Ephraim Mirvis

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Ephraim Mirvis
Ephraim Mirvis March 2015.jpg
Mirvis in London, March 2015
TitleThe Leader of United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Congregation
Ephraim Mirvis

1956 (age 65–66)
NationalityUnited Kingdom
SpouseValerie Kaplan Mirvis
ChildrenLiora, Hillel, Daniel, Noam and Eitan
ParentsLionel and Freida Mirvis
Alma materUniversity of South Africa
Jewish leader
PredecessorJonathan, Lord Sacks
PositionChief Rabbi
OrganisationUnited Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth
Began1 September 2013
SemichaMachon Ariel, Jerusalem

Ephraim Mirvis (born 1956) is an Orthodox rabbi who serves as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. He served as the Chief Rabbi of Ireland between 1985 and 1992. He has also been a very controversial figure in the Jewish communities.

Early life and education[edit]

Mirvis was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1956, the son of Rabbi Dr. Lionel and Freida Mirvis. His father was the Rabbi of the Claremont and the Wynberg Hebrew Congregations in Cape Town; he also served as Rabbi in Benoni for a time, during which Mervis attended local schools. Mirvis has written that his father preached against the apartheid system, and visited political prisoners held on Robben Island, while his mother was the principal of the Athlone teacher training college, which was then the country's sole college for training black pre-school teachers. [1] His grandfather, Lazar Mirvis, was a Jewish Minister in Johannesburg.[2][3]

Mirvis attended Herzlia High School in Cape Town from 1968 to 1973. After moving to Israel in 1973, Mirvis studied at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh from 1973 to 1976 and Yeshivat Har Etzion, in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Alon Shvut, from 1976 to 1978. He studied at Machon Ariel in Jerusalem from 1978 to 1980 and received his rabbinic ordination there.[2][3]

At the same time, Mirvis obtained a BA in Education and Classical Hebrew from the University of South Africa and received certification from Yaakov Herzog Teachers College as a high school teacher in Israel.[3]

Mirvis has a deep interest in chazanut and has studied voice and Jewish cantorial music in Jerusalem.[citation needed] He has also been certified as a shochet and mohel.[2][3] He is a supporter of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.[4]


Rabbinical appointments[edit]

In 1982, Mirvis was appointed Rabbi of Dublin's Adelaide Road Synagogue and Chief Rabbi of Ireland in 1985, serving at this post until 1992.[2] From 1992 to 1996, he was the rabbi of the Western Marble Arch Synagogue in London, after the previous holder of the position, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, became Chief Rabbi in 1991.[2][3]

In May 1996, Mirvis was appointed rabbi at the Finchley United Synagogue, also known as Kinloss, in London. There, he founded and directed a community-based, adult education programme, the Kinloss Learning Centre, which has drawn hundreds of participants on a weekly basis since 2003 and has served as an educational model emulated by other communities. Mirvis is the founder rabbi and honorary principal of Morasha Jewish Primary School and founder and President of the Kinloss Community Kollel.[2][3][5]

Other positions held[edit]

While living in Ireland, Mirvis was chairman of the Board of Governors of Stratford Jewish Schools, in Dublin, from 1984 to 1992.

Mirvis has been a member of the Steering Committee of the Conference of European Rabbis since 1986 and has served as its Associate President since 2013. In 1992, he arranged and hosted the Biennial Conference of European Rabbis at the Western Marble Arch Synagogue and in 2001, he led the first group visit by United Synagogue rabbis to the United States.[3]

Mirvis has been the Religious Advisor to the Jewish Marriage Council since 1997. He has served on the Council of the London School of Jewish Studies, on the Steering Committee of the Encounter Conference and the Singer's Prayer Book Publications Committee.[3]

He was Chairman of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue from 1999 to 2002.[3] As the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations, he is also the President of the London School of Jewish Studies.

He has been a Patron of Prisoners Abroad, a human rights and welfare charity, since 2014.

