Bevis Marks Rabbi row deepens

By Simon Rocker, September 3, 2009
The Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, once a place of harmony, now showing distinct signs of discord

The Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, once a place of harmony, now showing distinct signs of discord

The dispute over the suspended rabbi of Bevis Marks Synagogue in London deepened this week after fresh attacks by his supporters on the handling of his suspension by Sephardi leaders.

Rabbi Natan Asmoucha was suspended six weeks ago by the mahamad (executive) of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation over his involvement in an interfaith rally against high bank interest rates in July.

But now supporters are furious at the proposed postponement of a special meeting of the congregation, called to put a vote of no confidence in the executive.

On Monday last week a petition demanding the meeting was handed in with more than the minimum 40 signatures necessary to secure it. According to the constitution of the Spanish and Portuguese, such a meeting should take place within 28 days of receipt of the petition.

But Rabbi Asmoucha’s supporters say they have been told that the meeting should be delayed because the Sephardi Beth Din thought it inappropriate to hold it before the High Holy Days.

In a widely circulated email, Jonathan Solomons, chairman of the Bevis Marks Synagogue committee, which is supporting Rabbi Asmoucha, said that they would agree to a postponement if the mahamad in turn stopped any action against the rabbi until after the meeting.

“The response that we received was that the mahamad ‘would not give any such undertaking’,” he wrote.

He added that a “significant body of the yehidim [members of the Spanish and Portuguese] feel that the current course of action that the mahamad is pursuing is wrong and should be discussed. The mahamad have refused this request… This is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue.”

The Bevis Marks community was “suffering terribly” at the hands of the mahamad and looked like entering the High Holy Days “without our rabbi”, he said.

Sam Dias, parnas (warden) of Bevis Marks, also expressed his anger, accusing the mahamad of “deplorable behaviour” in a letter emailed to the mahamad on Tuesday.

In a further sign of protest, a number of members of the choir of the Spanish and Portuguese have pulled out of an event due at the synagogue the week after next to celebrate the ordination of new rabbis.

Rabbi Asmoucha received a final warning after a disciplinary hearing last month which found that he had taken part in a political event without proper authorisation from the congregation’s spiritual head, Rabbi Abraham Levy, and failed to carry out security checks on interfaith leaders who set off to the rally from the synagogue.

A further disciplinary hearing over new allegations was postponed after Rabbi Asmoucha went on sick leave. Ronel Lehmann, the mahamad’s spokesman, said that it wished Rabbi Asmoucha “a speedy recovery”.

However, there would be “no further comment during the on-going confidential review process which may fall either side of the High Holy Day period”.

Before the controversy over the interfaith demonstration, members of the congregation of Rabbi Asmoucha, who arrived at the synagogue from Zimbabwe a year and a half ago, rallied to his side early in July after learning of a threat to make him redundant.

The mahamad had then agreed to halt any redundancy procedure pending a meeting with leaders of the community, which was due to have been held yesterday.

Last updated: 11:54am, September 3 2009