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Spanish & Portuguese

I am returning to last week’s subject because its ramifications are still very troubling. The illogical, political, and personal attacks on Rabbi Joseph Dweck have already had the effect of his taking a leave of absence from the Sephardi Beth Din in London. The Sephardi Beth Din is made up of several different constituencies. Most are unduly influenced by Ashkenazi pressure, and many are not as enlightened or openminded as the Spanish and Portuguese community, which so far seems to be holding the line, thank goodness.

Let me start by explaining who the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities are and why the position of Rabbi Joseph Dweck is so important in Jewish life. It is known as the S&P. No, it does not stand for Sadism & Pornography, though you might think it did given the pathetic outbursts that certain Charedi rabbis are hurling at its London rabbi because he dared to examine the issue of homosexuality with a degree of sympathy and understanding. But of course, as with most rabbinic storms in teacups, this is not about religion as much as a power play for turf control and ambition, with a few personal vendettas thrown in for good measure.

The Spanish and Portuguese trace back their unique customs, liturgy, and pronunciation to Jews who fled Iberia for Northern Europe and the New World some 500 years ago. They established their communities first in Amsterdam, where their originally candle-lit masterpiece of a synagogue survives in all its glory to this day.

Then they entered Britain illegally. Cromwell, despite his willingness and the arguments of Amsterdam’s brilliant and enlightened Rabbi Manasseh Ben Israel, couldn’t get Parliament to agree to overturn Edward the First’s ban on Jewish settlement. Anti-Semitism has a long and despicable history in the UK. But he turned a blind eye, and in fact it was the S&P who reestablished the modern Jewish presence in London. Its first synagogue, Bevis Marks, was completed in 1701. With beams, it is said, donated by Queen Ann herself. Other S&P synagogues opened up in the Caribbean, from Curacao to Mexico. In the USA  they were first in Newport, Rhode Island, followed by many more in the southern states.

Today it’s the New York branch that carries the banner in the USA. Like many, its original S&P membership has all but disappeared. For years now they have drawn on other communities, Sephardi and even Ashkenazi, for membership and religious leadership. Rabbi Marc Angel, who graced its pulpit for many years, came originally from Rhodes. He always did and still does fly the flag of tolerance and moderation. The present rabbi is an Ashkenazi, highly educated and open minded, from the Soloveitchik family.

I once gave a sermon there. An old school friend’s son was having a Bar Mitzvah and he invited me to come over from England, where I was at the time, to give the sermon. In all my career as a rabbi, the S&P was the only synagogue I ever had to wear canonicals in, and also have a rehearsal before the day on how to walk and where to bow. The whole arcane procedure was a condition of speaking. It made me feel as if I was being taken back into the sixteenth century. Whenever I ever feel like traveling back in time I pop in on a Friday evening for a quick dose of nostalgia. But I stray.

In London the S&P was the power and the authority of the Anglo-Jewish community.  In the nineteenth century the influx of Ashkenazi Jews from Central and Eastern Europe changed the character of Anglo-Jewry. Eventually they took over. The United Synagogue and its Chief Rabbinate became the decisive force in Anglo-Jewry for the next hundred years. But slowly the United Synagogue, like the Chief Rabbinate in Israel, came under pressure from a different breed—more aggressive, expansionist, and fundamentalist. Anglo-Jewry, like all communities, like Israel indeed, is becoming polarized.

For many years, the Haham of the S&P stood and sat next to the Chief Rabbi, first as a senior and then as an equal. In my youth, the Haham Gaon presided over the S&P with dignity, tolerance, a sense of humor, and an understanding of human nature. He was Chief Rabbi Brodie’s equal. His successor, Rabbi Abraham Levy, became the spiritual head of the community.The title of Haham was no longer used, but he too continued the tradition of tolerance and moderation.

Meanwhile the influx of more Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews, first from Germany and then Eastern Europe, began to erode the moderate middle of Anglo-Jewry and is now growing, flexing its muscles, and commandeering the agenda, as indeed they are in Israel and elsewhere. You might recall that a few years ago they insisted on a Chief Rabbi censoring his own words. A similar process is taking place within the Sephardi community now.

Although UK mainstream Orthodoxy was never that strictly Orthodox, it prided itself on its inclusiveness and its toleration. But as the Charedi world grew, the Chief Rabbinate of the United Synagogue failed to stand up for its constituency and insist that it was not designed for nor subject to the Charedi model. Its Chief Rabbis failed in their mission to preserve this island of open tolerance and moderation that Chief Rabbi Hertz fought for. Although I am glad to say that at last Chief Rabbi Mirvis has intervened and demanded civility for the sake of the community.

I have no problem with Charedi rabbis running their own affairs. They should. It is when they think they have the right to interfere with others of a different color, when they try to bully those they disagree with, when they seek to change a community of a different tradition that knows its own mind, then I say they have overstepped their mark and should be put firmly back in their place. Not only, the behavior of some of them invalidates their own Orthodoxy. for the calumnies they have spread are clear violations of Jewish law.

Both Sephardi and Ashkenazi worlds have their extremes and their varieties. I am not saying one is right and the other is wrong. There is a lot to be said for closed communities as there is for open ones. the both have their dangers. If I had to choose, I would be on the side of the Charedi world. I am simply arguing for variety, for choice, and to let others live the way they want to. Within Jewish law, within its constitution, there is room for variety and civilized disagreement. There is a strict side and a lenient one. A rational and a mystical. Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Chasidic, Lithuanian, open and closed, nationalist and anti-nationalist. Each constituency is different. This is the glory of Torah. Let us not demean it.

It is so important that the S&P stand firm as a bastion of Torah sanity and moderation. I congratulate them on their support for Rabbi Dweck. I hope they will continue to resist the fanatics and the Beth Din will have the good sense to ask Rabbi Dweck back. Anglo-Jewry needs rabbis like him.

43 thoughts on “Spanish & Portuguese

  1. All very well, except practically every modern orthodox rabbi in the U.K. has taken issue (albeit more discreetly than Rabbi Bassous) with many of the halachic statements made by Rabbi Dweck as well as his understanding of the mesorah, his bombastic style and zilzul of other Rabbis. So this is not simply a matter of undue Chareidi pressure.

