Rabbi quits in Sephardi split

The rabbi picked by the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation to be its next spiritual head has pulled out of the job amid an increasingly bitter split over the choice.

London-born Rabbi David Bassous was recommended by the executive and elders of Britain's oldest Orthodox community to succeed Rabbi Abraham Levy - but a group of 20 senior members contested the validity of his election last month.

In a statement to S&P members on Monday, the mahamad (executive) announced that Rabbi Bassous had "requested that his name be withdrawn from consideration for our spiritual leader position at this stage".

They explained: "After much deliberation, he has decided that the continued public and very vocal animosity towards him by a small minority of the kahal [congregation] would make it very difficult for him to take our position and would harm attempts at creating shalom in the community."

In a ballot in December, Rabbi Bassous polled 268 votes in favour and 134 against - exactly the two-thirds majority necessary to secure the post.

But his opponents, after inspection of two ballots originally declared invalid, said that one paper had clearly indicated a no-vote, which deprived Rabbi Bassous of his majority by a single vote.

The mahamad, attacking the "vicious campaign" against the rabbi, said: "The contention… that Rabbi Bassous was part of a 'Charedi plot' to take over the community is a slur on the character of a good man and should be a cause of shame for all associated with the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation".

In response, the "concerned members" said that they respected Rabbi Bassous "for taking this step in circumstances where it must have been explained to him that he had lost the election". But they attacked the mahamad which, they said, "had no legal basis for declaring, as they had done - but patently could not justify - that Rabbi Bassous's appointment was valid".

The mahamad hinted at the possibility of a future return by Rabbi Bassous, who runs a Sephardi community in New Jersey, by mentioning that his withdrawal was "for now".

    Last updated: 12:16pm, January 12 2012