Senior Sephardi Rabbi Joseph Dweck has “stepped aside from the day to day activity” of the Sephardi Beth Din as he seeks to quell the escalating row surrounding his remarks.
Dweck, who is strongly backed by the British Sephardi community, said he took the decision to remove himself from the role “to work with the wider Rabbinic community to clarify my halachic teachings”.
A row erupted three weeks ago after Dweck said the LGBT revolution had been a “fantastic” development for humanity but it’s since emerged that some senior rabbis have concern about his style and teaching beyond his pronouncements on homosexuality.
It comes after the influential Rov of Gateshead, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, who is widely regarded as a power-broker, said Dweck was “not fit to serve as a rabbi”. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis also stepped in, urging colleagues to refrain from attacks on Dweck, which he said had been “deeply divisive and damaging”.
In a letter to Spanish & Portuguese Jewish Congregation members, S&P president Sabah Zubaida stood firmly by Dweck, saying he had been subject to “intense scrutiny” but that “a great deal of the criticism has been based on misunderstandings, some deliberate and some not”.
However, Zubaida added that Dweck “accepts that some of the criticism is justified and needs to be addressed within the wider Rabbinical world”. Dweck continues to “enjoy the full support of the Board and our community”, he said.
While Dweck has been condemned by the Sephardi Chief Rabbi in Israel, senior Sephardi members in London say he has “tremendous support, not only from Sephardim but also Ashkenazi.” More than 1,400 UK supporters defended him in a petition, but others – mostly in the United States – derided him as a “heretic”.
This week Dweck also cancelled his annual stint as Scholar-in-Residence at a major Sephardi camp in New Jersey, saying: “Unfortunately, my recent lecture caused some issues that must first be dealt with.”
It followed a no-holds-barred letter written in Hebrew by Zimmerman, who said of Dweck: “It is clear that he is not equipped to rule on Halacha, due to his limited knowledge, weak reasoning skills and lack of training.”
Zimmerman continued: “It is clear from his lectures that he lacks many of the 48 requisite qualities needed to acquire Torah, such as awe, fear (of Heaven), modesty, purity, Rabbinic training and scholarly interactions with his colleagues. For the above reasons one cannot rely on his rulings and he is not fit to serve as a rabbi.”
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said Dweck should be given the opportunity to address concerns, and urged fellow rabbis to damp down the rhetoric.
“I am extremely concerned about the public fallout from the dispute concerning Rabbi Joseph Dweck, which has been deeply divisive and damaging for our community,” said Mirvis.
“It is for the S&P [Spanish & Portuguese] community to appropriately examine the broad range of issues which have arisen, whilst giving Rabbi Dweck the opportunity to address all matters directly and they must try to do this away from the glare of publicity which has already proved so harmful.”
He added: “I call on all concerned to approach this issue with all due sensitivity and dignity, and to exercise responsible leadership in the best interests of the Jewish community.”
Rabbi Dweck said: “The continuing activity of our Sephardi Beth Din is of the utmost importance to me and I wiul step aside whilst we resolve the matter.”