19/12/2012 07:38 GMT

Ephraim Mirvis Announced As New Chief Rabbi For The UK

The UK's next Chief Rabbi has expressed his concern over rising anti-semitism in Europe and a decline in religious faith as he spoke of his "very deep sense of privilege" at being appointed figurehead for Britain's Jewish community.

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said he was troubled by the decrease in religious commitment in Britain but he took strength from census findings for England and Wales released last week showing that three out of four people say they have a religious faith.

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Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis will replace Jonathan Sacks as the UK Jewish community's spiritual leader

"We are living in very challenging times and within these times faith has a very big role to play. Our society can certainly benefit from spiritual leadership and from faith," he said.

"I will certainly seek to inspire a greater respect for faith and I am troubled by the decrease in overall religious commitment in the country. But I am very encouraged to know that three out of four people do subscribe to a faith and I believe we should highlight these positive results."

The Chief Rabbi-elect, a Tottenham Hotspurs fan, said he was concerned by a rise in anti-semitism in Europe. The recent anti-semitic chanting at a match in White Hart Lane by some West Ham fans towards Spurs supporters was "very troubling".

He said: "We are concerned about an overall rise in anti-semitism and any expression of racism through sport is something very troubling. We are seeing an overall rise in anti-semitism through Europe and it is finding its expression in England as well.

"We are enormously encouraged however by the stand that the government is taking; that, for example, within parliament we have an all-party parliamentary group against anti-semitism.

"The fight against anti-semitism is being led not by the Jewish community but by the government and this is something we appreciate."

The South African-born 56-year-old was confirmed as the next Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the UK and the Commonwealth by the Chief Rabbinate Trust, replacing Lord Sacks who steps down in September next year after around 20 years in the post.

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New chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis with his wife Valerie at St John's Wood Synagogue in north London

Rabbi Mirvis serves as senior rabbi at Finchley United Synagogue in north London, which has around 1,800 members. He was Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1984 to 1992.

He said he believes that the Jewish community in Britain has a "bright future", with the results of the England and Wales census showing a rise of 3,000 in those identifying themselves as Jewish over the last decade to a total of 263,000 in 2011.

This is probably an underestimate as there would be people who perhaps did not state their Jewish identity on the census form, he said.

"We have a wonderful Jewish community in the UK and the results of the census are in many respects encouraging. I think we have a fantastic community in terms of its quality, not only in terms of its quantity. The Jewish community has a very bright future in this country," he said.

"Britain has been good to the Jews and the Jews have been good for Britain.

"I feel very privileged indeed to be appointed to be the next Chief Rabbi."

Rabbi Mirvis also paid tribute to the "outstanding" role played by Lord Sacks over the past 21 years as Chief Rabbi.

"He has been one of the most articulate faith voices in the world. Through his more than two decades of service, he has brought great honour and blessing to the Jewish community," he said.

Lord Sacks said: "It's a terrific appointment. Rabbi Mirvis is a good friend and valued colleague, respected by the rabbinate and community alike. He is a man of warmth and wisdom who will excel in his new role."

Stephen Pack, president of the Chief Rabbinate Trust, said: "Rabbi Mirvis is an extraordinary man, a dedicated teacher, a trusted academic and a deeply inspirational Rabbi. His unwavering commitment to promoting Jewish values and his natural ability to lead made him the stand-out candidate for this position.

"During the selection process, Rabbi Mirvis set out a truly uplifting and achievable vision for British Jewry and one which I feel privileged to be able to help deliver under his spiritual leadership."

Rabbi Mirvis is married to Valerie, a senior social worker in child protection, and the couple have four sons. Their daughter Liora, their eldest child, died last year after a long battle against cancer.