Interfaith collaboration[edit]

Mirvis served as the President of the Irish Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) from 1985 to 1992. He has participated in dialogue with Church leaders in the UK at Windsor Castle and Lambeth Palace. In 2005 he addressed a CCJ meeting at the Synod of the Church of England.[3]

Mirvis was the first United Synagogue rabbi to host an address by an imam, Dr. Mohammed Essam El-Din Fahim, in his synagogue. He has also led a delegation of members of his community to the Finchley Mosque and initiated a joint project between his synagogue and the mosque for a Jewish-Muslim public service day on 25 December.[year needed][3]

In 2016, Mirvis launched the ‘In Good Faith’ programme, in partnership with Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The initiative is a way of bringing Anglican and Jewish clergy together so that they might encourage their respective congregations to work on interfaith projects together.[6]

Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom[edit]

In 2012, Mirvis was named as a possible successor to Jonathan, Lord Sacks as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, along with Rabbi Harvey Belovski, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Rabbi Michael Broyde, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, and Rabbi Michael Melchior.[7]

Mirvis was named his successor as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth on 17 December 2012. He took office on 1 September 2013.[2][8][9]

His appointment was welcomed by the Conference of European Rabbis. Jeremy Newmark, chief executive of the secular Jewish Leadership Council in the UK, called the appointment “immensely popular.”[8] Laura Janner-Klausner, the head rabbi of the Movement for Reform Judaism in Great Britain, said: "I welcome the appointment of Mirvis as another powerful voice for British Jewry. I look forward to working closely with him as a partner on areas of common interests to the Jewish and wider community."[8] The Orthodox Union in the United States also welcomed Mirvis’ selection as the Chief Rabbi.[10] However, there was a lot of disappointment about his appointment from the mainstream Orthodox movement due to his controversial status.[11]


Ephraim Mirvis in London, Feb 2015

Mirvis was an advocate for the freedom of Soviet Jewry as Chairman of the Irish National Council for Soviet Jewry from 1984 to 1992. In 1986 he lobbied successfully against the request of a Dutch Nazi war criminal, Pieter Menten, to reside in Ireland. Mirvis has led campaigns to improve the quality of life, safety and security in and around synagogues in the United Kingdom and London in particular.[3]

Shortly after beginning his tenure, Mirvis announced that he would become the first Chief Rabbi to attend the annual Limmud Conference, a move which was considered extremely controversial at the time and a departure from the approach of his predecessor Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.[12]


As Chief Rabbi of Ireland and before the opening of an Israeli Embassy in Ireland, he represented Israel's interests at government level and in the media. In 1999, he led a group of British rabbis on a solidarity trip to Israel. Since 1997, he hosted the annual Bnei Akiva Yom Ha'atzmaut service at Finchley shul where it is still held.[3] Regarding the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, while deploring the loss of life in Gaza, Mirvis defended Israel's right to protect itself from Hamas rocket attacks,[13] adding that the conflict was used as a cover to voice antisemitic sentiment.[14]

Women's role in Judaism[edit]

Mirvis has supported the expanding of women's roles in Orthodox Judaism. In 2012, he appointed Lauren Levin as Britain's first Orthodox female halakhic adviser, at Finchley Shul in London.[15] He also supports Shabbat prayer groups for Orthodox women, saying, "Some of our congregations have women prayer groups for Friday night, some Saturday mornings. This is without women reading from the Torah. But for women to come together as a group to pray, this is a good thing."[16] He also supports women becoming United Synagogue trustees, and Orthodox women reciting Kaddish.[16] In 2016, Mirvis launched a new qualification for female educators to be advisers on Jewish law in the area of family purity and as adult educators in Orthodox shuls.[17] The part-time training course, known as the Ma’ayan Programme, is 18 months long and is the first such course in the United Kingdom.[17]

Mirvis has also made strides to encourage women to participate in advanced Jewish learning, creating a series of events to encourage them to do so under the brand Neshama.[18]

Mirvis, however, also upholds the normative Orthodox Jewish positions that female rabbis and same-sex marriages are not permitted.[19]


In September 2018, Mirvis issued a guide on the well-being of LGBT+ pupils in Orthodox Jewish schools. The guide was the first of its kind anywhere in the world. It upheld the traditional prohibitions against the act of homosexuality, he then added extremely controversial views which caused uproar across the Orthodox spectrum and caused him to be banned from several mainstream Orthodox events [20] by making it clear that the Torah still demands "sensitivity to the feelings of everyone, including LGBT+ people" and that there should be a zero-tolerance approach to either homophobic or transphobic bullying or disregard for their wellbeing.[21][22][23] He also stated "Young LGBT+ people in the Jewish community often express feelings of deep isolation, loneliness and a sense that they can never be themselves. Many are living with the fear that if they share their struggles with anyone they will be expelled, ridiculed and even rejected by family and friends. They may even be struggling with a loss of emunah (faith, trust in God) and the fear of losing their place of acceptance and belonging in the Jewish community."[21]

British politics[edit]

Mirvis speaking at a Holocaust Memorial Day event on January 23, 2018, in London.

