The JC Letters Page June 16 2017

Alistair Ludlow, Gary Phillips,  Rabbi Lionel Broder, Dr Edie Friedman, Adam Rose and others share their views with JC readers

June 16, 2017 15:37

Rabbi Joseph Dweck, leadership, homosexuality and halachah 

The question of homosexuality, which has engulfed the Sephardi community, is an issue that there is no hiding from. Sooner or later, all Orthodox communities will have to come to terms with reality. 

The beautiful thing about the Jewish religion is its ability to survive through the ages. When put to task on historical dilemmas of the day, such as slavery, abortion and capital punishment, the legislators have always found ways to adapt. 

Our ancestors never made the error of avoiding these challenges. Instead, they developed a process of rabbinic innovation which allowed them to engineer practical solutions within an existing legal framework. 

Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi warned his followers to distance themselves from these “distorted opinions and attitudes” regarding homosexuality. Although he is entitled to his view, he comes across as an ideologue who is scared to confront reality.

It is the duty of Orthodox rabbinic authorities to ensure that Judaism is subject to intellectual scrutiny; not from a historical perspective, but a moral one. This is the key to the religion’s survival. 

Alistair Ludlow, 

As soon as Rabbi Joseph Dweck gives a well-reasoned, well-resourced and well-argued dvar torah on Torah attitudes to homosexuality, he is attacked from all over the Sephardi world

Everyone knows that we Jews have different opinions about everything (just open any page of the Talmud for proof of this) and we have a fine tradition of expressing opposing views with passion and force. But to attack Rabbi Dweck personally, to accuse him of “complete heresy” and “rejecting the Torah” is a disgrace. 

Rabbi Dweck is a breath of fresh air in Anglo Jewry and the Sephardi community are lucky to have such an inspiring caring and Orthodox man as their leader. If the Sephardi world does not want Rabbi Dweck, we Ashkenazi Jews would be delighted to have him.

Gary Phillips, 
London NW8

I hope to shine a new perspective onto the matter of accepting gay people in the community. 

For most people, their sexuality is simply which gender they are attracted to. For a lot of men struggling with same sex attraction, it touches on something much deeper…

To understand how, we can’t underestimate the power of an emotion like inadequacy, rejection or fear. Some people’s misunderstandings around the issue make a lot of people struggling with ssa [same sex attraction] feel different, fearful or rejected in the community where they belong. 

The resulting emotional pressure progressively dominates everything else in the human mind, stealing the head-space from their valued relationships, academic capabilities and social life, until it internally takes hold of them completely. Hence, we aren’t just talking about their sex drive, we are talking about their very life.

If we as a community can make sure that people don’t feel alienated when it comes to this matter, think of how much value we can add to their futures and how much pain we are potentially sparing them, simply by telling them they are equal. Same sex attraction should never evolve into emotional darkness. It’s dangerous in every sense. 

Rabbi Dweck’s courage is removing the sting of gay inadequacy from the community, and replacing it with love, acceptance and equality, purely on a passionate human level. He’s creating a safer environment for the next struggler in line, so that they can have the freedom and emotional balance to take charge of their identity, one which is not just their sexuality. The rabbi is saving lives, not promoting sex. 

Name and address supplied

Sadly, one of the casualties in the public dispute concerning same gender marriages, has been the true meaning of the Hebrew word ahavah (love).

Indisputably, the word ahavah, as used throughout the Torah, has no connection with sexual activity. Its simple connotation is respect, concern and admiration.

Three classic examples are:  You should love God; the stranger; and your neighbour as yourself. With each one of the commands the word ahavah is used .

Hence the suggestion that the word ahavah  has a sexual connotation, in regard to the relationship between David and Jonathan, is incorrect and abhorrent.

I am baffled at the suggestion that one can learn a positive lesson about ahavah from two people of the same gender who are living together.

Rabbi Lionel Broder, 
London NW4

Facts matter

We read with much concern Melanie Phillips’s article in last week’s JC for two reasons: it stirs up negative and ill-founded feelings about asylum seekers and Muslims and it maligns JCORE.  

Facts do matter and so does language, and they should not be treated as disposable commodities.  “Refugee” does not equal “terrorist”.  Not one of the recent terrorist attacks has been perpetrated by an asylum seeker. In fact, according to a new study from the European University Institute, “the main terrorist threat to Western countries does not come from recently arrived refugees, but from home-grown extremists.”

Ms Phillips criticises JCORE for equating today’s refugee experience with the Holocaust. But this criticism is based on things we never said. At no time have we expressed the view that the experiences of today’s refugees are the same as those fleeing from Nazi persecution. 

What we did say, in a letter to the then Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015, was that many of us in the Jewish community were appalled by the UK’s response to the situation in Calais, and that our experience as refugees was not so distant that we’d forgotten what it was like to be demonised for seeking safety.

With regard to her views on Muslims, if we expect people to understand the existence of antisemitism then we can hardly deny the lived experience and the facts of what is happening to Muslims today.  Following the London Bridge attacks, anti-Muslim hate crimes have immediately increased fivefold as reported by national police chiefs.

As the Board of Deputies reminded us in their manifesto written for the recent General Election: “The UK’s Jewish population is largely an immigrant community, having arrived in the UK as either economic migrants or refugees fleeing persecution.

As such, the Jewish community takes a particular interest in the plight of immigrants and asylum seekers, and shares a discomfort in loose, pejorative language that stigmatises new arrivals in this country.”

These are words all of us would do well to heed.

Dr Edie Friedman, Executive Director, Adam Rose, Chair, The Jewish Council for Racial Equality
London NW11 


June 16, 2017 15:37

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive