shouldn’t it be them, rather than a lay lead­er­ship, mak­ing the de­ci­sion?

It could well be ar­gued that apart from the rab­binate, there should be some lay in­put in an elec­tion. As such, at the very least this should in­clude the US Coun­cil rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Po­ten­tial can­di­dates could present be­fore them, and they in turn could vote with a twothirds ma­jor­ity re­quired.

To­date,the­ex­tent­towhichany“in­ter­est groups” have been in­cluded, has been lim­ited to fill­ing out a ques­tion­naire on what they deem to be re­quired qual­i­ties for a chief rabbi. The col­lec­tive view will be taken into ac­count when draw­ing up a job de­scrip­tion, but they will have no in­put be­yond that as to the ad­e­quacy of any par­tic­u­lar can­di­date.

The de­ci­sion that will be made on the next chief rabbi will im­pact on an en­tire new gen­er­a­tion. Peo­ple tend to ask in­quis­i­tively about the process. Many will air con­cerns about the sta­tus quo. But there needs to be more of a con­certed ob­jec­tion by the pay­ing mem­ber­ship if there is to be any change to a presently ques­tion­able sys­tem. Yitzchak Schochet is rabbi of Mill Hill United Synagogue

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