In a letter to the Jewish Chronicle, Sir Stanley Kalms, one of the most influential backers of Dr Jonathan Sacks for the post of Chief Rabbi when he was appointed five years ago, now says that Dr Sacks has failed to keep his pledges about improving the position of women in orthodox Judaism and improving relations with liberal and reform factions, and accuses him of dithering.
"Leadership is about firm convictions, clean strategy, and a clear, communicable action plan. Popularism and survival are not on the agenda of a true leader. In fairness to himself, the Chief Rabbi should consider retiring from office. He is an academic by nature, and his talents could be immeasurably better used," he said.
Sir Stanley's call roused no noticeable enthusiasm in the Jewish community. One observer from the conservative but not quite orthodox Masorti movement, which has been bitterly attacked by the Chief Rabbi, said he believed Sir Stanley had got into "a kind of personal tiff" with Dr Sacks.
However, the controversy highlighted the considerable pressures within the Jewish community, and especially on the United Synagogue, the traditionally gentle, almost Anglican branch of orthodoxy which the Chief Rabbi heads.
The United Synagogue contains two-thirds of Britain's 300,000 intermittently observant Jews, but intermarriage seems to observers to threaten the survival of the Jewish community. Dr Sacks has written a book pointing out that the Jewish population of Britain has declined from 450,000 in the late 1950s as a result of intermarriage.
Two broad strategies have arisen to deal with this crisis. The first has been restrictive; within orthodoxy there has been a great rise in the number and influence of ultra-orthodox groupings who hope that by increasing strictness and breeding to preserve Judaism as something sharply distinct from the surrounding world.
The second has been the more open approach of the reform and liberal traditions, which have been happy to work with couples of mixed religions.
This has led to considerable bitterness on both sides. Last year, Rabbi David Goldberg, of the liberal synagogue in St John's Wood, predicted that Dr Sacks would be the last Chief Rabbi to be accepted as even the nominal spokesman for the whole of British Jewry.Reuse content