Rabbi Michael Melchior, a former minister and Meimad party leader who has also served as the chief rabbi of Norway for thirty years, is being mentioned as the potential next chief rabbi of Britain.
The United Synagogue in Britain will not announce its new chief rabbi for at least another year, but there is rife speculation on the identity of the successor to Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. One of the interesting possibilities being discussed is the appointment of an Israeli rabbi to the post.
One name that has already been mentioned in the media is that of the current Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, Yonah Metzger, who is scheduled to end his ten-year tenure in mid-2013 - a date which dovetails with Rabbi Sacks’ planned retirement in September. But although Metzger has privately confirmed that he would be interested in the post and there are machers, aligned mainly with Lubavitch and other ultra-Orthodox groups in British Jewry, who would like to see him appointed, the mainstream view in the community is that Metzger’s lack of an academic background, in addition to his yeshiva education, would rule him out as a viable candidate. Also, his brush with former Attorney General Manny Mazuz, who demanded in 2005 that the chief rabbi resign after being investigated over charges of fraud and bribery, would rule him out.
A senior official in one of the Jewish organizations close to the selection process said that “the Metzger rumors are self-interested and he is not regarded as a serious candidate. There is a much more likely Israeli candidate and that is Michael Melchior. He has all the necessary qualifications, has served as a chief rabbi of a Jewish community and has extensive experience in working with all strands and denominations in the Jewish world and has done interfaith work.”
Melchior, 57, was born in Denmark and studied at Yeshivat Ha-Kotel in Jerusalem and served as chief rabbi of Norway since the early 1980s, commuting to Oslo from Jerusalem after making aliyah in 1986.
He joined the centrist-religious party Meimad in the mid-1990s and represented the party as a Knesset member from 1999-2009. During his parliamentary career, he was deputy minister in the foreign and education ministries, minister for Diaspora affairs and chaired the Knesset Education committee. A senior executive in a Jewish organization, who asked to remain anonymous, said this week that “Melchior combines a solid Orthodox background with a track record of standing up to the more fanatical elements of Orthodoxy and working harmoniously with the Reform and Liberal movements. After Rabbi Sacks, who too often capitulated to the right-wing rabbis of his Beth Din (rabbinical court), British Jewry needs a chief rabbi who can stand up to those pressures and unify the different parts of our community.”
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