Sephardis in row over new spiritual chief

By Simon Rocker, December 1, 2011

Sephardi leaders this week rejected a request to postpone an election due to have taken place yesterday for their new rabbinic leader.

Members of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation were due to cast their votes last night [Thursday] on whether to accept London-born Rabbi David Bassous, the candidate recommended by their executive and board of elders, as the new spiritual head to succeed Rabbi Abraham Levy.

But one former elder with reservations about the nomination said on Monday: "There is a lot of unhappiness. A group of senior members have approached the mahamad [executive] to postpone the vote."

London-born Rabbi Bassous, who leads a Sephardi synagogue, Etz Ahaim, in New Jersey, spoke at all four of the congregation's synagogues during a four-day visit to the UK ahead of the vote.

But the ex-elder complained that there had been too little time for congregants to make up their minds as to whether Rabbi Bassous were suitable for the role. "It is quite unreasonable to elect a man to so senior a position on the basis of listening to a single sermon, a single shiur and a single question and answer session. It's too much of a risk."

We need to move forward; it is time for a change

But Adam Musikant, chairman of the mahamad, said: "We were approached with a list of questions that some members wanted answered before a vote. We have answered those questions fully and so do not think a delay is warranted."

Some members of the congregation have worried that Rabbi Bassous might steer it to the right, noting that his brother, Rabbi Abraham Bassous, is the head of a Charedi synagogue in Golders Green, Kehal Chassidim Beth Hamedrash, affiliated to the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations.

But Rabbi David Bassous told a forum at the S and P's flagship synagogue, Lauderdale Road, on Sunday that while he loved his brother: "We agree to disagree. You can't judge me by my brother or judge him by me."

Mr Musikant pointed out that appointments to the Sephardi Beth Din required the approval of the lay leaders of the congregation.

Stanley Horesh, a former president of the congregation, said that Rabbi Bassous was "an excellent choice. Of course, it is a risk taking on anyone new. I think it is a risk worth taking. The congregation has to move forward, it has been going backwards over the last five years. It is time for a change."

Nadia Dellal, one of the organisers of Bendigamos, a young professionals' group which met Rabbi Bassous during his visit, said: "He made a great impression. He had good initiatives and he responded impressively to some tough questions. He seems like a warm, inspiring and caring guy we can work with to rejuvenate the community and to attract new members."

Last updated: 12:16pm, December 1 2011