Who Will be the Chief Behind the Chief?

May 31, 2012

It’s not usual for a columnist of my stature to debase himself by commenting on actual “news” but today I feel I must throw my two shekels worth at the vexed question of the appointment of the next Chief Rebbetzin.  Besides, it’s hardly news any more.

While employment lawyers are wringing their palms in excitement at the possibility of an unfair treatment claim I think it’s time to get one thing clear:  while the advertised job was for a Chief Rabbi, this is no different to any other appointment of a Jew.  You may ask for the man, but what you get is the woman.  Ask any recruitment consultant and they will tell you that it is unwise to offer a Jewish man a job if you are eager for a quick response.  If you need an instant answer you must bypass the candidate and go straight to the decision-maker.  Married Jewish men simply don’t have authority.  Only this week I took my suit into the dry-cleaners and I’m still waiting to for Mrs J to let me know whether I can tell him his offer has been accepted.

Do you think that the incumbent has ever made any decision alone since he tied the knot?  Of course not.  He’s an honourable and loyal man.  First he finds out what the Dayanim want and then he asks Lady S to ratify their decision.

Given the importance of the woman’s role, then, you’d think that the sensible approach would be to interview them together.   However, this defeats another objective, which is to find the couple that is most knowledgeable, and by that I don’t mean Jewishly knowledgeable, I mean knowledgeable about each other.  Only in this way can Jewish role models the equivalent of Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh be identified, for that is exactly what this appointment is all about.

Did you ever see the 1970’s quiz show “Mr and Mrs”?  This is essentially the format for the appointment of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.  If you remember, one partner was whisked away into a soundproofed room while the other was asked a series of questions about their temporarily encased spouse.  The spouse was then released and asked the same questions, the couple with the greatest consistency in their answers being the winners of the show. 

A source inside the United Synagogue has passed me the interview questions, a selection of which follow:

Does the Rabbi prefer kneidlach or those little square croutons in his soup?”

What colour is the Rebbetzen’s favourite snood”

Does your husband prefer the old, the centenary or the green edition of the Siddur?” 

How long before Kiddush does the Rebbetzin like to arrive at shul on Shabbat?  Is it five minutes, ten minutes or twenty minutes?” 

In a bid to demonstrate the openness and transparency of the United Synagogue the entire interview process will be televised and Derek Batey-Din has been coaxed out of retirement to head the selection panel.  However, you’ll need to set your recorders because like almost all programmes with Jewish interest it will be screened on a Friday evening.

That’s just the first stage of the interview process.  When they get down to the final two candidates a special edition of Family Fortunes will be the format employed. The purpose of this will be to establish the Rabbi most in touch with the hoi polloi.  Typical questions might be:

Name a road with free parking on a Saturday morning in the vicinity of St John’s Wood Synagogue ”, “Name something a child would like to do on a Sunday morning even less than attend cheder”, and “Name a popular topic of pews conversation on yom kippur.” 

You may think this selection method devalues such a serious appointment but really, can it be any worse than a bunch of old men sitting in a room for days on end trying to get a wood fire started?  There’s nothing entertaining in the Catholic approach and the advertising opportunities pale in comparison. 

Personally I can’t wait to find out who is named as the first Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth Sponsored by Ozem.


How Kosher are You?

April 13, 2010

Our rabbi and “teacher” ascended the pulpit to give his sermon last Shabbat.  “Sermon”, in the singular, is the significant word here.  It’s the same sermon week after week the message of which is  “You don’t keep a kosher enough home”.  As a teacher he’s certainly teaching us about kosher homes, that’s for sure.

I know he’s looking at me when he’s talking.  I’m aware that stabbing a meaty knife five times into a plant pot does not necessarily render it clean after accidentally using it to spread butter, but at least I own separate sets of cutlery.

As the rabbi embarked on his admonishment I began to consider the levels of kashrut people keep and came up with a useful five-point scale.  I’m hoping it will save embarrassment concerning dinner invitations because rather than there being any doubts as to whether the host stabs the knife only five rather than the acceptable six times, by simply stating their level the invitee will be able to wriggle out, thus:

“Would you like to come back to ours, we’re having chicken schnitzels?  We’re level three.”

“That’s a lovely invitation but we’re already going somewhere else.  Come to us next week.  We’re level four”.

“Message received loud and clear.”

So here’s the scale.

Level 1.  You buy a box of matzah at Pesach.  Other than that kashrut laws apply to wandering tribes in hot countries who cannot keep food fresh.  You’re looking forward to the day when you see rock badger on a menu.

Level 2.  You eat shellfish and bacon but not roast pork (because it’s just too goyishe).  At your son’s Barmitzvah you provided “kosher-style” food.

Level 3.  You keep a vaguely kosher home but you enjoy Indian and Chinese takeaways as long as they are eaten from the carton and with disposable cutlery.  Foreign countries do not have kosher laws as far as you are aware so anything goes when on holiday.  You think that Halal means “almost kosher”.

Level 4.  You separate milk and meat but never look at a clock between consuming them instead relying on your rather inaccurate sense of how long three hours takes to pass.  You go to Eilat because you can’t be bothered to clean the house for Pesach.   When shopping you read the list of ingredients on a package and if you don’t see certain obvious words it’s probably OK.

Level 5.  Visitors are perplexed to find four separate kitchens in your house: one milky, one meaty, and two more for Pesach.  Your many children wonder whether going vegetarian might not be a bad idea if it frees up some space for beds.  You feel uneasy buying glatt just in case it’s not glatt enough.  You wait six days after eating meat before consuming dairy.

Yesterday my wife coyly admitted that she had invited the rabbi for lunch.  I think I’ll show him the scale and proudly explain how we’re working towards level 2.  That should put him off.

Recruiting a new rabbi

December 14, 2009

Our shul is struggling hopelessly through one of the most traumatic periods in its history. We have been trying to replace our dear rabbi who passed on to a better place four years ago after illness had kept him from the pulpit for the three previous ones.  A decisive group we are not.

The composition of the recruitment panel posed our first problem. Never before have we had so many members suddenly finding time to give to the shul.   Once our 27person panel was decided upon we had to come up with a job description.  The arguments over this led to several resignations before it was finally agreed and the following was published:

Duties:  Spiritual leader, teacher, moral authority, scapegoat.

Hours:  All day, every day.

Holidays:  Yes, but not the Jewish ones.

Salary:  Before we discuss that, let me tell you about how wonderful and caring our community is and how much our last rabbi loved it here before his debilitating stress related illnesses took hold.

Our next task was to decide on a selection process.   The first stage was to invite each applicant to lead a service.  Four members sat directly in front of the bimah and at the end of each performance they took it in turns to give their verdict.  The one sat on the far right of the four was really rather brutal in his assessments and dismissed one candidate saying he had a terrible voice and had made a very bad choice of nusach. Another panellist who, it appeared, had been coaching the candidate during the preceding week then defended this same candidate vigorously.

Asking them to deliver a sermon tested the candidates’ oratory skills.  Each spoke on the topic of the week’s sedra for one minute without repetition, deviation or hesitation.  They all failed on repetition when it was revealed that it was the same sermon they gave every week: Go to shul more often; stop eating shellfish in restaurants.

Finally, we wanted to be sure that the candidates were halachically Jewish because while they were all descended from great rabbis of the 18th and 19th centuries, they were also all born in outside of the UK.  To be safe, we decided it would be best to insist that they undertake a conversion process.

It was at this point that all the candidates mysteriously decided to withdraw from the process.  We therefore plan to restart the search just as soon as we can persuade one or two people to form another recruitment panel.