      1. Simply untrue. Rabbi Kimche has not made a public statement either way. Private conversations have been vague.

      2. There’s a WhatsApp group for UK Rabbis -133 Rabbis on it. Rabbi Kimche posted the Lecture about homosexuality on it to get the opinions of his colleagues, and after reading what he had to say he wrote “From Rabbi Kimche:
        It will be announced that his current series is being discontinued.” Although I hear that he then didn’t condemn R Dweck in the press, so he may be presenting a different view to the public. I also spoke to a committee member of the Ma’amad who told me that Rabbi Mirvis recommended to them that they dismiss him, but then to the JC he asked for unity and said “it’s a matter for the S&P.”

        1. There’s a WhatsApp group for UK Rabbis (GPH)-133 Rabbis on it. Rabbi Kimche posted the Lecture about homosexuality on it to get the opinions of his colleagues, and after reading what he had to say he wrote “From Rabbi Kimche:
          It will be announced that his current series is being discontinued.” Although I hear that he then didn’t condemn R Dweck in the press, so he may be presenting a different view to the public. I also spoke to a committee member of the Ma’amad who told me that Rabbi Mirvis recommended to them that they dismiss him, but then to the JC he asked for unity and said “it’s a matter for the S&P.”

        2. Apparently many (maybe the majority) of Rabbonim on the Whatsapp group are horrified at how Rabbi Dweck has been treated. Some have also strongly criticised the minority on the Whatapp group who have turned against Rabbi Dweck – pointing out the critics themselves are far from being whiter-than-white and are guilty of some of the some things they complain about Rabbi Dweck.

          There is also recognition that much of the issue is political rather than religious. (Source: one of the Rabbonim on the Whatsapp group who said Rabbi Dweck would be welcome to speak in his shul).

    1. You can disagree and on some issues I do but that is no justification for the abuse.
      The only case I know of what one might call his zilzul was not of a serious rabbi but of someone of questionable pedigree who started zilzul in the first place.

      1. Not sure for certain who you mean for this. If it is who I think you mean, then there is no love between this person and Rabbi Dweck, or 15 other noted Rabbonim who condemned this person. (This person – since the letter condemning him – has given a number of lectures attacking Rabbi Dweck BEFORE the current issue, which was like gold to him as it allowed him to really get the knife out).

        It’s not often that Rabbi Berel Wein condemns a purported colleague for statements made – but this person was completely forced to retract a statement made that gave succour to anti-Semites for a start. Some of Rabbi Dweck’s detractors source their material from this person.

  2. The biggest problem is the lack of ability to respectfully disagree as opposed to getting involved in name calling and attempting to humiliate others. The commandments between man and man appear to be overlooked by those who believe they have the only answers as to the relationship between man and God.

  3. If the Jewish world is all about black and white, there would have been no room for the Talmud and the so-called oral tradition to develop.
    It seems we have our own Jewish brand of ISIS which will not tolerate difference of opinion and seeks to stifle it at all costs, regardless of infringements of halocho in the process

  4. I concur totally that Anglo-Jewry needs rabbis like Rabbi Dweck. I suspect that’s true of Global-Jewry too.

    RJD sets a standard of spiritual leadership that has real value in today’s real world without compromising any Halachic values.

    As an active member of the S&P in London and one of the working group that recruited RJD I remain amazed at his ability to relate to all Jews (Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Orthodox, Reform, Liberal or irreligious) through his intellect and ability to listen and analyse each persons needs and then to address them positively.

    Within and without the S&P he is regarded as a great asset to Anglo Jewry.

  5. “Today it’s the New York branch that carries the banner in the USA.” –

    Um. . . for the past 277 years, we have enjoyed a flourishing congregation in Philadelphia as well

  6. Fantastic. Thank you. We can’t wait for you to visit London to host you. We should get you and Rabbi Dweck on a panel discussion! Shabbat shalom

  7. I like your compassionate approach in both your blogs on this subject (‘Rabbi Dweck, Judaism, and Homosexuality’; and ‘Spanish & Portuguese’), but would raise two points. The first is that it’s not the UK Ashkenazi rabbinate on the whole that has come out publicly against R’ Dweck with regard to his shiur on homosexuality. The main (only?) UK rabbis to have given public shiurim on the matter (criticising R’ Dweck) are Rabbis Bassous and Levy, 2 Sephardi rabbis; and according to R’ Bassous himself, the Dayanim of the Ashkenazi London Beis Din tried to convince him to NOT speak out. I’m sure there have also been Ashkenazi rabbinic commentaries and private criticisms of R’ Dweck, but the main and fiercest response has come from Sephardi rabbis. And so it’s incorrect to stir up further communal discord by giving the impression of an Ashkenazi-led onslaught. Even R’ Zimmerman (the Ashkenazi Gateshead Rav – known for his outspoken criticism of his own Charedi community) intervened way after the public outcry from Sephardi rabbis and did so via a private letter that was leaked. Putting aside the Gateshead Rav’s possible naïveté (at best) in thinking his letter wouldn’t leak, the main point of his letter had anyway nothing to do with homosexuality, despite the JC’s convenience of saying it had. It was about, instead, the broader concerns that have been raised regarding the competence or otherwise of R’ Dweck’s other halachic shiurim and decisions. And this is surely a subject for all seniors rabbis (Sephardi or Ashkenazi) to give consideration to. And this raises the second point: the shiur on homosexuality seems to have brought to the fore a much broader concern about R’ Dweck’s overall halachic competence; about matters that have nothing to do with homosexuality. I have no idea why this is, as I have no halachic competence myself, but I do know that it has been a concern for many months prior to the shiur on homosexuality. The shiur on homosexuality seems to have served as a tipping point (as it no doubt grated with some traditionalists who find it hard to have any open discussion about the subject). You may disagree with the criticism of R’ Dweck’s halachic competence, but your articles should at least mention this broader context. This whole tragic story seems a little more complex than Ashkenazi vs Sephardi, Charedi vs Modern Orthodox, or even the debate on homosexuality; and yet these divisions seem to be the focus of almost commentary. Probably because it allows us to cement existing prejudices. It must surely be the responsibility of our most vocally compassionate rabbis, such as yourself, to bring the required nuance to their public blogs.

