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Britain’s Orthodox Rabbinical School is Saved — for Now — by Chief Rabbi

March 1, 2002
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The sole location in Britain where Orthodox rabbis get their training has been saved temporarily from closure by Orthodox Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

After a Feb. 19 meeting to decide the London School of Jewish Studies’ future, Principal Rabbi Abner Weiss asked to be released from his duties. Sacks temporarily assumed the role.

Formerly known as “Jews College,” the school was thrown into crisis when it became clear that it needed $849,000 a year if it was to avoid closing permanently.

Trustees of the college, which also offers adult education and postgraduate courses, were given two weeks to find new sources of income.

The United Jewish Israel Appeal and the United Synagogue both have pledged their support.

In a news release, the chief rabbi underscored the need to “turn to the community for help.”

He described the college as one of Anglo Jewry’s “most important institutions, under-funded and under-supported for most of its 147-year history.”

Weiss took charge of the college 18 months ago. He arrived from Los Angeles with $1 million raised in the United States to revive rabbinic training in Britain.

He later recruited 10 rabbinic trainees, the most in Britain in more than 30 years.

Weiss described the situation as a “tragedy.”

The possibility of merging the college with a teacher training center, the United Synagogue Agency for Jewish Education, was explored. But the talks failed due to uncertainty about the college’s financial future.

When news of the school’s precarious state emerged, columnist Norman Lebrecht wrote in the London Jewish Chronicle that the college has “long since lost its role and needs to be laid respectfully to rest.”

Lebrecht cited what he called the school’s lack of fresh thinking — including the “shutting of its doors to the spiritual potential of women” — as a main reason for the impending shutdown.

In his statement, the chief rabbi criticized this line of thinking.

“Some people have already written the obituary for the school. That is not a situation that I am prepared to contemplate lightly,” Sacks said.

“My vision for the school is a place where tradition and modernity meet, where our rabbis and teachers are given professional training, and where Judaism openly confronts the intellectual and ethical challenges of our time.”

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