Sephardim in dispute over plans for new head rabbi

By Simon Rocker, December 9, 2011
He may come, or not: Rabbi Bassous

He may come, or not: Rabbi Bassous

Sephardi leaders' plans for a new rabbinic head appeared in disarray this week after the result of an election to approve their recommended candidate was disputed.

In a ballot of members of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation (S & P) last Thursday, London-born Rabbi David Bassous polled 268 votes in favour and 134 against - exactly the minimum two-thirds majority necessary to secure the post.

But after two ballot papers declared doubtful or spoiled were subsequently inspected, days after the election, those who opposed the choice of Rabbi Bassous claimed that the result was invalid.

Members of the mahamad (the executive), and of the group who have led the campaign against Rabbi Bassous, retreated behind a wall of silence this week as they awaited the outcome of legal advice and considered their options.

After four recounts on Thursday, S & P chief administrator Howard Miller emailed members in the early hours of Friday to say that Rabbi Bassous's appointment had been approved.

But he added that legal advice was being taken whether to allow a request by objectors to the appointment to see the two spoiled or doubtful papers.

The JC understands that when two objectors were finally permitted to see them, they were sure that one of the papers was clearly intended as a no-vote. If that paper is counted, it could cost Rabbi Bassous the election by a single vote.

The mahamad and the board of elders had unanimously backed Rabbi Bassous to succeed Rabbi Abraham Levy, 72, who has led it since 1980.

Rabbi Bassous, who visited London to meet all four of the S & P congregations the weekend before the election, currently heads Etz Ahaim, a Sephardi congregation in New Jersey.

After failing to convince the mahamad to postpone the election, a group of seven couples voiced fears for the congregation's "moderate religious stance" if Rabbi Bassous were appointed.

The group included two former presidents, Lucien Gubbay and Cesare Sacerdoti, as well as journalist and author Norman Lebrecht.

They wrote that during Rabbi Bassous's visit, "the pretence that he stands for a tolerant line independent of his brother was exposed when he made it quite clear that he wanted his brother to be on the [Sephardi] Beth Din."

Rabbi Bassous's brother, Rabbi Abraham Bassous, runs a Charedi stiebl in Golders Green.

The group said Rabbi David Bassous had displayed an " 'Artscroll' (our way is the only way) mentality" and "a hardline Zionism (which regards Judea and Samaria as an eternal religious endowment)".

But the mahamad hit back on the eve of the vote against what they called "the vicious and unpleasant campaign" against Rabbi Bassous.

One former mahamad member, Sam Dias, who voted for Rabbi Bassous, commented: "As usual, we are trying to shoot ourselves in the foot. Two-thirds is a pretty useful majority and any government would be over the moon to get it." Even if an additional no vote were counted, he said it was "still very marginal" and Rabbi Bassous's appointment should stand.

Last updated: 10:56am, December 9 2011