  8. Thank you Steven
    You raise some interesting points for which I am grateful. But let me tell you why my slant on the situation is different to yours.
    Firstly there is both within the Sephardi and the Ashkenazi world a process of increasing charediisation that has been going on ever since the post war era. Which I have always considered to be a ghood thing because Anglo Jewry was known to bea community of relatively little learning and less observance. But with it there has always been a tendency towards abuse of anyone one considered a challenge to the new order.
    secondly the Sephardi world particularly in Israel has tended to feel less secure of itself and looks over its shoulder to the Ashkenazi Right. But it is true the Sephardi world itself has always been divided and cliquish

    In this incident a body of Right Wing Charedi opinion on the right has felt challenged for supremacy by Rabbi Dweck and was always looking to discredit him. Up to now nothing he has said has been against the Torah or Halacha, just a more tolerant, rational and open minded version of it. As indeed this new issue was. Just that it was a much easier issue to make a fuss over which they did.
    Initially it was a Sephardi intolerance of Sephardi open mindedness that was playing out at the Sephardi Beth Din. But make no mistake it was supported by Right Wing Ashkenazi opinion equally bent on stifling dissent.
    Anglo Jewry is a much more centralized phenomenon thsn the USA where exactly the same internal Sephardi polarization exists. In the USA no one would care. But in the UK with its cultural tendency towards conformity and not making a fuss, this whole issue has been a dishonest power play in which bothAshklenazi and Sephardi sides to varying degress and with varying motives have contributed. If this really were about Rabbi Dwek’s halachic opinion why havent we heard what those other issues were so that may judge for ourselves. I dsuspect they were no more than taking a lenient line than a strict one.
    this was written before Shabbat in New York but as you will not see it till after Shabbat I wish you a Shavua Tov.

    1. Rabbi Rosen,

      The issues brought up by Steven regarding halachic competence were totally ignored in your reply. If the S&P is so confident in their Rabbi, why we’re all of his shiurim removed from their website?

      For someone to serve on a Bet Din, they need to be competent, and it seems that there has been knowledge of these halachic problems for some time. Even if this wasn’t k own before, it certainly is now.

      Ignoring the broader issues of heresy against the Torah and the Jewish nation within this talk and others simply misses the point. Statements like “If you heard the absolute ignorance that I hear on a daily basis from the Rabbinate”, or “it doesn’t matter how long the beard, it doesn’t matter how long the black coat, everyone is sinning” are a disgrace, and the suggestion that the Chief Rabbi, Rishon Litzion, has some kind of vendetta against his nephew is simply ridiculous.

      This is not about tolerance, but about a “Rabbi” who has clearly overstepped his bounds due to unchecked hubris. The S&P community is not an island unto itself – they are a part of the broader Sephardic worldwide community, which has every right to step in when they are debased.

  9. Would you care to give us chapter and verse to support your accusation of heresy? Since when is criticism of rabbis an issue of heresy? As for sinning, if Sholomo HaMelech can say that there is no human being under the sun who does only good and does not sin, are you accusing him too?

  10. Joe

    As somebody who has gone to Rabbi Dweck’s shiurim on both Halacha and his Perspectives series (in which the homosexuality shiur was given), I have NEVER heard any heretical comments. His Halachic shiurim are always sourced. He goes through differences of opinion and explains them. He also regularly states he is explaining the situation for Sephardim – not Ashkenazim. (So he allows Kitniot on Pesach…. as one example). He refers to Rav Ovadia Yosef as Haham Ovadia and is always deferential to him – if Rav Ovadia gives an opinion that is what he goes by.

    I’ve heard statements by others about what Rav Dweck has or hasn’t said. In every case, where Rav Dweck was criticised, the statements claimed to be by him were taken completely out of context. The “homosexuality” shiur is a prime example of this. Rav Dweck NEVER said that any homosexual activity was allowed or even praiseworthy. He never even said specifically that societal acceptance of this activity was a fabulous thing. (He said that the changes in society that meant condemnation of homosexuals as people was seen as wrong was a fabulous thing. If you just look at how the historical condemnation of homosexuals has led to men of the calibre of Turing to commit suicide – a man who helped Britain win the war and shortened the conflict by years, thereby saving the lives of thousands of Jews who would have died if the war had continued for even another year. You can see that the calls for Turing’s case to be repealed are a fabulous thing – just one example, although not mentioned by Rav Dweck).

    As for criticism of Rabbonim – yes he gave a shiur on the role of a Rav. He said a Rav should inspire and lead and bring people to God. Yet too many Rabbonim focus on the minutiae of practice and so are essentially “technicians” rather than inspirational leaders. Is that really so wrong? Although I do understand if the Rabbinic “technicians” object to being described as such. Maybe they should look to themselves than somebody who DOES encourage people to engage fully with yiddishkeit. (Sorry for the Ashkenazi language!)

  11. Dear Rabbi Rosen,

    I have emailed your comments on this very unpleasant situation to members of the S&P and beyond and we are all thankful for your thoughtful and excellent contribution. They are spot on.

    I was not a very active member of the S&P until Rabbi Dweck and his family arrived in London. Rabbi Dweck has invigorated our community in a way we had only previously dreamed of. As a community, we are not Charedi in any sense, and in the Sephardi tradition, we do not aspire to live in a bubble. When searching for our new Rabbi, we were keen to find a Rabbi that did not have narrow or simplistic views on our religion and traditions-or scared to debate/discuss whatever issue was affecting society as a whole. In particular, we were looking for a Rabbi who would rally the younger generation.

