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JfJfP comments


06 May: Tair Kaminer starts her fifth spell in gaol. Send messages of support via Reuven Kaminer

04 May: Against the resort to denigration of Israel’s critics


23 Dec: JfJfP policy statement on BDS

14 Nov: Letter to the Guardian about the Board of Deputies

11 Nov: UK ban on visiting Palestinian mental health workers

20 Oct: letter in the Guardian

13 Sep: Rosh Hashanah greetings

21 Aug: JfJfP on Jeremy Corbyn

29 July: Letter to Evening Standard about its shoddy reporting

24 April: Letter to FIFA about Israeli football

15 April: Letter re Ed Miliband and Israel

11 Jan: Letter to the Guardian in response to Jonathan Freedland on Charlie Hebdo


15 Dec: Chanukah: Celebrating the miracle of holy oil not military power

1 Dec: Executive statement on bill to make Israel the nation state of the Jewish people

25 Nov: Submission to All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism

7 Sept: JfJfP Executive statement on Antisemitism

3 Aug: Urgent disclaimer

19 June Statement on the three kidnapped teenagers

25 April: Exec statement on Yarmouk

28 Mar: EJJP letter in support of Dutch pension fund PGGM's decision to divest from Israeli banks

24 Jan: Support for Riba resolution

16 Jan: EJJP lobbies EU in support of the EU Commission Guidelines, Aug 2013–Jan 2014


29 November: JfJfP, with many others, signs a "UK must protest at Bedouin expulsion" letter

November: Press release, letter to the Times and advert in the Independent on the Prawer Plan

September: Briefing note and leaflet on the Prawer Plan

September: JfJfP/EJJP on the EU guidelines with regard to Israel

14th June: JfJfP joins other organisations in protest to BBC

2nd June: A light unto nations? - a leaflet for distribution at the "Closer to Israel" rally in London

24 Jan: Letter re the 1923 San Remo convention

18 Jan: In Support of Bab al-Shams

17 Jan: Letter to Camden New Journal about Veolia

11 Jan: JfJfP supports public letter to President Obama

Comments in 2012 and 2011



Whose chief is the Chief Rabbi?

To the amazement of many readers, the Jewish Chronicle in December 2012 appeared with a front page banner headline ‘The People’s Chief’. (This has subsequently been moderated).
The articles posted here show just how few of ‘the people’ in the UK – including the Jewish people, who constitute by far the smallest of Britain’s mainstream religions – acknowledge the Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue as their ‘chief’. The singularity of Jewish offices is heightened by the geographic concentration of Jewish households in London and its environs.

So in such a diverse society, and with so many different strands of Jewishness, Keith Kahn-Harris, 1st, says ‘Institution of Chief Rabbi Has Outlived Its Usefulness’; 2nd, Extract from report ‘Synagogue Membership in the United Kingdom in 2010’; 3rd, a few figures from the Office of National Statistics.

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis is the new chief rabbi of the United Kingdom. Photo, by Getty Images.

Institution of Chief Rabbi Has Outlived Its Usefulness

No Need for Single Jewish Leader In Pluralistic Britain

By Keith Kahn-Harris, Jewish Forward
February 10, 2013

Finally, after more than a year of deliberation, the United Kingdom has chosen Ephraim Mirvis to be its new chief rabbi, replacing Lord Jonathan Sacks.

Actually, much of that sentence isn’t correct. It isn’t “the United Kingdom” that chooses the chief rabbi. For all its pretensions to established status, the chief rabbinate has only a very limited state-sanctioned function — the licensing of marriages in some synagogues — and the state has no role in his selection.

The chief rabbi isn’t even chosen by a majority of British Jews, just by a selection committee from the centrist Orthodox United Synagogue, to whose synagogues about one-third of the community belong. Even within the United Synagogue, the chief rabbi is not the ultimate authority. Rather, it’s a Haredi-leaning beit din, or rabbinical court, that has the last word on halachic matters. To make matters even more complicated, the majority of United Synagogue members are not Orthodox observant. In fact, the sort of Modern Orthodoxy that Sacks exemplified is probably the least influential tendency in the United Synagogue.

So behind the imposing title of chief rabbi lies an often beleaguered office, struggling to reconcile the United Synagogue’s different wings. Outside the United Synagogue, other denominations, from Reform to Haredi, are clear that the chief rabbi does not represent them. At the national level, other Jewish leaders are invited to most state events alongside him.

As head of Jews College in the 1980s, Sacks was the poster boy for liberal, intellectual Modern Orthodoxy, with a substantial reputation as a public intellectual. He began his term in 1991 with a bold effort to reach out to all wings of the community and kick-start a process of renewal in a stagnating U.K. Jewish community.

But he raised expectations that he could not fulfill, and in the 1990s he was caught up in repeated controversies as his tendency to defer to the ascendant power of right-wing Orthodoxy resulted in grievous insults to non-Orthodox denominations. While his reputation outside the Jewish community has only soared, within the community he often has been a hapless and divisive figure.

The attempt to recruit his successor has not been easy. The Orthodox rabbinate, now dominated by educated Israeli and American rabbis who usually lean to the right, offered a small pool of candidates. An international search ultimately led nowhere.

