JW3 head doesn't want to get “dragged in” to a dispute with boycott rabbis

Raymond Simonson says clash could endanger communal unity


The chief executive of JW3 has said he does not want to get “dragged in” to a dispute with the seven Orthodox rabbis who have urged their congregations to boycott the Jewish community centre.

Raymond Simonson told the JC: “We’ve just entered the Nine Days, a period where the Jewish people are remembering the destruction of the Temple.

Sinat chinam – baseless hatred - that’s what caused the destruction of the Temple and the dispersal of the Jewish people.

“At a time like this and a period like this it would be inappropriate for me to be involved in anything that stirs up disunity in the Jewish community.

“At JW3 we’re really about looking for and celebrating a unified and diverse British Jewish community. And I don’t really like us to try and get dragged into incidents where  people are doing things that are anti that”.

On Friday an open letter was published with the signatures of Rabbi Aaron Bassous of Beit Hamedrash Knesset Yechezkel in Golders Green, Rabbi Yisroel Greenberg of Munks shul, also in Golders Green, Rabbi Shimon Winegarten of the Bridge Lane Beth Hamedrash in Temple Fortune, and Rabbi Mordechai Fhima of the Anshei Shalom congregation in St John’s Wood.

Three other signatures on the letter were indecipherable, but are believed to be those of Dayan David of the Od Yosef Hai Sephardi community in Hendon, Rabbi Dovid Roberts of the Netzach Yisroel synagogue in Edgware, and Rabbi Eliezer Schneebalg of Edgware’s Machzikei Hadass.

The letter said: “It has been brought to our attention by many members of our communities that the content of the Toievah… programme of activities at the Jewish Community Centre (JW3)… in our view promotes a way of life which is in total contradiction to orthodox Judaism and Halacha [Jewish law]…

“Accordingly, it is our opinion that members of our communities should distance themselves fully from JW3, its activities and centres, and avoid visiting this Centre”.

The use of the word Toievah – Hebrew for “abomination” – is followed by a reference to “Vayikra [Leviticus] Chapter 20, verse 13”.

The biblical verse, which was not included in the letter, says: “If a man lies with a man as he lies with a woman, they have both committed an abomination. They shall be put to death, their blood-guilt is upon them”.

In early March, the cultural centre held a “GayW3” festival to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain. At the time, a poster outside the centre advertising the event was defaced, with the word “shame” daubed on it.

Mr Simonson described the signatories of Friday’s notice as “learned rabbis.

“They have their communities, they have every right to have their own opinion on what it is we do”, he said.

“Of course, I don’t agree with their opinion, but they have every right to that [opinion].

“It’s a shame that they’re expressing it in this way without any of them having come and had a conversation with me. I’m always open to dialogue and conversation, as I have done with the Chief Rabbi previously.

“I’m also really pleased that in the last 48 hours, the supportive messages I’ve received across the community, including from a number of Orthodox rabbis, just reminds me that we’re doing something right”.

Mr Simonson added that he thought “there is no coincidence that this statement has come out… after the whole statement around the Dweck affair”.

Over the past two months Rabbi Dweck of the S&P Sephardi congregation faced criticism from some Orthodox rabbis over his halachic views, in a dispute sparked by positive comments he made regarding homosexuality. 

The publication of the letter has also raised questions about the continued rabbinical supervision of Zest, the kosher restaurant on JW3’s premises. Dayan David sits on the Sephardi Beth Din; the rabbinical court’s kashrut division, the Sephardi Kashrut Authority, supervises the restaurant.

Asked what the Dayan’s call for a boycott of JW3 might mean for Zest’s future, Mr Simonson stressed that in “every conversation we’ve had with the Sephardi Kashrut Authority since we’ve opened, including in the last six months when there’ve been some of these attempts to attack JW3… they’ve been supportive.

“They share the same aim as we have, which is to provide a restaurant which brings more people into eating kosher food.

“There are, quite frankly, more different types of Jews who come and eat in Zest as a kosher restaurant, than I’ve ever seen in any other kosher restaurant in the history of this community, and the Sephardi Kashrut Authority are very supportive of more Jewish people eating kosher. They’ve been resolute in their support of that”.

A spokesperson for the trustees of the S&P Sephardi community said: “We understand that this letter was signed some months ago by Dayan David in a personal capacity. 

"This letter bears no relevance to the kashrut status of the restaurant and we remain committed to working together with Zest in licensing its restaurant."

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