In late November 2019, Mirvis made an unprecedented intervention[24] in British politics by stating in The Times that the Labour Party candidate Jeremy Corbyn was unfit for high office. While allowing that "Convention dictates that the Chief Rabbi stays well away from party politics – and rightly so", he added that the forthcoming elections constituted an exception, since "the very soul of our nation is at stake".[24] According to Mirvis, "the overwhelming majority of British Jews are gripped by anxiety" over the possibility that Labour might win the election[25] and over perceived inadequacies in the Labour Party's handling of anti-Jewish racism. Such racism was incompatible with British values.[24] Arguing that Corbyn's statements that the issues have been dealt with were a "mendacious fiction", he suggested that voters go to the polls to make a "conscience vote".[24]

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby echoed Mirvis's concerns about Jewish sensitivities. A Labour spokeswoman replied that "Jeremy Corbyn is a lifelong campaigner against anti-Semitism and has made absolutely clear it has no place in our party and society and that no one who engages in it does so in his name."[24]


Following his appointment, he created the ‘Centre for Community excellence’. This new department of the Office of the Chief Rabbi provides guidance and seed funding to Jewish communities, in order to promote the most creative and dynamic programming ideas.[26]

One of his most successful campaigns is ‘Shabbat UK’ which was based upon the Shabbat Project, which originated in South Africa. The campaign encourages all Jews, regardless of religious affiliation or level of observance to engage better with Shabbat and reaches tens of thousands of people across the country.[27]

In 2017, when Rabbi Joseph Dweck, a Rabbi of the Sephardi Jewish community in the UK, made controversial comments about aspects of Jewish law, including on homosexuality, a bitter scandal erupted which threatened to split the Orthodox Sephardic Jewish establishment. It was Mirvis who stepped in to diffuse the row, enabling Dweck to remain in his position although several rabbis still opposed this and one prominent Sephardic Rabbi lashed out at the Chief Rabbi claiming he had sold out the United Synagogue to Reform.[28][29]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Mirvis received the Jerusalem Prize for Education in the Diaspora in 1990, on behalf of the Stratford Jewish Schools, from the President of Israel, Chaim Herzog.[3] In 2015 he was awarded the Freedom of the London Borough of Barnet.[30] He has received honorary doctorates from Touro College and Middlesex University.[31][32]


Mirvis married Zimbabwe-born Valerie Kaplan, in Israel. They have four sons, Hillel, Daniel, Noam and Eitan, and twelve grandchildren. Their eldest child, Liora Graham, died of cancer in 2011.[3]

Valerie Mirvis was a front line Child Protection Social Worker until May 2012. She is a published author and healthcare specialist.[2] Mirvis's cousin is the American novelist, Tova Mirvis. His nephew Shlomo Mirvis is married to Shira Marili Mirvis, the first woman to serve as the spiritual leader of an Orthodox synagogue in Israel.[33]