Mirvis was the best possible choice for the new chief rabbi, given the circumstances. A respected, well-liked figure, he owes his reputation as a rabbi to one of the U.K.’s most vibrant Orthodox synagogues. He is unlikely to be more than a safe pair of hands, and that is probably best for all sides.

In fact, the office of chief rabbi is long past its sell-by date. From the 18th to the early 20th century, the chief rabbi, whose office was modeled closely on the established Church of England, provided an arguably useful service in demonstrating to non-Jewish British society that Jews were respectable enough to be emancipated. But in today’s multicultural Britain, where even the established church doesn’t command the loyalty of more than a small minority of Britons, the chief rabbinate is clearly anachronistic.

Indeed, it’s more than anachronistic. The most baleful effect of the chief rabbinate has been to retard the progress of Modern Orthodoxy in Anglo-Jewry. In its efforts to maintain itself as a quasi-established Orthodox denomination, the United Synagogue has become an institution that satisfies few.

It’s clear why the United States has never had a chief rabbi. In a religiously pluralist country, with no established church, there was no need or desire to set up a Jewish primate. In the innately free-market approach of American society, in which Jews, like everyone else, crave choice, it was always going to be impossible for any one leading denomination to claim superior status.

The effect of this pluralism has been to ensure that the United States has been the engine room of development of all the significant currents of contemporary Judaism — Haredi, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and so on. Unlike in the U.K., different currents can develop themselves without having a chief rabbinate challenging their legitimacy.

And yet the chief rabbinate has had one odd effect on Anglo-Jewry. The ossified established structure of the community has forced British Jews to be incredibly creative should they wish to escape its shackles. The chief rabbinate gave the generation of innovators who have transformed Anglo-Jewry since the 1980s something to kick against.

The shining example of this is Limmud, the non-denominational, do-it-yourself Jewish learning movement, which holds annual conferences. Developed in the early 1980s out of intense frustration at the stultifying anti-intellectualism and conservatism of Anglo-Jewry, Limmud has grown to be a global educational phenomenon whose effect on the community has been profound.

It is significant, then, that though Sacks was a Limmud regular in the 1980s, he never attended during his chief rabbinate, his participation effectively having been vetoed by a beit din horrified at its pluralism. Mirvis may or may not attend Limmud, but it hardly matters now: Anglo-Jewry has learned how to develop a vibrant community without the chief rabbinate’s help.

Keith Kahn-Harris is an associate fellow of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and a visiting scholar at Oxford University’s Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies.

Synagogue Membership in the United Kingdom in 2010

Report published by Board of Deputies of British Jews and Institute for Jewish Policy Research

By David Graham and Daniel Vulkan
May 2010

Executive summary
The total number of synagogue members by household in the United Kingdom in 2010 is 82,963.
• This membership belongs to a total of 409 synagogues.

• About 73% of Jewish households in the UK belong to a synagogue.

• The long-term decline in synagogue membership recorded over the last 20 years is flattening out. Overall, synagogue membership declined by less than 1% between 2005 and 2010.

• The largest synagogue group, by denomination, is Central Orthodox (including the United Synagogue) with 55% of the total membership. This compares with 66% for this strand in 1990. By contrast, the number of Strictly Orthodox synagogue members has more than doubled over this 20 year period, from 5% to 11% of the total membership. The overall proportion of ‘non-Orthodox’strands relative to ‘Orthodox’ strands has increased from 25.9% in 1990 to 30.8% in 2010.

• Almost 64% of synagogue members live in London. A further 9% are in districts contiguous with London (South Hertfordshire and South-west Essex) and 10% are in Greater Manchester.

• In the past 20 years the greatest growth in synagogue membership has occurred in Broughton Park (Manchester) (up 119%), Hertsmere (up 101%), Stamford Hill (up 98%), and Hillingdon (up 84%).

By contrast, the biggest declines were experienced in the City of Glasgow (down 82%), Tower Hamlets (down 78%), Hackney (excluding Stamford Hill) (down 66%), Sefton (down 63%), Lambeth (down 61%), and Brent (down 50%).

• We caution that it is increasingly difficult to produce accurate synagogue membership figures because of the changing ways in which Jews are choosing to affiliate to Jewish communities. Membership in some quarters is highly fluid, informal and transient, whilst in others, synagogues do not use formalized membership structures as a means of indicating belonging.

• If the narrow definition {head of household is Jewish] is used, then 74% of ‘Jewish households’ belonged to a synagogue in 2001.
• If the broad definition is used, [member of household is Jewish] then 59% of ‘Jewish households’ belonged to a synagogue in 2001.

Religious affiliation by local authority, England and Wales
Office of National Statistics
Local authorities in England Wales with highest proportion of Jewish households
Barnet 15.2
Hertsmere 14.3
Hackney 6.3
Bury 5.6
Camden 4.5

Number of Jews in UK
263,346 people England and Wales, approximately 6,500 in Scotland, under 100 in N Ireland.

Office of Chief Rabbi
The title dates from around 1766 and was adopted by the rabbi of the Great Synagogue in London.

In modern times, the title goes to the head of British Orthodox synagogues, whose members constitute about half of British synagogue goers, themselves about half of Jews in the UK. Other synagogue denominations, including Orthodox Hebrew, Haredi, Liberal, Reform and Masorti to not recognise the authority of the’Chief Rabbi’.

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