    Rabbi Dweck has very successfully achieved all of these things and not only at the S&P but beyond our community. I know there is more to be done but in the space of 3 years, Rabbi Dweck has become a well known, very well liked and respected Rabbi throughout the UK. He appeals to men & women, young and old and has an intellectual yet easy manner in the way he imparts Torah. At S&P we cherish tradition, discourse and tolerance, observance of the Torah and our rituals. We do not want to be treated as sheep, and do not want to be intimidated into a narrow view of our religion.

    My family and I came home yesterday after another uplifting Shabbat service at S&P which focused on explaining the various components of our service and traditions, followed by a question and answer session, which simply reinforced Rabbi Dweck’s reach and appeal.

    I would not expect all traditional Rabbis to agree with Rabbi Dweck’s lectures. They have the right to express their alternative views in an intelligent and rational way. That is what our Rabbis have done for hundreds of years. What is totally unacceptable and in my view against the Torah, is the abuse and insults levied at a Rabbi serving a community, who happen to be thrilled with him and his teachings. Our youngsters, who mix not only in a Sephardi world but increasingly with more progressive Jewish communities, cannot comprehend the shoddy and crass behaviour we have witnessed in the last couple of weeks. This turns them away from religion- I would think a greater sin than anything Rabbi Dweck said or did not say by those looking to discredit him. There is nothing holy about any of the denunciations I have read-and although everyone is entitled to express his or her views, it should always be done civilly as our Chief Rabbi has recently said, and with derech eretz.

    What example are these Rabbis sending us and our children-what about lashon hara ?

    The recent questions raised about Rabbi Dweck’s competence is simply another form of attack, the same vitriol and the spreading of false rumours to undermine and attack a most competent Rabbi-taught by the former Sephardi Chief rabbi of Israel.

    The problem facing the traditional wing of our Jewish communities-Sephardi/Ashkenazi, is that in the context of an ever changing world, there are very few courageous and forward thinking Rabbis, who are prepared to debate current issues facing our society and communities. Additionally, there is a sense that certain Rabbis have become very politicised-particularly in the Charedi wing. In the good old days, our famous rabbis and philosophers-those who created our liturgy psalms prayers and poems, worked for a living which meant that they were in touch with and were part of society-something that is so obviously lacking today and which in part, may explain- the hysterical reaction to anything that is perceived a threat or outside their immediate bubble.

    I have no knowledge of what sort of pressure was brought upon by US Rabbis on the Sephardi Chief Rabbinate in Israel to distance themselves from dealing with this issue in a sensible way, but I have a suspicion-and its not an uplifting one ! We need leaders in our community that can inspire us and the next generation-not by trying to control us, but by debating with us.
    Regards
    David

  12. David
    I completely agree with you
    The Right Wing live in their own bubble with no appreciation of the wider world which they seem to see as exclusively negative and destructive.There isas much to criticize in the secular world as there is in the ghetto religious. Both extremes are dangerous. It’s important that people like you have the confidence to stand for moderation for your sake of your children.

  13. I’m happy to present some specific examples of heresy, based on Joseph Dweck’s own words:
    1) Regarding Sodom, he claims it was not a gay city. Exact quote: “Even in the stories of the Torah, the famous one is the story of Sodom, which is why sodomy is called sodomy – you read that story in modern times and you think that was a gay city. It wasn’t a gay city – this wasn’t West Hollywood. I great up in West Hollywood – I’m telling you, this wasn’t West Hollywood.”

    2) Regarding David & Yonatan, he claims that they were intimate. Exact quote: “David’s saying, the way that I understand it, I interpret it, David is saying over here: “I didn’t have any of that sexual tension with you. I could hug you, and kiss you, and caress you, and be intimate with you, and none of that dissonance of the basil elements of sexuality that we draw from primal situations, it wasn’t present.”

    3) Claiming that the Chachamin in the Gemarah are wrong when it comes to male seclusion, and that the Torah changes with the times: “So as far as this was concerned, the Chachamim didn’t feel that they need to sanction it, because they didn’t worry about it as a major problem. Could very well be that today, it’s not the case. I would argue that today, it isn’t the case. It’s a completely different world than the world that they were talking about. And the possibilities are completely different than the world that they were talking about. They’re wrong that Yisrael should not be suspect about it, right? They’re wrong that I shouldn’t worry that there’s any homosexual feelings, or that there’s actually going to be homosexual action taken in a society where I have it all over the place, and it’s part of my possibilities, and part of my life, and I’m engaged with it constantly, and so on and so forth. Of course it’s gonna happen. That’s wrong, in my opinion.”

    4) Claiming that nobody knows what To’evah means, as if no Rabbis have written about it: “What does the word mean? We don’t know what the word means.. we’re not sure what the word means. In general, it means something that is repelled, it’s not accepted, it’s something that’s repelled. To’evah simply means that it is something that isn’t supposed to be welcomed – it’s meant to be kept at a distance. Now, the interesting thing is, that’s why you’ll see people say” (sarcastic tone) “it’s an abomination, an abomination to G’d.” It’s not an abomination to G-d, the Torah is making no moral statement at all on this issue. It’s not saying anything moral about it.”

    5) Slandering all Jews and not judging your fellow Jew favorably: “You know how many people you should not be putting up to the Torah if you’re going to start making that kind of scrutiny? You can’t get a minyan, forget about it. You won’t be able to fill the synagogue. You will not be able to to read a Torah, if that’s the scrutiny that you’re going to start making.”

    6) Claiming, as if he knows, that love is a modern construct – as if Abraham did not love Sarah, Yitzchah love Rivkah, and so forth: “As a matter of fact, most sex in the ancient world had nothing to do with love, certainly not marriage. Marriage – love in marriage – is a modern construct.”

    Then there’s the issue of giving a 5 part lecture on evolution, which also has been removed form the S&P website so that it does not face further scrutiny. The theory of evolution does not conform with Orthodox religion, and Rabbi Avigdor Miller wrote extensively on the subject and calls Darwin “the great imposter”. Joseph Dweck has claimed that any Rabbi who is a big Rabbi should be studying evolution, one of the issues brought up in Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef’s letter condemning him.

