Chief Rabbi in row over College crisis

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The world's oldest rabbinical college – the Oxbridge equivalent for Britain's orthodox Jews – is threatened with closure amid acrimony over who is responsible for its collapse.

The demise of Jews' College is especially embarrassing for the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, a former principal and now president of the college. After 20 years' close association with the 150-year-old college, he is accused by senior rabbis and Jewish academics of failing to do enough to secure its long-term funding.

One academic called for his resignation over the issue, while a senior rabbi said he should "carry the can".

A spokesman for the Chief Rabbi said he was doing all he could to secure the future of Jews' College and was "optimistic" current talks would have a successful outcome. The Chief Rabbi had saved the college from closure on a number of occasions over the past two decades, he said.

The latest crisis over the rabbinical college has re-opened old wounds while also embroiling Sir Stanley Kalms, the chairman of Dixons, treasurer of the Conservative party and one-time benefactor of Jews' College, in the row.

Sir Stanley, a major influence in the Jewish community, fell out with Dr Sacks in the early 1990s, although the two have since patched up their differences.

A crisis meeting will be held this week to try to keep the north-west London college open, but with £600,000 a year needed to run it and its latest benefactor withdrawing his £40,000-a-month sponsorship, prominent Jews are questioning whether the rabbinical seminary can survive.

The demise of Jews' College – known officially as the London School of Jewish Studies – mirrors a steady decline in the number of British Jews, from 450,000 in the post war years to about 280,000 today.

The problem is compounded by a rise in the number of Israeli- and American-trained rabbis working in UK synagogues. Eight students are training to become rabbis at Jews' College now, down from about 15 a decade ago.

Most of Britain's orthodox Jews belong to the United Synagogue, whose religious leader is Dr Sacks. But the United Synagogue has never given long-term funding to Jews' College even though Dr Sacks, who was educated there, was its principal from 1984 to 1990 and then president on his appointment as Chief Rabbi in 1991.

"It is a sad story of neglect," lamented Geoffrey Alderman, the author of Modern British Jewry, who is vice-president of a Jewish university in New York. "I think the Chief Rabbi has some questions to answer."

Professor Alderman, who has been engaged in a long running feud with Dr Sacks, said the Chief Rabbi, who is due to go on sabbatical next month, should quit the job rather than return in a few months time. "In the interests of Anglo-Jewry he should not come back," he said.

A spokesman for Dr Sacks said he was "optimistic" the college could be saved. He said the United Synagogue has put "money on the table" but was waiting for further funding from other Jewish agencies which have also benefited from the College.