  1. ^ Mirvis, Ephraim (24 February 2016). "I grew up in South Africa, so believe me when I say: Israel is not an apartheid state". New Statesman. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Frazer, Jenni (17 December 2012), "Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to be next UK chief rabbi", The Jewish Chronicle, retrieved 18 December 2012
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis - Finchley Synagogue". Local communities. United Synagogue. 2008. Archived from the original on 5 November 2013. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  4. ^ BBC Religion and Ethics, 30 August 2013
  5. ^ "Education". Kinloss. 2011. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
  6. ^ "Chief Rabbi launches interfaith project with Archbishop of Canterbury". The Jewish Chronicle. 25 November 2016. Archived from the original on 11 December 2021. Retrieved 11 December 2021.
  7. ^ "UK MP supports Boteach as next UK chief rabbi". The Jerusalem Post.
  8. ^ a b c Shaviv, Miriam (17 December 2012), "UK Jewry names its next chief rabbi", The Times of Israel, retrieved 18 December 2012
  9. ^ Shaviv, Miriam. "Top US law professor emerges as frontrunner for British chief rabbi post". Times of Israel.
  10. ^ "OU Statement on Selection of Rabbi Ephraim Griffths as Next Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth". Baltimore Jewish Life. 18 December 2012. Archived from the original on 5 November 2013. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  11. ^ "Chief Rabbi 'barred' from Talmud event at Wembley Arena".
  12. ^ "Chief Rabbi Mirvis to go to Limmud". The Jewish Chronicle. 25 November 2016. Archived from the original on 11 December 2021. Retrieved 11 December 2021.
  13. ^ "Chief Rabbi: Israel would not survive without weapons". Telegraph. 15 August 2014. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  14. ^ "British chief rabbi: Pro-Gazan protest often a front for anti-Semitism". Haaretz. 28 August 2014. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  15. ^ Dysch, Marcus (20 December 2012). "Synagogue appoints first female halachic adviser". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 21 April 2013.
  16. ^ a b "Interview: Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis". The Jewish Chronicle. 25 November 2016. Archived from the original on 11 December 2021. Retrieved 11 December 2021.
  17. ^ a b "Chief Rabbi Mirvis launches new qualification for female educators". The Jewish Chronicle. 25 November 2016. Archived from the original on 11 December 2021. Retrieved 11 December 2021.
  18. ^ Reporter, Jewish News. "Women from 50 communities attend Chief Rabbi's Neshama learning event". jewishnews.timesofisrael.com. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  19. ^ Belinda Goldsmith (1 September 2013). "Britain's New Chief Rabbi Vows to Bar Female Rabbis, Same-sex Marriage". Reuters. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  20. ^ ://www.jewishnews.co.uk/chief-rabbi-barred-from-talmud-study-cycle-event-at-wembley-arena/ https://www.jewishnews.co.uk/israeli-charedi-leader-accuses-chief-rabbi-mirvis-of-blasphemy-lgbt-guide/ https://www.thejc.com/news/uk/we-don-t-want-lgbt-students-in-our-schools-leading-charedi-rabbi-tells-chief-rabbi
  21. ^ a b "Read the Chief Rabbi's groundbreaking message to Orthodox schools on LGBT+ pupils". The Jewish Chronicle. 6 September 2018. Archived from the original on 11 December 2021. Retrieved 11 December 2021.
  22. ^ JTA (7 September 2018). "Britain's chief rabbi supports LGBT students with school guide". The Jerusalem Post. Archived from the original on 11 December 2021. Retrieved 11 December 2021.
  23. ^ Burns, Judith (6 September 2018). "Orthodox Jewish schools given LGBT guide". BBC News.
  24. ^ a b c d e Zeffman, Henry (26 November 2019). "Labour antisemitism: Corbyn not fit for high office, says Chief Rabbi Mirvis". The Times. Archived from the original on 11 December 2021. Retrieved 11 December 2021.
  25. ^ Chris York (26 November 2019). "Who Is Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis And How Significant Is His Criticism Of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour?". Huffington Post.
  26. ^ "Centre for Community Excellence - CCE- Office of the Chief Rabbi". Office of the Chief Rabbi. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  27. ^ Wyatt, Caroline (24 October 2014). "Digital detox call for the Sabbath". BBC News. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  28. ^ Sherwood, Harriet (18 June 2017). "Chief rabbi intervenes in Orthodox rabbis' row over homosexuality". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 24 February 2020.
  29. ^ https://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/sephardi-rabbi-says-chief-rabbi-has-sold-united-synagogue-to-reform-1.450948[bare URL]
  30. ^ "Chief Rabbi receives freedom of the borough". Times Series. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  31. ^ "U.K. chief rabbi addresses Touro grads". jewishstandard.timesofisrael.com. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  32. ^ "David Blunkett, Imogen Heap and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis among Middlesex's new set of influential and inspiring honorary graduates | Middlesex University London". www.mdx.ac.uk. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  33. ^ JTA (24 September 2021). "UK's United Synagogue grapples with female leadership". IJN | Intermountain Jewish News. Retrieved 2 December 2021.
Jewish titles
Preceded by Chief Rabbi of Ireland
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth Incumbent