Gateshead Rav told to withdraw criticism of Rabbi Dweck over gay love row

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, founder of an independent Orthodox institute in Jerusalem, has called on the Gateshead Rav to retract his comments


Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, the Gateshead Rav, has been challenged to withdraw his criticism of Rabbi Joseph Dweck, the senior rabbi of the S&P Sephardi Community (SPSC).

In a letter to rabbinic colleagues in London last month, Rabbi Zimmerman - one of the most influential strictly Orthodox rabbis in the UK - said Rabbi Dweck was “not fit to serve” as a rabbi.

But Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, founder of an independent Orthodox institute in Jerusalem, has now called on the Gateshead Rav to “retract your comments concerning Rabbi Dweck and advise those rabbis who follow you to do the same”.

In an open letter to Rabbi Zimmerman published online, Rabbi Cardozo – a regular lecturer at the Limmud UK conference and a former yeshivah student in Gateshead – said he had been “taken aback” to read of the condemnation of Rabbi Dweck.

The SPSC leader triggered controversy with a lecture on gay love in early May but critics have questioned his credentials more widely, accusing him of having shown disrespect to other rabbis and disputing his lenient approach to aspects of Shabbat and other religious observance.

Dismissing the criticism, Rabbi Cardozo wrote to Rabbi Zimmerman: “While it may very well be true that Rabbi Dweck made several minor mistakes in his halachic observations  - what rabbi doesn't - it is most disturbing that you provided the impetus for the rabbis to declare war on Rabbi Dweck.”

He noted Rabbi Dweck had “already apologised for some of his derogatory comments about several rabbis' Torah and halachic knowledge which, it must be admitted, are not entirely untrue”.

Rabbi Cardozo said: “Having the courage to admit a mistake is what turns life into unmistakable splendour. Rabbi Dweck did it. Now, those who oppose him should follow suit.”

He argued: “Why focus on Rabbi Dweck's minor mistakes, when the Orthodox community has so many greater and more severe problems -  many created by its own rabbis - which have caused incredible harm to Torah Judaism?”

Rabbi Cardozo also decried “the shameful cowardice” of some who have anonymously circulated attacks on Rabbi Dweck, saying they “did not even have the decency to sign their names”.

In the meantime, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has taken personal charge of efforts to bring the controversy to a “suitable conclusion”.

He is overseeing a process which will enable Rabbi Dweck to address some of the concerns raised about his religious teachings by other rabbis.

While the Chief Rabbi has indicated he does not believe setting up a Beth Din, a formal judicial hearing, is the appropriate way to deal with the issue, he is otherwise keeping a lid on the detail, fearing that further publicity will only add fuel to public contention.

The JC understands, however, that the former head of the London Beth Din, Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu, may be asked to play a role in the process.

An anonymous group billing itself the “Council for the Preservation of Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy” earlier this week urged Rabbi Dweck to resign and warned the Chief Rabbi he would alienate many in the Orthodox community if the Sephardi leader retained his position.

But when a man claiming to represent the council was asked by the JC to identify its members, he declined to give names.

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