Or­tho­dox Jews are riven over rabbi’s lec­ture on gay love

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Harriet Sher­wood Re­li­gion cor­re­spon­dent

The or­tho­dox Jewish com­mu­nity has been split fol­low­ing com­ments by a se­nior rabbi about gay love that have led to ac­cu­sa­tions of heresy and cor­rup­tion.

Es­ca­lat­ing di­vi­sions over a lec­ture given by Joseph Dweck last month have led to an in­ter­ven­tion by the chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, who said he was con­cerned “about the pub­lic fall­out from the dis­pute … which has been deeply di­vi­sive and dam­ag­ing for our com­mu­nity”.

Dweck, the se­nior rabbi of the Sephardi com­mu­nity in the UK, has stepped aside from the day to day ac­tiv­ity of its beth din, or re­li­gious court, in an at­tempt to defuse the row, which has broad­ened to en­com­pass his teach­ings on a range of is­sues.

In a 90-minute lec­ture, given at a syn­a­gogue in Hen­don, Dweck, a for­mer Brook­lyn rabbi of Syr­ian de­scent, em­pha­sised that sex­ual in­ter­course be­tween men was for­bid­den by the To­rah, but ques­tioned at­ti­tudes to peo­ple with same-sex ori­en­ta­tion. There should not be witch-hunts, he said, adding there were “plenty of skele­tons in ev­ery­body’s closet”.

Changes in so­cial at­ti­tudes had “forced us to look at how we deal with love be­tween peo­ple of the same sex. And it has re­duced the taboo of my chil­dren, of me, of my grand­chil­dren be­ing able to love an­other hu­man be­ing, same-sex, gen­uinely – to show af­fec­tion to some­one else, to hug and kiss some­one else, to gen­uinely ex­press love with­out worry of be­ing seen as de­viant and prob­lem­atic.”

Dweck came un­der at­tack for his com­ments from ul­tra-or­tho­dox rab­bis. Aaron Bas­sous, the head of a Gold­ers Green con­gre­ga­tion, said the speech was “false and mis­guided … cor­rupt from be­gin­ning to end”, and de­scribed Dweck as “dan­ger­ous” and “poi­sonous”. Bas­sous said the Lon­don beth din should rule on Dweck’s views “and if, in their view, [Dweck] is not an or­tho­dox rabbi, doesn’t spout or­tho­dox views … his or­tho­dox hat should be re­moved from him.”

Dweck was also con­demned by rabbi Shraga Feivel Zim­mer­man in Gateshead, the Sephardic chief rabbi in Is­rael and many or­tho­dox Jews in the US.

Sabah Zubaida, the pres­i­dent of the Sephardi com­mu­nity, which rep­re­sents Jews of Span­ish and Por­tuguese de­scent, said much of the crit­i­cism was “based on mis­un­der­stand­ings, some de­lib­er­ate and some not”. More than 1,400 Bri­tish Jews signed a pe­ti­tion sup­port­ing him.

Since the lec­ture, Dweck’s views and teach­ings on a range of is­sues have been called into ques­tion, with some crit­ics say­ing he has aban­doned or­tho­doxy for lib­er­al­ism. How­ever, some within the or­tho­dox move­ment fear he is the sub­ject of a po­lit­i­cal vendetta. “This is not just about what he said re­gard­ing ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity – it’s much broader and more com­plex than that,” said a source.

Dweck has stepped aside from a de­ci­sion-mak­ing role at the Sephardic beth din, but his role as leader of the com­mu­nity is con­tin­u­ing. The chief rabbi is work­ing with him and the Sephardi lead­er­ship, said a spokesper­son.

Joseph Dweck, se­nior rabbi of the Span­ish and Por­tuguese Sephardi Jewish com­mu­nity in Bri­tain, said there should be no witch-hunts

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