Rabbi Dweck, the senior minister of the S&P Sephardi Community at the centre of a deepening crisis over his “heretical” interpretation of the Torah, has apologised to fellow rabbis over his repeated criticisms of their rulings.
The apology was made through a WhatsApp group including over 100 Orthodox rabbis. Although one source said Rabbi Dweck’s words were “too little, too late”, other rabbis are said to have been impressed.
A source close to Rabbi Dweck told the JC that he was “rising above” the controversy that has engulfed the community and is “carrying on as normal”.
The affair began in May when Rabbi Dweck gave a lecture at Ner Israel synagogue in Hendon, north London, in which he said that the Torah has little to say about homosexuality and that, although sexual intercourse between men was forbidden, men could love each other in other ways.
He also said: “I genuinely believe that the entire revolution of feminism and even homosexuality in our society… is a fantastic development for humanity”.
The controversy has now been running for over a month, with rabbis from America and Israel releasing public letters condemning the religious leader. The Gateshead Rav, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, has said that Rabbi Dweck is “not fit to serve” due to his “limited knowledge, weak halachic [Jewish law] reasoning skills, and lack of training”.
On Tuesday, a group of London rabbis published a 12-page letter outlining over 60 halachic rulings given by Rabbi Dweck, which they said “needed explanation”.
The rulings include permitting a bicycle to be ridden in a public place on Shabbat, the switching on of fluorescent lights after sunset on a Friday, as well as allowing paying with a credit card for flu medication. Most other rabbis would allow the purchase of medicines on Shabbat only for more serious conditions.
The document also highlights comments Rabbi Dweck reportedly made in his lectures about other rabbis, including a claim that they could be dishonest in their rulings, and that: “No rabbi, however long his beard is, however long he has learned, can say you can’t ride a bike… They’re not allowed to…”
In a public statement last week, the board of the S&P Sephardi Community, who are standing by Rabbi Dweck, said: “Our position has not changed, Rabbi Dweck enjoys the overwhelming support of the Kahal [congregation] and the entire board.
“We are appalled by the personal nature of the attacks on Rabbi Dweck and ask for them to stop immediately.
“Rabbi Dweck is an inspirational leader not only for us but also the wider community and we are proud to be working side by side with him to resolve this issue.”
In a sermon to 500 people on Saturday afternoon, Rabbi Alan Kimche, leader of the Ner Israel synagogue, recommended that a panel of dayanim be convened to allow Rabbi Dweck the opportunity to “exonerate” himself.
Rabbi Kimche said it was “vital” to clear up this controversy soon, describing Rabbi Dweck as “an exceptionally engaging speaker with a rare talent for conveying the beauty and depth of Judaism to young people”.
Rabbi Kimche said the dispute had little to do with homosexuality, Sephardi politics or Charedi attacks on modern Orthodoxy, all of which have been cited as reasons for the conflict. The disagreement instead centred on “legitimate questions on an array of Rabbi Dweck’s halachic rulings”. He added that he was “angered” by general comments made by Rabbi Dweck about other rabbis.
Although Rabbi Dweck has refused to comment on the controversy, in an article on this week’s Judaism page (p28), he writes: “When difficulties strike, we seek ways to alleviate them and to mitigate the associated mental anguish”.