    In another lecture, when discussing the concept of Ayin Tachat Ayin, he claims that the Torah originally had a penalty of actually extracting an eye, but that society felt that was too harsh, and so the Chachamim came and lightened things because it was too cruel to the people. The Gemara clearly states that this was Halacha Le’Moshe Mi’Sinai, and we never had a penalty of an actual eye, nor would the Chachamim ever change the Torah to accommodate the changing tides of society.

    In another lecture, claiming that the Amoraim in the Gemarah wanted to argue with the Rabbis in the Mishna, and came up with a system for doing that. An Amora or a Rishon in the Gemara can never argue with a Tanah in the Mishna.

    There are also numerous halachic issues found to be contained within his lectures. Just a few examples:
    1) Eruv – when discussing why Ashkenaz rely on Eruv more, claiming that is because the Rama does not rule on the subject. That’s not true, and he should also be defulting to Maran in that case.
    2) Brit Milah – claiming that if a baby is born Ben HaShemashot, we are machmir and do the bris on Friday. That is not the correct halacha – the bris is done on Sunday.
    3) Ben Yomo – claiming that a pot can be washed in the sink with hot water and soap/detergent to become Pagum and lenient for cooking should it be used mistakenly for meat/milk.
    4) Shabbat Time – making mistakes for incoming/outgoing Shabbat times, including claiming that 18 minutes are added on to the of Shabbat, which is simply not true.

    And, as mentioned above, there’s the issue of statements like “If you heard the absolute ignorance that I hear on a daily basis from the Rabbinate”, which I would think would concern you as well, Rabbi Rosen.

    This was just a sampling of issues – there are many more. It’s a shame that many are hiding behind the subject matter of this particular lecture to use that as a mask for the larger issues that have been uncovered.

    It’s easy to write this off as a vendetta, or as “political maneuvering” as Joseph Dweck put it, but that accuses the Chief Rabbi of the Sephardic community of having a political vendetta against his nephew – kind of ridiculous. A more accurate assessment is that the Rabbis have a duty to make the community aware of the issues – especially given that he was set to be speaking weekly in one of the synagogues in Deal, NJ.

    Those who stand up for the Torah are not living in a “right wing charedi bubble”, we are concerned community members who are building a fence around the Torah to protect it from imposters.

    1. Joe

      Before I complete my replies to your complaints let me say that although the Hebrew word ידע in Tanach does often mean intercourse, it doesn’t always! After all the Torah says וידע ה״ and according to you that must mean that ה״ is homosexual!!

      Now to the rest of your litany of dubious complaints

      I agree it does sound dramatic to say the Chachamim were wrong. Even though there are cases such as spontaneous creation where we know differently nowadays and some thought the sun revolved around the earth. They did not know about genes or bacteria. I would rather have said that times change. After all, the Chachamim agreed to stop Mey Sotah even though it’s written in the Torah, because R.Yochanan Ben Zakkay said that times have changed. Similarly, Misherabu HaRotzchim and Rebbi Akivah and the death penalty. Perhaps he could have been more circumspect. But this hardly Kefirah. He did not deny Emunat Chachamim.

      What he is saying is that there are at least seven different terms the Torah uses to express disapproval for sexually prohibited activities Erva, Toevah, Tevel, Zima, Hessed, Sheer, some specific, some general. Chazal disagree over the meaning of these words and translations into English or any Language are rarely accurate or convey the whole story. When it comes to derush we have a flexibility that does not apply to halacha. I do not necessarily agree with his derush but he entitled to make it. There is indeed room for different, even conflicting derashot/midrash etc. To suggest that Homosexuality is somehow worse than all the others arayot and toevot is simply not sustainable. Is it really worse than adultery?

      But , and this leads to your next point, most Charedi communities do not deny membership or Aliyot to adulterers, liers, thieves and those who are Mechalell HaShem ( and we are not even talking about Chillul Shabbat or Ochel Neveylot LeTayavon. What he his saying is that doesn’t make sense to select one aveyrah for odium above all the rest. At least be consistent. This too is something I disagree with because in the case of Homosexuality there is an aggressive public campaign which seeks to impose its values on others. But this has nothing to do with the right of Rabbi Dweck to point out an unfortunate truth.

      What do mean by love? Pray what is wrong with saying that there are different kinds of love and Chazal use the word generally. Isn’t there a difference between loving you wide, your children, your parents and your neighbor or the Ger (ve Ahavta Reyecha and ve Ahavta Ishtecha and Imecha and Baneycha)? How do we know what kind, degree or nuance of love Moshe meant? Whatever, here too there is room for derush without accusing someone of Kefirah.

      I do not agree that every aspect of Evolution is against Halacha at all. A lot of Darwinian Theories are no longer accepted. We see creatures evolving and changing all the time in small ways. Yes, the idea of randomness of creation, of there not being a Creator or that HaShem is not party of our world, do go against Torah. But Rabbi Dweck does not say any of this. Besides Da Ma LeHashiv Le Apikoros means that rabbis can become familiar with different ideas, in order to learn how to argue or refute them.

      As for Ayin Tachat Ayin, the Gemara in Bava Kama itself posits the possibility of taking it literally. It argues the case because there was a Havah Aminah. It does not immediately close the issue by saying its Halacha LeMoshe MiSinai and then end all discussion. You are ignoring other arguments and opinions the Gemara felt happy keeping for everyone to see.

      As for your complaints on halachic opinions, you seem blissfully unaware of the range of different opinions and minhagim that exist within the framework of Halacha.

      I am afraid we are just on different pages and nothing I say will make any difference.

    2. Regarding Sodom, in Jewish thought (as opposed to the Christian argument which you use), it is considered that the biggest crime of Sodom was lack of hospitality. There is an instance in there of what coild be male rape. Homosexual relationships are not the crux of the story.

      Regarding David & Johnathan, Rabbi Dwek was saying something quite contrary to the liberal viewpoint. He was saying that they were having a loving and affectionate friendship which was NOT sexual. In the Yeshiva world it’s not uncommon for guys to dance together, hug, be close together when learning, to pass compliments, without it being sexual. Goy culture in a place like England is completely different and the opposite to that.

