Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis calls for 'real unity' in Britain

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Media captionChief Rabbi designate Ephraim Mirvis says he knows there will be challenges

Ephraim Mirvis has been installed as the new chief rabbi of the UK and Commonwealth at a ceremony in London.

The former chief rabbi of Ireland succeeds Lord Jonathan Sacks, who held the post for 22 years.

The Prince of Wales joined Jewish and other faith leaders for the event at St John's Wood Synagogue.

Rabbi Mirvis asked the congregation to practise "social responsibility of the highest order" in their lives.

He said he wanted the three great pillars of his chief rabbinate to be "high quality Jewish education for one and all", the "building and strengthening of Jewish communities" and "acts of loving kindness".

He asked the Jewish community to "work together with me" to achieve those goals and praised progress made in tackling anti-Semitism in Britain.

He said: "I'm proud of the fact that in our country the fight against anti-Semitism is being led by successive governments and parliament and that is because it is correctly recognised that a threat against the Jews is a threat against our society."

'Respect differences'

Pledging to strengthen ties between the Jewish community and other faiths in Britain, he said he would aspire to create "real unity".

He said: "Within a society, when we respect differences and when we work together under the baton of co-operation, we can produce beautiful and marvellous harmony for our entire society."

The chief rabbi is traditionally seen as the figurehead of British Jews, and Rabbi Mirvis has said reversing falling membership was a key challenge.

However, his new role is only officially representative of the United Synagogue, the biggest wing of orthodox Judaism in the UK.

Image caption Prince Charles was among the 1,400 guests at the ceremony

Some Liberal and Reform Jews have questioned his role, while the ultra-orthodox community looks elsewhere for religious authority.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was represented at the ceremony by the Bishop of Lambeth, the Right Reverend Nigel Stock, while the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, was among the 1,400 guests.

Labour leader Ed Miliband, former home secretary Michael Howard, former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind and science professor and television presenter Lord Winston were also present.

Prime Minister David Cameron did not attend but congratulated the new chief rabbi on Twitter.

He wrote: "A warm welcome to @ChiefRabbi Mirvis and my thanks to Lord Sacks for the special contribution he made to our country."

The Prince of Wales became the first member of the Royal Family to attend an installation of the Chief Rabbi.

In an interview with the BBC's religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott, ahead of taking up the role, Rabbi Mirvis said the country faced "enormous" challenges because of the squeeze on living standards.

He said: "What is also very important is to teach our community about social responsibility. We're living in very difficult times of austerity, the challenges are enormous.

"We have to empathize with everybody in society who is vulnerable."

'Hand of warmth'

Rabbi Mirvis also spoke of his hopes to unite the Jewish community.

He said: "As the incoming chief rabbi I extend a hand of warmth, of friendship, to my colleagues who are in movements outside of the orthodox movement and with all of their members.

"I would like them to know that I would like to work closely with them. Unity of the Jewish people is of enormous importance."

He has also said that he would like to "transform communities" so that synagogues "are not merely places where people come along to pray, but rather that they should be powerhouses of Jewish cultural social educational and religious activity".

Rabbi Mirvis, who was born in South Africa in 1956, is currently rabbi at Finchley Synagogue in north London.

He is married to Valerie, a local authority senior social worker, and they have four sons. Their daughter, Liora Graham, died in 2011 after a long battle with cancer.

Rabbi Mirvis was a rabbi in Dublin before becoming Ireland's chief rabbi in 1985, a post he held until 1992. He was chosen as the new chief rabbi after a two-year search.

Lord Sacks announced in 2010 that he would step down this year after turning 65.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme last month, he warned that society was "losing the plot" as it becomes more secular and less trusting.

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