Row reflects wider Sephardi divisions

The controversy over Rabbi Dweck's lecture reveals a broader struggle for influence

June 02, 2017 12:41

By invoking the Jacobs Affair, modern British Jewry’s most bitter religious crisis, Rabbi Aaron Bassous has upped the ante in his controversy with Rabbi Joseph Dweck.
He has, in effect, accused the senior rabbi of the S & P Sephardi Community of heresy.

Rabbi Jacobs was forced out of the United Synagogue around 50 years ago for questioning the divine authorship of the whole Torah.

While Rabbi Dweck’s lecture on homosexuality avoided that theological minefield, Rabbi Bassous believes a line has been crossed.

Behind the extraordinary vitriol of Rabbi Bassous’s attack lies a wider battle for influence among Britain’s Sephardi population that has now burst into the open.

Rabbi Bassous has manned the barricades on behalf of a Charedi worldview. From an Indian-Iraqi background, he has a  Golders Green synagogue, Beth Hamedrash Knesset Yehezkel, which is affiliated to the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations and which you would call a shteibl if it were Ashkenazi.

Rabbi Dweck, however, admires the Western Sephardi ethos with its broader outlook and traditions of engagement with secular society.

Since his arrival in London three years ago, he has proved a popular lecturer, displaying an impressive ability to attract young Anglo-Jewish audiences.  Attendance at his weekly class at the independent Ner Israel Synagogue in Hendon runs into three figures.

For Rabbi Bassous, he represents an unwelcome encroachment on Strictly Orthodox territory.

Over the past two or three decades, new Sephardi communities, mostly of North African and Middle Eastern origin, have sprung up in north-west London. But the SPSC, which until two years ago had called itself the Spanish and Portuguese Jew’s Congregation, has struggled to win their allegiance.

Rabbi Dweck has made no secret of his wish to reach out to these newcomers.  While he grew up in America, his family is from Syria and his wife Margalit is granddaughter of the late Rav Ovadia Yosef — the Israeli Chief Rabbi regarded as the most influential Sephardi rabbi of recent times.

Ironically, five years ago, Rabbi Bassous’s brother, David, had been set to return to London from the United States to become head of the Spanish and Portuguese but he bowed out amid internal divisions over his appointment. In his public response to Rabbi Dweck's lecture last week, Rabbi Aaron Bassous stressed he had "no axe to grind" with Rabbi Dweck.

Rabbi Aaron Bass has now gone out on a limb to isolate Rabbi Dweck, defying what he said were efforts to dissuade him from speaking out. But the fact that Rabbi Dweck, even after the lecture on homosexuality, gave a shiur in the shteibl of Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu, the former head of the London Beth Din, shows he has standing among Orthodox colleagues.

June 02, 2017 12:41

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