      What I’m explaining to you (as a Yeshiva student) and which has been explained to you by others is basic Judaism. Instead of posting the letters of Rabbi’s in Israel, I would rather debate with a person and they put some of their own qualufications forward. I’m sure most would be mortified if they were scrutinised like Dwek and if we looked at their Jewish learning and observance. As a Rabbi once said to me “best to work on your own midot rather than that of others”.

      If you don’t understand the text in English, how do you understand it in Hebrew and read the commentary/Rashi?

  14. Joe

    I’m not willing to comment on what you say regarding Halacha as I’ve not heard the specific lectures. However if your comments are anything like your first few comments then you are 100% wrong as you have taken things out of context, or listened to only part of what Rabbi Dweck has said and missed the conclusion that would have answered your points.

    As an example of YOU taking things out of context and so completely misinterpreting Rabbi Dweck:
    1) Sodom. JEWISH tradition states that the sin of Sodom was NOT Sodomy. It was cruelty – especially to others. That is not to say that the story of Lot and the Melachim doesn’t imply Sodomy. However this was a power issue rather than a gay issue and that is clear from the text. It is a CHRISTIAN concept that Sodom was a gay city – not a Jewish one. So You malign Rabbi Dweck in your comment and show you’ve either not listened to him in total OR have a pre-conceived bias that does not have valid origins.

    2) Rabbi Dweck NEVER EVER said the relationship between Dovid and Yonatan was sexual. The text is quite clear that they showed love between each other. However this was not a gay love and Rabbi Dweck was completely clear that it was not. You have totally misinterpreted his words. As you write: “I didn’t have any of that sexual tension with you… ” Read your own words. You malign Rabbi Dweck in your comment and show you’ve either not listened to him in total OR have a pre-conceived bias that does not have valid origins.

    4) Toevah – the precise meaning of this word is NOT clear which is why it is discussed in the Gemara. Your certainty shows a non-Jewish understanding that believes in an absolutism that is alien to Jewish belief. Rabbi Dweck brought up the Talmudic discussion on this – and for you to say what you are saying implies that you reject the Talmud. THAT is heresy – NOT Rav Dweck.

    5) You imply that there are Jews who do not sin – and lots of them. That is total BS. If you really believe that it is possible to have a minyan of people without sin then you are delusional. Rabbi Dweck is correct in saying that we should not highlight one person against another. It is not for us to judge – it is for Hashem. (There is a Charedi shul in London that had jokes made against it. “Why are there bars on the windows of … ?” The answer: so the congregants feel at home”. And “How do you know who has just been released from prison?” Answer: He gets an immediate call up.” (Yes there is the concept of being released requiring Birchat Hagomel. However that does not mean you honour thieves and fraudsters).

    6) Of course Avraham loved Sarah, etc. Rabbi Dweck never said otherwise. What he said was that historically marriages were NOT love marriages as today. They were often (generally) political – love came AFTER marriage and not before. Your comment shows you did not properly listen to Rav Dweck’s words or even listen at all. Again, you malign Rabbi Dweck in your comment and show you’ve either not listened to him in total OR have a pre-conceived bias that does not have valid origins. In fact, this comment comes from one of those who gave a lecture against Rabbi Dweck despite having expressed a hatred of him beforehand and who admitted NOT having listened to Rabbi Dweck’s shiur. I hope that this is NOT your source as speaking out based on hearsay / Rechilut is a breach of a Torah prohibition.

    Taking all the above into account, I’m sure your comments on Rav Dweck’s Halachic statements are equally false and equally risking Lashon Harah. (BTW – please read up on Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch on evolution. You are TOTALLY wrong on this – as with your other comments. Evolution is not against belief in Torah. What is wrong is believing in Godless evolution. That is NOT what Rabbi Dweck was speaking about – and is what he condemns – but then I suspect you haven’t listened to that either!)

    1. Arthur,

      1) What you state about Sodom is not true. It is not a Christian concept. The Torah clearly states that the people of Sodom asked Lot to send out the men so that they could “know them”. While Dweck tries to imply that this means they wanted to take their possessions, we know from the Torah’s other uses of the phrase – such as “And Adam knew his wife eve, and she conceived, and bore Kain”. It is clear what the Torah means by the phrase “to know”. The word sodomy comes from the word Sodom, which Dweck acknowledged, but then tried to make the claim that to “know them” meant something totally different.

      2) Regarding David HaMelech – again, Dweck’s own words: “David is saying over here: “I didn’t have any of that sexual tension with you. I could hug you, and kiss you, and caress you, and be intimate with you”. He is clearly stating that they were kissing and being intimate.

      4) Regarding ToEvah – Dweck states, “Nobody knows what it means.” That is not a true statement. Many commentators have given a definition of it, and most agree that it means an abomination. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t say “Toevat Hashem”, but only says “Toevah”, because it’s Hashem who wrote the Torah.

      5) To make a statement that “everyone is sinning” goes against the Jewish principle of Dan Le’Kaf Zechut – judging your fellow man favorably. Can Dweck prove it as factual that “everyone is sinning”? Can anyone, except G-d himself? And does he include his uncles in that statement?

      6) What is the proof that love did not exist in the ancient world? So what if love came after marriage? I assure you that I listened to the full lecture, and he makes claims that he has absolutely no way to prove.

      You can ignore the halachic errors if you choose, but know that there is a reason why he was asked to step down from the Beth Din – especially as they oversee Kashrut for the SKA (Sephardic Kashrut Authority).

      As for the evolution argument, the world has come a lot further along since Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsh’s time. He lived in the 1800s at the same time as Darwin, but we now know that his theories of evolution are just that – theories. They have never been proven scientifically, and don’t agree with Torah hashkafa. Rabbi Avigdor Miller, who had a mandate from the Rabbis to study these topics in order to refute them, puts these ludicrous theories to rest in his book Rejoice O’ Youth. But Dweck feels that all big rabbis should be studying evolution.

