Game of (Orthodox) Thrones: Meir Soloveichik new rabbi at Spanish Portuguese

The third season of Games of Thrones has come to an end, but the Orthodox version is heating up in Manhattan.

Over on the Upper West Side, America’s oldest Jewish congregation — the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue — has a new rabbi: Meir Soloveichik.


That’s not quite a Lannister becoming King of the North, but stil. We’re talking about the country’s most prominent Sephardic synagogue hiring a Litvak. And not just any old Litvak, but a Soloveitchik.

For decades the synagogue, formally Congregation Shearith Israel, was led by Rabbi Marc Angel and then his son, Hayyim Angel. In truth, the ideological shift is much more interesting than the ethnic one. The father-son team are now dedicating much of their efforts to the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, the liberal Orthodox think tank founded by the senior Angel. Soloveichik, grandson of Ahron Soloveichik and great-nephew of the Rav, Joseph Soloveitchik, falls more to the right, both politically and religiously.

Does the shift from House Angel to House Soloveitchik reflect a serious ideological shift at the congregation?

I haven’t done any deep reporting on this, but as someone who bounces around the Upper West Side’s Orthodox community, my hunch is no. These days, at least on the UWS, it’s mostly the opposite. Ideology is less and less important, with size, style and the draw being the main thing as folks decide which shul/s to go to.

And, whether you agree or disagree with Soloveichik, there’s no denying that he’s a popular speaker who can put people in the seats.

I was sad to see him leave the neighborhood almost a decade ago, when he moved across the park to become the assistant rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun. Conventional wisdom back then was that he would eventually take over for Rabbi Haskel Lookstein.

So now the question is what will happen at KJ, where House Lookstein has led the posh congregation (and Ramaz, its affiliated Orthodox prep school) for nearly a century? Rabbi Josh Lookstein (Haskel’s son) made clear nearly a decade ago that the job wasn’t for him. And he’s stuck to his guns, recently becoming head of Westchester Day Schoolthe Modern Orthodox school in Mamaroneck, N.Y. (Not wanting to be the rabbi of a big, glitzy synagogue, I can understand … but moving out to the burbs!?)

OK, but enough of all this. Let’s get to more pressing matters, like whether the Khaleesi will be able to dislodge Joffrey from the Iron Throne.

SPONSORED TRIBUTES: Click here to read appreciations of U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg. 

Ami Eden is JTA’s CEO and editor in chief, responsible for overseeing all aspects of the agency’s operations, including editorial, business, marketing and fundraising. Before joining JTA in the summer of 2007, he served as executive editor of the Forward newspaper and the founding editor of the Jewish Daily Forward Web site. He also worked as an editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.