The Chief Rabbi has shown true leadership over the Dweck Affair

While he was being criticised for inaction, he was quietly working behind the scenes

June 29, 2017 17:51

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’s announcement that he is taking responsibility for resolving the Dweck affair raises a number of questions.

After all, the Chief Rabbi is the spiritual leader of the United Synagogue - he has not, traditionally, had any authority over the Spanish & Portuguese community.

And the letter from Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef passing on the responsibility of dealing with this issue does not make things much clearer.

Although Rabbi Yosef, as the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, has the title of Rishon Le’Tzion, the “First one of Zion”, his authority in Sephardi communities outside of Israel is far from absolute.

However, the fact that Rabbi Mirvis felt able to make today’s announcement suggests that the S&P community are likely to abide by his decision, viewing him as an honest broker in the dispute.

Throughout this crisis, which was sparked when Rabbi Dweck, the senior Rabbi of the S&P Sephardi community, made positive comments regarding homosexuality, Rabbi Mirvis has been very careful not to make any sort of public statement which might be seen as prejudicial.

He has referred to the fallout from this dispute as having been “deeply divisive and damaging for our community”, but maintained that it was a matter for the Sephardi community to deal with, and he acknowledged that the controversy focuses on “a broad range of issues”. This takes into account concerns from other rabbis, who have been adamant that although it was Rabbi Dweck’s comments on homosexuality which triggered the dispute, they consider many of his other halachic opinions to be deeply problematic.

Rabbi Mirvis has also made it clear that Rabbi Dweck “be given the opportunity to address all matters directly”.

What he does next – how he will go about resolving the issue – remains to be seen. Rabbi Yosef, in his letter announcing the acceptance of Rabbi Mirvis’s authority, suggested that a Beth Din might be a possibility. But the Chief Rabbi and the London Beth Din have already refused to join the Beth Din which Rabbi Yosef had asked Dayan Lichtenstein of the Federation of Synagogues to form.

Was that refusal just a case of inter-organisational politics? Or does Rabbi Mirvis believe that a rabbinical court is not the way forward? And if he does think a court is the best way, who would sit on it?

Whatever happens next, today’s announcement has brought something into sharp focus. Over the past few weeks the Chief Rabbi has been criticised for his apparent lack of willingness to play any part in this issue. This is something Rabbi Mirvis has often been accused of doing - playing it safe, focusing on the warm and fluffy side of Judaism and trying his hardest to avoid some key issues of contention, such as partnership minyanim.

However, the revelation that he was working hard behind the scenes to achieve a resolution, and his declaration that he will take responsibility for an issue which has gripped the community for the past month, shows true leadership.

Whatever Rabbi Mirvis decides, he is likely to upset a lot of people, whether from the more strictly Orthodox community or from their modern Orthodox counterparts.

It is said that “decisions are made by those who show up”. Well, Rabbi Mirvis has well and truly shown up, and announced, for all to hear, that he will be the one making the decisions. 

June 29, 2017 17:51

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