      I’d love to hear more about what Joseph Dweck had to say on the topic, but those lectures are have mysteriously disappeared from the Web. Likewise, all of the halachic issues raised above could be fact-checked, but it seems someone has seen fit to remove those lectures from the S&P site, keeping them from further scrutiny. Go figure.

      1. Joe – you have misinterpreted my comments. If you misinterpret comments in the way you have above, I strongly suspect that you have done the same with respect to Rav Dweck’s lecture.

        1) Of course the Torah states that the people of Sodom wanted to “know” the melachim. Rabbi Dweck never said otherwise, and definitely did not say that this meant “to take their possessions”. (Did you really listen to the shiur – where does he say this?). He was clear that it meant homosexual rape. Rape is a statement of power – irrespective of the victim. It’s aim is to demean the victim and show that the rapist has control or power over the victim. Sodomy is an English word – from the Christian idea that Sodom was a gay city. The idea that Sodom was a gay city is NOT Jewish.

        2) Regarding David Hamelech. READ the text in 2 Shmuel 1:26. … נִפְלְאַתָה אַהֲבָתְךָ לִי מֵאַהֲבַת נָשִׁים – “Your love was more fantastic/wonderful to me than the love of women”. It is passages such as this that led the LGBTQ movement to suggest that Dovid and Yonatan were gay. Rabbi Dweck refuted this and said they were not. Yes – Dovid could hug Yonatan like a brother. NOT like a sexual partner. (And in Middle Eastern societies it is common for men to kiss each other too – as brothers – without any sexual tension or meaning). Rabbi Dweck was 100% clear that the relationship was not sexual – and that anybody claiming it was is putting 21st C values on a wholly platonic relationship. It is YOUR biases that make you think Rav Dweck was viewing the relationship as sexual – NOT Rav Dweck’s.

        4) Toevah. The EXACT meaning IS unclear. Nobody knows the precise meaning which is why the commentators discuss it. And it is why they give definitions. ALL agree it is something undesirable – the translation “abomination” is from the King James Bible. That is NOT a Jewish translation. Toevah is also used for pork. The word occurs over 100 times in the Tanach and generally refers to something that relates to things that should be completely taboo for Am Yisrael as they link to foreign practices that Jews must reject. In Yehezkel it is used to refer to idolatry. Or what about Devarim 24:4 “לֹא-יוּכַל בַּעְלָהּ הָרִאשׁוֹן אֲשֶׁר-שִׁלְּחָהּ לָשׁוּב לְקַחְתָּהּ לִהְיוֹת לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה, אַחֲרֵי אֲשֶׁר הֻטַּמָּאָה–כִּי-תוֹעֵבָה הִוא” – so are two people remarrying after getting divorced, if the woman has married somebody else in between (and then becoming a widow/divorced again) on the same level of sin as homosexual acts. It’s obvious that Toevah cannot be an abomination in the way you see it – with the English word. To claim otherwise misunderstands the word AND Rav Dweck.

        5) Even Moshe sinned. That is why Hashem forbade him from entering Eretz Yisrael. To claim that some do not commit sin is also Christian – as that is their belief with regards to some of their saints, etc. However we should NOT highlight another individual’s sins and should judge fellow men favourably (with caveats – if you know a person is a rasha, then you take this into account in any business dealings so do not judge him favourably). So “everyone is sinning” is obvious. The level of sin is a different question. The question should be whether to highlight homosexual acts against others. (Especially as homosexual acts are done behind closed doors – unlike the sins of Rechilut, Lashon Hara and Motzei Shem Rah, which are prevalent in the attacks on Rav Dweck).

        6) This is a key statement that shows you did NOT understand Rav Dweck and so are maligning him in ways that go against the Torah (as in 5, above). READ what I wrote: “Of course Avraham loved Sarah, etc. Rabbi Dweck never said otherwise. What he said was that historically marriages were NOT love marriages as today. They were often (generally) political – love came AFTER marriage and not before.” Rav Dweck was not saying love didn’t exist. I did not say that either. SO you are reading things into the statements that are false. If you listened to the full lecture, you evidently did not understand this bit – and so presumably other bits too. As for proof that marriages were mostly political / not love marriages…. they aren’t in the Charedi world or many other parts of the world today either. A shidduch – especially when the partners don’t properly meet alone until the wedding is NOT a love marriage! It is arranged, and historically was often for political / financial or similar purposes. Love comes AFTER the marriage when the couple get to know each other (know – including the biblical sense). It does not exist before!

        As for evolution – your argument shows you have no understanding of science. Einstein’s “theories” of relativity are also theories. So is aerodynamic theory – that allow planes to fly. They have been shown to be true in just the same way as the post-Darwin evolutionary science. Theory in science does not relate to an idea that can be overturned in the way you imply. That is a hypothesis. The theory of evolution has been shown to be true through large amounts of empirical evidence. If it was not true, a considerable amount of medicine, biology and related disciplines would also be untrue (and you would be sicker as a result). The problem today – relating to antibiotic resistance is because bacteria have evolved to be resistant to antibiotics. To say otherwise shows ignorance. BTW – I too have read Rabbi Miller’s book – and the chapter on evolution is nonsense. The problem with evolutionary theory is NOT that it happens and explains speciation. The problem is the precise mechanism and process if you leave God out of the picture. (With God, there is no problem). In fact, denying evolution is denying the evidence of God’s ability to create the universe as we know it. Are you really doing that – saying that God could not have creatures evolve? Are your really saying that God’s powers are limited? If you are, then that IS heretical!

  15. the comments of Joe Danziger leave me breathless..they are irrefutable..dweck needs to step down before he does any more
    to tge name of Sephardi Jewry..he is an absolute disgrace to his Syrian community in Brooklyn and thank Hashem he has left us hooefully forever..he has been called out by the gedolei hador on Yerushalayim who take the Torah seriously, not as a liece of clay to be molded to one’s whims..Dweck must go. Now.

