Rabbi Joseph Dweck, above, senior rabbi of the Sephardi community in the UK, has stepped aside from the day-to-day activities of the Beth Din, or religious court, in an attempt to defuse the row that erupted after he gave a lecture in which he said:
The entire revolution of feminism and even homosexuality in our society … is a fantastic development for humanity.
Disagreement over the lecture has, according to the Guardian, led to an intervention by the chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, above, who said he was concerned about:
The public fallout from the dispute … which has been deeply divisive and damaging for our community.
In his 90-minute lecture given at a synagogue in Hendon, north London, Dweck emphasised that sexual intercourse between men was forbidden by the Torah but questioned attitudes towards gay people. There should not be witch-hunts, he said, adding there were:
Plenty of skeletons in everybody’s closet.
Ultra-Orthodox rabbis went into melt-down. Rabbi Aaron Bassous, above, the head of a Sephardi congregation in Golders Green, London, said the speech was:
False and misguided … corrupt from beginning to end.
He described Dweck as “dangerous” and “poisonous”.
Bassous said the London Beth Din should rule on Dweck’s views:
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 Shraga Feival Zimmerman, one of the British ultra-Orthodox community’s most influential figures. According to this report, he did not address Dweck’s comments on homosexuality but said in a message to fellow rabbis that Dweck:
Only been part of depraved societies – ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans. I don’t want to go into too much detail about what sort of depraved debauchery, removed from any sense of humanity.
Is not fit to serve as a rabbi.
Zimmerman also said that after listening to recordings of past Dweck lectures
It is clear he is not equipped to rule on halacha, due to his limited knowledge, weak halachic reasoning skills and lack of training.
Dweck, who grew up in Los Angeles, received rabbinic ordination from Ovadia Yosef, the late Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel.
Dweck claimed his words had been “misunderstood and misinterpreted”, adding:
Important subjects that trouble our people should not be used for political positioning.
He also said the word “fantastic” had been an exaggeration.
Sabah Zubaida, the President of the S&P Sephardi community, which comprises 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 had abandoned orthodoxy for liberalism.
Some within the Orthodox movement fear he is the subject of a political vendetta, although others are genuinely concerned about his views. One source said:
This is not just about what he said regarding homosexuality – it’s much broader and more complex than that.
Although Dweck has stepped aside from a decision-making role at the Sephardic Beth Din, his role as leader of the community continues. A spokesperson for Mirvis said the chief rabbi was working closely with Dweck and the leadership of the Sephardi community to offer guidance.