Chief Rabbi Mirvis is warned Dweck affair could split Orthodoxy

Statement warns of a 'terrible rift' if Rabbi Dweck is allowed to stay on as senior rabbi of the S&P


A number of London rabbis have warned Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis that if Rabbi Joseph Dweck is allowed to maintain his position, the Chief Rabbi will be “responsible for the splitting of Anglo-Orthodoxy”.

Rabbi Mirvis announced yesterday that he would take over responsibility for the Dweck Affair, which began when Rabbi Dweck, the senior rabbi of the S&P Sephardi community, made comments regarding homosexuality.

A statement in the name of “several Sephardi as well as Ashkenazi Rabbanim of London” was published this morning and addressed to “Chief Rabbi Mirvis and any would-be panel of appointed Dayanim [religious judges]”.

It described the Dweck controversy as “the most sensitive, difficult and precarious situation for a Chief Rabbi to be in for decades, and Chief Rabbi Mirvis and any would be panel of Dayanim should consider carefully the wider impact on Anglo-Orthodox Jewry which will ultimately result from the decisions due to be made”.

A spokesman for the Chief Rabbi said yesterday that “at the request of the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Chief Rabbi Mirvis, who considers this an urgent communal priority, will take responsibility for bringing this episode to a suitable conclusion.

“As such, in the coming days, he will establish a dignified and appropriate format which will allow for concerns relating to a wide range of Rabbi Joseph Dweck’s teachings and halachic rulings to be considered and for a way forward to be set.”

Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, also published a letter yesterday ceding responsibility over the issue to Rabbi Mirvis. It said that “if he [Rabbi Mirvis] finds it necessary, he may appoint a Beth Din, or any other suitable format, which will enable him to bring the matter to a final resolution.

“Whatever he decides will be acceptable to us in Israel”.

However, this attitude is not shared by the rabbinical authors of today’s letter, which contains the warning: “If Joseph Dweck is maintained in office as a rabbi, whether it is fully or even partially, in spite of all the letters received from highly respected Orthodox Rabbinical authorities in Gateshead and in Israel and worldwide, Chief Rabbi Mirvis should realise that he will be responsible for the splitting of Anglo-Orthodoxy and lose his credibility as a Chief Rabbi to a large consensus of Orthodox communities.

“Such a decision to keep Joseph Dweck in a rabbinical position in the UK would be a detrimental act and Chief Rabbi Mirvis will be remembered for causing a terrible rift within the Orthodox community in the UK, which will be almost impossible to heal.

“If Joseph Dweck stays in office the Chief Rabbi will alienate all the religiously observant kehillot of London, Gateshead, Manchester, and he will lose credibility in their eyes, and he will no longer represent them.

“We remind Chief Rabbi Mirvis and the panel that letters condemning Joseph Dweck and calling for his removal from the Rabbinate have already been issued by the Chief Rabbi of Israel HaRav Yitzchak Yosef, by HaRav David Yosef, by HaRav Shalom Cohen and HaRav Shimon Baadani, by the Bet Din Tsedek of Bnei Brak (haRav Sariel Rosenberg, Av Beth Din), and by the Av Beth Din of Gateshead (HaRav Shraga Feivel Zimmerman), and it would be incongruous for any decision to contradict the conclusion of any of these letters."

Although the current controversy began over Rabbi Dweck’s remarks around homosexuality, the controversy has widened since then.

On Tuesday another letter was published detailing over 60 of Rabbi Dweck’s halachic rulings that the writers deemed to “need explanation”.

It also highlighted comments made by Rabbi Dweck about other rabbis, including accusing other rabbis of “lying”, and saying that “the majority of our rabbis are ill equipped, certainly to keep their own religion on their own, and certainly not to lead other people in scholarship”.

One rabbi, who asked not to be named, said:

“If Rabbi Mirvis just gives him a little rap over the knuckles and says, ‘I’ve spoken to him, we’ve had some private discussions, and everything is fine’, then it’s not going to make an iota of difference.

“In order for it to actually work, it would have to be quite a strong stance that would pacify the vast majority of the rabbinic world – and that’s the United Synagogue world – the rabbanim that have been insulted and the rabbanim that have had to put up with his very questionable and unusual halachic rulings.

“If this will be meaningful then people will be happy to go for it, but we would need to see a humble retraction and a real apology, rather than some sort of wishy-washy clarification. He would need to take time off to reflect on things, where he’s not talking and not teaching.

“He should have a new mentor who he has to do shimush (a halachic apprenticeship) with, and I think it would need that he should not be ruling in matters of halacha in any capacity, except reading straight out of halacha books, for quite a long time.”

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