The Dweck affair is a tale of family shame and rabbinical power games

The Israeli rabbi pushing hardest for an investigation into the gay love controversy has a family link to Rabbi Dweck

June 30, 2017 10:49

When the Joseph Dweck story broke, few Israelis had heard of the London-based rabbi. But a simple piece of Jewish geography put everyone in the picture — the trouble-maker, as Charedi websites presented him, is married to the niece of Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi.

And that, it would seem, is precisely why Yitzchak Yosef, the top Sephardi rabbi in Israel since 2013, is getting so involved - initially with a letter condemning Rabbi Dweck’s position (without naming him) and now by asking Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to “settle” the controversy.

The Yosefs are one of the most prestigious Sephardi families in the world. Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, 65, is rabbinic royalty. He is following in the footsteps of his father, the late Ovadia Yosef — arguably the first or second most revered Sephardi rabbi to have lived in Israel, as well as a political lynchpin as the driving force between the Shas party.

The last thing that he wants is his family’s name associated with Rabbi Dweck’s stance on homosexuality.

Rabbi Dweck is not only married to his niece, a granddaughter of the prolific Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. He also studied for two years in a yesivah that Rabbi Yosef established. 

Rabbi Yosef does not shy away from controversy. He has reportedly said that religious parents should keep their children away from secular relations, that Jewish law generally forbids gentiles from living in the Land of Israel unless they accept the seven Noachide laws, and that the presence of some gentiles can be rationalised because they are in place to serve Jews. He recently opposed the freeing of an agunah, a woman who cannot remarry even though her husband is in a coma and is, according to doctors, unlikely to ever regain consciousness. 

Related: Chief Rabbi Mirvis is warned Dweck affair could split Orthodoxy

The criticism that these controversies bring comes at him from the liberal and secular side — no threat to his reputation in the Charedi world. However, the prospect of his family name becoming associated with a thinker like Rabbi Dweck can dint his standing.

But there are other reasons why Rabbi Yosef is getting so involved. Yair Ettinger, a journalist who has just co-authored a book about Shas and the Yosefs, offers one word to sum up a major change in the rabbinate in recent years: “Vatican.” He argues it has become more like the Vatican in the sense that it sees its religious jurisdiction as encompassing world Jewry, and not just Israel. 

“They see themselves at the centre of the Jewish world,” said Mr Ettinger, adding that this is a new innovation. “It was not like this five or six or seven years ago.” This shift in mind-set has become manifest in chief rabbis expressing stronger views, for example, on the trustworthiness of conversions to Judaism in different countries.

The question now is whether Rabbi Yosef’s efforts will help bring the controversy to a resolution. If they do, it will bring him new kudos in Orthodox circles. If, on the other hand, his intervention does not help to bring the affair to a conclusion, it may be a sign for Rabbi Yosef that the Jewish world is not quite ready for a Vatican-style rabbinate. 

Read more on the story here.

June 30, 2017 10:49

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