Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Who Will Be The Next Chief Rabbi of England?

The difference between great people and wannabees is how they react to Kavod. Do they seek it or does it seek them?!

One of the greatest people of the 20th century, Rav Moshe Feinstein was of the latter genre. He did not seek Kavod. It sought him because he earned it. He was a member of the Agudah Moetzes. For wannabees that is a sought after feather in their cap. Being on the Moetzes means you have made it! There are people who would “kill” to be on it. They seek it. They lobby for it. They have others lobby for them.

This was not the case with R’ Moshe. It worked the other way. He was asked to join. He agreed because he supported the principles espoused by Agudah. Being on the Moetzes did not add one iota to R’ Moshe’s prestige. The opposite was true. His presence on the Moetzes raised the prestige of the Agudah!

Which brings me to the position of the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain. Those who have held the position in the past did not need that post to make them great. That post needed them to make itself ‘great’. Like his predecessor, Lord Immanuel Jakobowitz, the current Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, has enhanced the prestige of that office.  But he is about to retire.  A search committee is looking for a replacement.

It is quite telling that the 2 leading candidates are both Americans. That doesn’t say much for England’s ability to produce great people. Be that as it may, the leading candidate, Rabbi Michael Broyde is every bit as great as Miriam Shaviv describes him. She has written an article on the subject for The Times of Israel. But like R' Moshe, Rabbi Broyde is not seeking the position. It is seeking him.

I am a fan of Rabbi Broyde. As I often say about him, Rabbi Broyde is definitely one of the rising stars of Modern Orthodoxy. Even at the relatively young age of 48. He is unafraid to assert his views on any subject. Once he has studied the issue exhaustively he tells it like he sees it - no matter how controversial his views  might be. As a sitting Judge on the RCA’s Bet Din of America he personifies Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof – justice, justice you should pursue. He is a believer in Emes and fights for it. No matter what the consequences.

This was demonstrated when he wrote his Halachic treatise on the subject of married women covering their hair. Even though he has received some very strong criticism – including some insults by the right it did not deter him. He has maintained his position. The point is not about whether his arguments are right or wrong. It is that he is a man of principle who is interested only in Emes - the truth. And that is how he saw it.

He would be a very wise choice for the post of Chief Rabbi of Great Britain. But I hope he doesn’t take it. I think he has a very bright future right here. Perhaps in Dayanus. Perhaps in a leadership capacity in a place like Yeshiva University. Modern Orthodoxy needs people like him here. Not England.

His attachment to Emes will almost certainly work against him in England. According to the article one of his primary  goals as Chief Rabbi would be to revamp the London Bet Din which is currently in the iron grip of the extreme right wing. I don’t see anything good coming out of that. They would most certainly resist any innovation on the part of a modern Orthodox rabbi whose opinions are at odds with the stringent views of the right.  

If he thought that his views being compared to those of R' Aron Chorin was bad – “He ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” - if for example he starts to innovate change in matters of conversion.

Also in strong contention is my good friend R’ Meir Yaakov Soloveichik, Rav Ahron’s grandson. I’ve known Meir (somewhere along the line he dropped “Yaakov” from his name) for a long time. He was educated here in Chicago, first attending Cheder Lubavitch for elementary school, and later his grandfather’s school, Yeshivas Brisk. Following high school, he attended YU where he received Semicha… and later Yale Divinity School ultimately transferring to Princeton where he received his PhD.

My daughter married my son in law when he was in the Semicha program at YU. That was about the same time R’ Meir was there. They were good friends. My daughter told me that he even used to babysit sometimes for my granddaughter. I would visit my kids regularly and when I was there R’ Meir would on occasion pop in. We would have some spirited discussions on issues of the day. Same was true when he would return to home to Chicago for Yomim Tovim. I would see him at Yeshivas Brisk.  Needless to say we more often agreed than not.

Since R’ Meir has gotten married, I have not seen him that much. And after his brilliant father, Rav Eliyahu, moved to New York, I haven’t seen him at all. He has certainly come a long way since I last saw him.

In a word – R’ Meir is brilliant! If any Soloveichik family member is the heir apparent to his illustrious great uncle, the Rav, it is him. His published articles have gotten him rave reviews for his keen mind, his perceptions of the Jewish scene, and his exposition of Jewish philosophy as it impacts modernity.

Like Rabbi Broyde, R’ Meir is not a Kavod seeker. Just as I have in the case of Rabbi Broyde, I would advise R’ Meir not to take the position of Chief Rabbi. Taking that position would enhance the Kavod of the position. The position will not enhance R’ Meir’s Kavod to any greater degree than it already is, in my view.

I think he has a much brighter future in America - possibly at YU. It would be wise in my view to follow the example of his great uncle. Back in the late fifties after Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav Isaac Herzog passed away, the Rav was offered the position. He turned it down. The rest - as they say - is history.