(JTA) – The United Kingdom’s top Sephardi rabbi said he has “stepped aside from the day-to-day activity” of the country’s Sephardi rabbinical court amid a furor over his positive statements about homosexuality.
Rabbi Joseph Dweck, who serves as senior rabbi at London’s S&P Sephardi Community, came under fire after saying at a lecture last month that societal acceptance of homosexuality is a “fantastic development” because it opened the door for a more loving society.
Dweck also said he had removed himself from the court, or beth din, for now “to work with the wider rabbinic community to clarify my halachic teachings,” the UK Jewish News website reported.
The rabbi still has the “full support” of his synagogue board and membership, S&P President Sabah Zubaida said in a statement. Zubaida said “a great deal of the criticism has been based on misunderstandings, some deliberate and some not.” He also said that Dweck “accepts that some of the criticism is justified and needs to be addressed within the wider rabbinical world.”
Earlier this week, Dweck canceled his annual summer job as scholar in residence at a major Sephardi summer institute in New Jersey.
“Unfortunately, my recent lecture caused some issues that must first be dealt with,” he said. It is not known if he was asked not to come.
One of the British Orthodox community’s most influential figures, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman of Gateshead, said in a message to fellow rabbis that Dweck “is not fit to serve as a rabbi,” the London-based Jewish Chronicle reported.
Zimmerman also said that after listening to recordings of past Dweck lectures, “it is clear he is not equipped to rule on halachah, due to his limited knowledge, weak halachic reasoning skills and lack of training.”
Dweck, who grew up in Los Angeles, received rabbinic ordination from Ovadia Yosef, the late Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel.
British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said Wednesday that he is concerned “about the public fallout from the dispute concerning Rabbi Joseph Dweck, which has been deeply divisive and damaging for our community.”
Mirvis said that Dweck must be “given the opportunity to address all matters directly” and that the Sephardic community “must try to do this away from the glare of publicity which has already proved so harmful.”
“I call on all concerned to approach this issue with all due sensitivity and dignity, and to exercise responsible leadership in the best interests of the Jewish community.”
In the 90-minute lecture, given at the Ner Yisrael synagogue in Hendon, Dweck emphasized that homosexual acts are forbidden by Torah, but that the growing tolerance for feminism and homosexuality had residual benefits for society at large.
“[W]e have to see ultimately how it is we deal with it in terms of Torah and society,” he said. “If we do not hang our prejudices at the door when we deal with it, and don’t look at Torah as it is and what it is saying to us, and stop with the insane bigotry and prejudice we’ve got, we will be on the out and society will move forward because [God] doesn’t wait for anybody. He is taking His world into love.”