Daniel Jonas

Why Rabbi Dweck deserves support from across the community

Young Sephardim are backing the rabbi in the dispute over his views on homosexuality

June 08, 2017 15:37

There are many traditionally observant Jews, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, who are delighted with Rabbi Joseph Dweck's incisive but compassionate approach to teaching Torah.

It was not unexpected that there should be critics of his recent lecture on homosexuality. Quite rightly, he has chosen to respond solely by clarifying the many points which have been misunderstood or misrepresented. But the depressingly predictable, malicious attempts to denounce him are profoundly troubling for the future of our community.

Rabbi Dweck’s approach is not the caricature painted by critics like Rabbi Aaron Bassous or Rabbi Yosef Mizrachi. He is part of the mainstream, halachically observant community.

As corporate lawyer Yoni Garson, 33, puts it: “Rabbi Dweck cares about one thing above all else - the truth of Torah.”

He is aligned with the rationality and intellectual clarity of the tradition of Maimonides and previous senior S&P leaders like Hakham Sasportas and Hakham Nieto, figures that faced their own, sometimes violent, backlashes. This is why he makes Judaism work for people like us.

Sam Millunchick, in his late twenties, is on the Montefiore Endowment’s rabbinic programme. He describes Rabbi Dweck's contribution as “a breath of fresh air".

Mr Millunchick says: "He is eloquent and erudite, able to make complex ideas understandable. His teachings live in the real world, allowing Torah the space it needs to grow, develop, and ultimately change society for the better.” 

Joseph Cohen, a Zionist activist in his thirties, points to “pop-up prayer services overflowing with young professionals and religious lectures that are consistently over-subscribed.”

He says: “This surge in popularity is a consequence of Rabbi Dweck’s unmatched ability to make authentic Torah Judaism meaningful to a modern, educated generation.”

Rabbi Dweck’s teaching reaches people like Raffi, 24, who works in IT. He says: “Despite growing up in Golders Green with Orthodox parents and rabbis, going to Orthodox schools and yeshiva, I had almost no real connection or motivation to connect to Judaism until I started going to Rav Dweck’s classes.”

Ilan Lazarus, another student, agrees: “Most of my friends don't have shul membership; that I do is ultimately thanks to Rabbi Dweck's leadership".

Romy Lewis, a yoga teacher in her thirties, sees Rabbi Dweck as “the voice of our generation, whose teachings of Torah  inspire and connect with those who would have no other means or way to bring them into their everyday lives.”

Her fiancé Joel Shamash, an investor in start-ups and a member of Lauderdale Road Synagogue, adds that Rabbi Dweck’s "approach has resonated with many of the younger members of the community who previously felt that Torah was not relevant to their lives.”

Rabbi Dweck’s teaching continues to be popular internationally, says Maurice Levy, 31, from New York.

“In a time when religion required us to check our reality at the door, Rabbi Dweck has shone a light on real issues at a time when most rabbis prefer to ignore or suppress them,” he says.

This is the secret of Rabbi Dweck’s appeal: that he is prepared to speak boldly, clearly and publicly. He is not restricted by a conceptual straitjacket, nor is he intimidated by difficult and controversial subjects. As another student, Shlomo Rafaelov, says: “There are a rare number of people in the world that have the ability to do what Rabbi Dweck does, to not only master these complex ideas but to also present them in a context of truth.”

It is perhaps understandable that some rabbis feel that they lack the courage or breadth of learning to face opposition to any perceived ideological deviance. But we should not accept any attempt to strong-arm the Sephardic community into the ghetto. Rabbi Dweck is an important voice in Anglo-Jewry – he should be heard not only within it but beyond it.

Daniel Jonas is a musician and active member of the Sephardi community

June 08, 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