British rabbi's remark on homosexuality causes a stir

Can Torah-true rabbis support homosexuality? No, but can they help homosexuals find a place in observant Jewwish society?


Rabbi Joseph Dweck speaking at the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London
Rabbi Joseph Dweck speaking at the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London
Dan Dennison/Getty Images

JTA - A group of rabbis in London called on British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to remove the country’s top Sephardic rabbi from his position, over his positive statements about homosexuality.

Rabbi Joseph Dweck, who serves as senior rabbi at London’s S&P Sephardic 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.

Mirvis on Thursday announced that he would take over responsibility for what is being called the Dweck Affair. A spokesman for Mirvis said yesterday that “at the request of the Sephardic 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 London-based Jewish 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 halakhic rulings to be considered and for a way forward to be set.”

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, said in a statement published on Thursday that “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 Sephardic summer institute in New Jersey in order to deal with the fallout of his statements.

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

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

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. In fact, the verse in Leviticus expresses unequivocal (Leviticus 18:23 and Leviticus 20:13) condemnation of male homosexual acts According to Leviticus 20:13: “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”:

“[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.”