  16. A letter has been published by the Beit Din Tzedek Rabbinical Court in Bnei Brak, headed by Rabbi Yosef Nissim Karelitz, nephew of the Chazon Ish, and one of the most respected Orthodox rabbis in the world. The letter reads as follows:

    To the Esteemed Rabbis and Dayanim of London and Manchester:

    In reposes to your inquiry to us regarding R’ Joseph Dweck: Whilst he heads a respected community, his lectures stand contrary to principles of the Jewish religion, and of belief in the Written and Oral Torah, and are complete heresy. He teaches in public, in a way which is understood to allow that which is forbidden, and is clearly a danger to his audience. Even after issuing a clarification, he has not corrected the mistakes that he made.

    Having thoroughly investigated the matter and listened to his recordings and to testimony, we hereby inform you that it is clear that it is completely impossible for him to serve as a rabbi or spiritual leader of any Jewish community.

    It is incumbent on all who gear G-d to do all win their power to diminish his negative influence such that none of our Jewish brethren should fall in his net.

    Mat it be the will of G-d that he will do full repentance, and so the verse shall be fulfilled: “and the land shall be filled with knowledge etc.”.

    Rabbi Shariel Rosenberg
    Rabbi Yehuda Selman
    Rabbi Yechezkel Palas
    Rabbi Yaakov Reisner

    https://www.facebook.com/RabbiYaronReuven/posts/10154811679933196

  17. Just typical. When they can’t deal with the issueד or the arguments they resort to besmirching and transgressing the law of “Not embarrasing your neighbor in public.They have no portion in the World to Come. המלבין פני חבירו ברבים אין לו חלק לעולם הבא ,בבא מציעא נח

    1. So, let me get this straight: your claim is that Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, Chief Rabbi of the Sephardim, son of Gadol HaDor Hacham Ovadia Yosef, and head of the Beit Din HaGadol in Yerushalayim, has no portion in the World to Come?

  18. The problem with Mr. Rosen is that he doesn’t get the Torah, or Hashem.. Hashem is one, the Torah is one. It is not meant to be reinterpreted for every generation to conform to the styles and mores of the goyim. After all if we remained among ourselves, in ironclad communities, the likelihood of embracing the abominations of the goyim would be minuscule. As you lean towards permissiveness the dangers multiply. I grew up in the Syrian Community in Brooklyn, as did my Pop, a’h. He became a daily minyan attendee in his 30’s. I wandered a lot before returning to my secure roots.. BUT WE NEVER QUESTIONED WISDOM OF OUR HAKHAMIM… yes there were debates about shaving on Hol hamoed, or other humrot, but the root halachot, the root hashkafot remained the same. It is so obvious that today people want to be relieved of the burdens of being shomrei misvot but still feel a need to be included. Should we water down our observance to satisfy those on the fringes of our society? You want in, you play by the rules. We are an exclusive club. Non-inclusive. Remember, our community has remained intact partially because of the Takanah of 1935 forbidding acceptance of converts for the purpose of marriage. This was based on a section of Shulchan Aruch, Yosef Karo..that I can’t quote right now, but it’s there. Mr. Rosen takes great relish in putting down Hareidim, as if it’s some form of leprosy. Others call it Black Hatism. Hey, if you want to know how it works, you must study with those who have a commitment to Torah, not Darwin, or Dawkins, or Christian theology or pop psychology..I’m not writing a book so I’ll stop here..But I stand with Hakhmei HaKahal Hakadosh in Brooklyn and Deal..If the S & P want to play by different rules, that’s their prerogative.. They’ll be known as the kahal that let Open Orthodoxy rear it’s ugly head in London.

    1. Ray
      1) Rabbi Rosen has Semicha from Mir Yeshiva. To refer to him as “Mr Rosen” shows total disrespect and ignorance.
      2) The Torah clearly states that each generation should find truth in the Torah and that the Torah needs to be relevant for each generation. The Torah recognises that change happens and that is why it is immutable. The practices of today are NOT the same as those of our grandfathers, and those of our grandfathers differed from those of their grandfathers. Each generation must make Torah relevant – within parameters laid down within the Torah. (It is this breach with the chain of tradition that means Masorati Judaism / Reform Judaism are wrong. They broke the chain – in an attempt to change. However within the Halacha, change IS allowed – and that is why there were debates).

      Refusal to debate and turning inwards is NOT the Jewish way. Judaism was never absolutist until the Chatam Sofer – who was reacting to the early Reform movement. His ideals are the basis of Charedi Judaism. A reason why the Reform movement never took hold in the Sephardi world is because it remained broad-minded and tolerant. Sadly, today this is disappearing, as too many Sephardi Rabbonim are adopting the Charedi mindset and turning their backs on the majority of Jews to keep up with the Rabbi Jones and their Chumrah of the week movement. (A month ago, I was talking to a Sephardi Rav from Tunisia – who now keeps Kitniot on Pesach….).

      Kol Hakvod to Rav Dweck for maintaining the Sephardi approach and avoiding the pitfalls of the Ashkenazi Charedi perspective that has led to so much assimilation by anybody who feels left out of that world.

  19. From what I’m gathering, this is not the first controversy that there has been. I know that there was an uproar when the Limmud conference decided to bring in non-Orthodox speakers, and the President of S&P signed a letter in support of this. Chief Rabbi Mirvis, now working with the S&P to “kosher” things, was also part of this controversy, as he decided to speak alongside these reform and/or conservative speakers, and was supported in this by the leadership of the S&P.

    We didn’t hear about this in the US at the time, but it seems that the leadership of the S&P congregation has been leaning in a different direction for a while now. It’s no surprise, then, that they would support Dweck against what now has become not just a chorus, but a symphony of well-respected orthodox Rabbis and Batei Dinim that have felt the need to warn the public of the danger being posed.

    Far from being Lashon Harah, the Beit Din in Bnei Brak has clearly ruled: “It is incumbent on all who fear G-d to do all win their power to diminish his negative influence such that none of our Jewish brethren should fall in his net.”

  20. Fascinating. The Rabbi ( Jeremy) writes a refreshingly candid piece about the need for humanity – the result is a glaring exposé of some agreement, some variable thought and then pitiful examples of devisiveness clothed with a tint of bigotry. To which the latter would if pointed out would say : ” who me ?”

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