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