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Turin welcomes new chief rabbi

ROME (JTA) — Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, the former chief rabbi of Uruguay, has taken the chief rabbi’s post in the Italian city of Turin.

Birnbaum, a director of the Israel-based outreach organization Shavei Israel, officially took up his post July 1. The Uruguay native succeeds Rabbi Alberto Somekh, who was dismissed in May.

Somekh’s ouster, the first time in Italy that a community’s chief rabbi had been removed, highlighted deep divisions between strictly Orthodox and non-observant members of the community.

The lingering tensions and complexity of the situation led community leaders to contact Birnbaum for the post as a "rabbi and dayan of clear fame and recognized prestige in Israel and the international Jewish world." Birnbaum made aliyah in 1972.

Birnbaum was chief rabbi of Uruguay from 1992 to 1997 and is the director of Machon Amiel, which trains rabbis and spiritual leaders for work in Diaspora communities. He also is a judge on the Chief Rabbinate of Israel Conversion Court.

At least initially, Birnbaum will remain in Israel and visit Turin at least once a month.

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