The so-called Dweck Affair has been one of the very worst instances of communal discord that I have witnessed in my quarter-century in the Anglo-Jewish rabbinate.
The way in which some of Rabbi Dweck’s critics, including some senior rabbinic ones, conducted themselves was a tragic Chillul Hashem (a desecration of God’s name) which damaged not only the rabbinate but the entire image of Orthodox Judaism.
Not in the same league but still very upsetting has been the systematic misrepresentation of the controversy (especially on social media) by many self-identifying Modern Orthodox Jews to whom I feel spiritually, and sometimes personally, close.
This affair was not about homosexuality and not about a clash between Charedi Orthodoxy and Modern Orthodoxy.
Rabbi Chaim Rapoport made the theological breakthrough on Orthodox attitudes towards homosexuality in his outstanding 2004 book, Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View. Rabbi Dweck was following that kind of welcome approach, though as he himself conceded, sometimes without the necessary nuance.
There was no outcry concerning Rabbi Rapoport’s book, which received approbations — themselves courageous at the time — from Dayan Berel Berkovits and the then Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks. The initial reaction of some to Rabbi Dweck’s lecture on homosexuality was therefore a mere — and transparent — pretext for pursuit of a personal and political agenda.
Neither was this crisis about a confrontation between Charedi and Modern Orthodoxy. Quite aside from the personal and political agendas without which the entire episode would never have occurred, Rabbi Dweck himself honourably, honestly and courageously conceded that some of his teachings and statements on a range of issues were problematic — full stop.
Important and legitimate Charedi/Modern ideological divides are irrelevant here. As a Modern Orthodox rabbi who has spoken out in the past, I do not feel in any way more apprehensive about doing so in the future because of the Dweck Affair. Reports of the demise of Modern Orthodoxy in the UK and in the United Synagogue are greatly exaggerated. I and others will continue to proudly advocate Modern Orthodoxy from within.
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis deserves enormous credit for devoting intensive efforts to addressing this crisis and for the resolution he has brought about. He has absolutely and openly refused to bow to the calls from some quarters for Rabbi Dweck’s removal, and has called the bluff of the so-called Council for the Preservation of Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy and its utterly disgraceful tactics.
Some have expressed concern that Rabbi Dweck’s voice will be muffled and unduly “Charedised” because of his own proposal that he consult dayanim of the Review Committee and others on some of the content of his future teachings.
But consultation on potentially contentious teachings is a prudent measure which many rabbis adopt as a matter of course, and on any specific issues which may lie beyond the areas of expertise of the Review Committee members, they and Rabbi Dweck will surely have the wisdom to consult appropriate experts regardless of whether these are Modern Orthodox or Charedi.
In light of this painful episode and the onset of the Nine Days, the Chief Rabbi’s call for the healing of divisions, communal peace and unity could not be more timely or more appropriate. It deserves support across the Orthodox spectrum.
Dr Michael Harris is rabbi of Hampstead Synagogue