Jews the world as the Chief Rabbi
Rabbi Sidon is a former anti-Communist dissident. On one occasion a brawl broke out between supporters of the two rabbis in the Altneu. Community members started a campaign to oust Mr Jelinek and succeeded, leading to Rabbi Sidon’s reappointment in 2005.
The Norwegian chief rabbinate was created in 1999 when long-time Oslo minister Rabbi Michael Melchior, who commuted from Israel, was elected to the Knesset and therefore unable to occupy a regular pulpit.
Instead, the Norwegians created a chief rabbi post — unpaid as Knesset members cannot have a second job — especially for Rabbi Melchior. Though he officially serves four-year terms, it is the consensus that he will remain in the post as long as he has time to continue visiting.
In France, the chief rabbi is elected by the Consistoire, the national body which oversees religious services to the mainstream Orthodox community. The actual electorate is small – just 300 rabbis. Lay representatives took part in the ballot in 2008 that saw Gilles Bernheim oust Chief Rabbi Joseph Sitruk from the post he had occupied for the previous 20 years. But the process is far more open than in the UK. The contest between the two men was a presidential-style campaign with adverts in the Jewish press, intense canvassing and viral marketing on social media.
At one point the campaign grew so heated that other Jewish organisations had to issue a statement calling for calm.
When it comes to real democracy, Turkey sets an example to larger Jewish communities. In 2002, the government changed the method of choosing the chief rabbi, regarded as the Jewish community’s official representative, from appointment by a Beth Din, to national elections.
Any male or female member of the Jewish community over the age of 18 is eligible to vote. When Chief Rabbi Izak Haleva was re-elected last year, nearly 5,000 Turkish Jews cast their vote in synagogues around the country.
Italy does not have a national spiritual leader, but each city chooses its own chief rabbi. Riccardo di Segni, Chief Rabbi of Rome, was chosen in 2001 by the 28-strong board of the city’s Jewish community.