Bevis Marks chiefs to face down rebels

By Simon Rocker, October 15, 2009

Supporters of the suspended rabbi of Bevis Marks Synagogue in east London are set for a showdown with Sephardi leaders at a special meeting next Thursday.

More than 40 members of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation have backed a motion of no confidence in the mahamad, the executive committee of the congregation.

But the mahamad has tabled its own motion, calling for support among the wider membership, and saying that any embarrassment to the congregation is because of “irresponsible comments” to the media from some Bevis Marks members.

Rabbi Asmoucha was suspended by the mahamad nearly three months ago following his participation in an interfaith demonstration against high bank interest rates. He is due to face a disciplinary hearing over the affair, which could result in his dismissal.

His Bevis Marks supporters are now calling for the postponement of any disciplinary action and “any steps leading to his departure from the congregation”. They had already been angered by proposals from the mahamad, before the July incident, which could have led to Rabbi Asmoucha being made redundant.

But in a letter to Spanish and Portuguese members notifying them of next week’s meeting, Edward Shaoul, the mahamad’s new parnas presidente (chairman), says that the “unfortunate publicity” over the problems at Bevis Marks had been “wholly generated by members of Bevis Marks. Sadly, this has resulted in damaging the reputation of your community.”

The mahamad’s motion says that by next week’s meeting, “the situation with Rabbi Asmoucha may be resolved”.

It seeks a mandate to pursue a “cost-reduction and revenue generation programme” at Bevis Marks rather than to have to raise fintas (membership dues) among the congregation’s three constituent synagogues.

It also asks that the mahamad and the board of elders be empowered “to take whatever steps they feel necessary in line with employment law should the need arise to discipline the congregation’s employees”.

Last updated: 3:54pm, October 15 2009