The debacle at Bevis Marks


By Simon Rocker
October 20, 2009
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To anyone who’s followed recent events at the Bevis Marks Synagogue, the departure of Rabbi Natan Asmoucha will come as no surprise. Suspended for almost three months, he spared himself further disciplinary action by reaching a settlement with the leaders of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation.
But since the agreement will be wrapped up in a confidentiality clause, we are now unlikely to hear from the mahamad (executive) of the S and P why they acted as they did.
Rabbi Asmoucha, you will recall, was suspended from rabbinical duties after taking part in an interfaith demonstration against high bank interest rates in July. He was accused of involving himself in a political event without the appropriate authorisation and of allowing the demonstrators to set off from the synagogue without the requisite security checks.
But for many people – not least among his Bevis Marks congregants – the mahamad over-reacted by throwing the book at him.
Since banks are more or less public institutions now they have been propped up with taxpayers’ money, surely any good citizen, never mind a rabbi, is entitled to voice an opinion about what they do with it.
And recalling the Torah view on debt, here’s what Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks wrote recently in his book Future Tense: “No one is to be indebted forever. Every seven years, all debts are cancelled. No one is forced to sell his or her ancestral inheritance in such a way as to rob their children or grandchildren of their heritage. In the jubilee year, land returns to its original owners. The entire legislative structure is aimed at creating a culture of hope.”

Here is the joint statement released by the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation to members:

"The Spanish & Portuguese Jews’ Congregation and Rabbi Nathan Asmoucha announce that Rabbi Asmoucha’s position as Rabbi of Bevis Marks Synagogue has ended by mutual agreement.

After consulting the Mahamad [Executive] of the Congregation about his wishes, Rabbi Asmoucha has agreed to leave his position with immediate effect for the well being of his family.

Commenting on his decision, Rabbi Asmoucha said: “I have enjoyed my time at Bevis Marks tremendously. This is a very special community and I will miss its warm and unique atmosphere. I would also like to thank the leadership of the Spanish & Portuguese Jews’ Congregation for their assistance during my tenure”.

Speaking on behalf of the Mahamad [Executive] of the Spanish & Portuguese Jews’ Congregation, Dr Edward Shaoul commented: “Rabbi Asmoucha created a major impression during his time at Bevis Marks and we thank him for his efforts during his time with the community. We understand and support his move and wish him every success with his future career.”

Background Notes

Arriving at Bevis Marks in 2007, Rabbi Asmoucha was the first rabbi employed there for many years. During his time with the congregation, he led services, gave regular sermons, started and held a weekly shiur, and conducted weddings and funerals. He was also instrumental in reintroducing Friday night services after a hiatus of many years. He produced a weekly Bevis Marks newsletter and created a rabbi’s blog. Popular with his local congregants, his passion for social advocacy also quickly established a respected reputation within the wider community."

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