British rabbis want top Sephardi peer fired for praising acceptance of homosexuality

(JTA) — A group of rabbis in London want the country’s top Sephardi rabbi to be fired over his comments welcoming the growing acceptance of 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 opens the door to a more loving society.

In a letter Friday addressed to British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and “any would-be panel of appointed Dayanim [religious judges],” the London rabbis, both Sephardi and Ashkenazi, wrote that if he did not remove Dweck as head of the British Sephardi community, “Rabbi Mirvis should realise that he will be responsible for the splitting of Anglo-Orthodoxy and lose his credibility as a Chief Rabbi to a large consensus of Orthodox communities,” the London-based Jewish Chronicle reported.

“Such a decision to keep Joseph Dweck in a rabbinical position in the UK would be a detrimental act and Chief Rabbi Mirvis will be remembered for causing a terrible rift within the Orthodox community in the UK, which will be almost impossible to heal,” the letter also said.

Mirvis announced Thursday that he would take over responsibility for what is being called the Dweck Affair. A spokesman for Mirvis  said Saturday that “at the request of the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Chief Rabbi Mirvis, who considers this an urgent communal priority, will take responsibility for bringing this episode to a suitable conclusion,” according to the Chronicle.

The announcement also said that Mirvis will “establish a dignified and appropriate format which will allow for concerns relating to a wide range of Rabbi Joseph Dweck’s teachings and halachic rulings to be considered and for a way forward to be set.”

Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, said in a statement published Thursday, “Whatever he decides will be acceptable to us in Israel,” referring to Mirvis.

Last month, Dweck canceled his annual summer job as scholar in residence at a major Sephardi summer institute in New Jersey to deal with the fallout from his comments.

The controversy has widened since the original remarks, with rabbis calling for scrutiny of dozens of Dweck’s halachic opinions, according to the Jewish Chronicle.

Dweck, who grew up in Los Angeles, received rabbinic ordination from Ovadia Yosef, the late Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel.

In a 90-minute lecture at the Ner Yisrael synagogue in Hendon, England, 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.”

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