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By June 13, 2017 Read More →

R’Johnny Solomon defends R’Joseph Dweck, following harsh criticism from Gateshead Rov for his stance on Homosexuality

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Yesterday, I published the letter written by the Gateshead Rov harshly criticizing the position of R’Joseph Dweck.

R’Johnny Solomon wrote this piece that showed a different perspective ( These views do not reflect my own) :

I OBJECT!

On May 8th 2017 Rabbi Joseph Dweck, who is the Senior Rabbi of the S&P Sephardi Community in London, delivered a talk on the topic of Male Homosexuality to a packed audience at the Ner Yisrael Community Centre.

Rabbi Dweck is a scholar, teacher and gifted orator, and since taking up his position in 2014 he has transformed the oldest Jewish community in the UK – which in many ways reflected a Judaism of the past – into a powerhouse for learning and discourse about the challenges of Judaism in the present and the future.

As a product of Anglo-Jewry with a deep knowledge of the S&P community I fully appreciate the significance of this transformation, and it is for this reason that when I met Rabbi Dweck in 2016 I conveyed to him how impressed I was of all that he had achieved.

However, I would like to focus on two particular areas where Rabbi Dweck’s contribution has been particularly noteworthy:

Firstly, in a community whose leading Rabbinic voices reflect Ashkenazic halakhic traditions that emphasise behavioural and denominational boundaries, Rabbi Dweck has provided a clear reminder of the rich classical Sephardic inclusive tradition, and in doing so, he has taught and demonstrated how there are many varied and valid approaches to Jewish thought and law.

Secondly, in a community whose leading Rabbinic voices often go silent in response to challenges that arise between Orthodoxy and modernity, Rabbi Dweck has been prepared to speak up and grapple with some of the most difficult issues of our time, and as he explained in the introduction to his talk on May 8th, this involves risk-taking and the preparedness to be vulnerable as both a teacher and leader.

In terms of his talk, Rabbi Dweck made many important, refreshing and powerful points. However, some of his remarks were not explained with sufficient clarity, and it was for this reason that Rabbi Dweck issued a written clarification which began by explaining that ‘as a teacher who has been involved in education for over 20 years, I know that when many students do not understand the teacher’s lesson, much of the blame can be found with the teacher.’

But there were also those who chose to misunderstand Rabbi Dweck for political rather than halakhic reasons, and since then there has been an organised witch-hunt against Rabbi Dweck in the UK and beyond which recently culminated in a letter written by Rabbi Zimmerman of Gateshead in response to a request for guidance from other Orthodox Rabbis in London.

In his letter Rabbi Zimmerman challenged Rabbi Dweck’s qualifications as a leader, questioned his personal qualities, and dismissed him as someone worthy to hold the title of Rabbi. Rather than engaging in debate, or even damning this particular talk, Rabbi Zimmerman’s letter is very personal and very hurtful.

It should be made clear that any person or Rabbi has every right to object the content, remarks and conclusions of Rabbi Dweck’s talk. We call such debates a ‘Machloket L’Shem Shamayim’, meaning ‘arguments for the sake of heaven’, and our tradition is full of them! In fact, I would go so far as to say that a community is weak when their leaders do not speak up about topics that they feel passionate about, and it should be noted that this is exactly what has happened in this instance.

But Rabbi Zimmerman’s attack on Rabbi Dweck was not on the substance of his talk but on the nature of his character, and while I do not know whether Rabbi Zimmerman has ever met or corresponded with Rabbi Dweck in order to reach these conclusions, I have.

As such, and putting aside any possible confusion that may have arisen from his talk, I would like to use this forum to directly challenge the remarks of Rabbi Zimmerman and to object for three important reasons:

* I OBJECT! – Because to challenge the halakhic approaches of Rabbi Dweck is to challenge a Sephardic tradition which is rarely learnt, discussed and explored in Anglo-Jewry, but whose origins date far further back than the halakhic approaches that are reflected by most Ashkenazic rabbinic leaders today and whose approaches and solutions deserve respect.

* I OBJECT! – Because to challenge the courage of Rabbi Dweck who has attempted to grapple with one of the most difficult issues of our time is an attempt to silence him and others whose guidance is desperately needed in an age where the clash between Orthodoxy and modernity is becoming ever more pronounced, and

* I OBJECT! – Because to challenge the integrity and character of Rabbi Dweck is not only offensive, but factually wrong!

It may be that Rabbi Dweck may have needed to be more precise with his language. However, the tone and content of Rabbi Zimmerman’s letter is a great example of the preferred response to nuanced halakhic and theological discourse within Anglo-Jewry: either character assassination, or silence.

Rabbi Dweck came to challenge this approach and to change the way we think and talk about the challenges of Judaism in the present and the future, and this is why he and his remarks have been pounced upon with such aggression.

The time has come for Anglo-Jewry to demand more from their leaders, to appreciate that Orthodoxy is not monolithic, to object to the way disputes such as this are handled within the community, and ultimately, to grow up.

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