Esther Suissa
Esther Suissa

A different perspective on the Dweck controversy

After having read numerous articles on the above, the point that hit me most was how the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation is now embroiled in a halachic controversy. This is so contrary to the history and character of this community, which I belonged to, until my aliyah in 1986, and which my father served as its faithful secretary for 50 years.

The congregation was created in the 17th century by a request of Menasseh Ben Israel to Oliver Cromwell. And the Jews who came were actually from Spain and Portugal: they had been expelled in the Inquisition, had found homes in Holland and Europe and now settled in Britain mainly for business purposes. Every Israeli tourist to London has probably ticked off the Bevis Marks synagogue in London on his/her “to do list” as the most ancient synagogue in Britain. Until recently, it was even lit with the use of candles.

The founding families, the Mocattas and the Montefiores were indeed the epitome of British Jewry: loyal citizens to the Crown and attendees to the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation with its formality, customs and songs unique to no other place. But halachic controversy? Practically unheard of.

There were controversies When the Roumanian born Haham Moses Gaster (the spiritual head of the S and P community) openly displayed his love of Zionism at the turn of the 20thtentury, the Elders did not view this favourably, and were reluctant to embrace Zionism.  Political and power struggles were always a part of the scene.

However in the decades after the Second World War, the character of the community changed: the formal Anglo-Jewish establishment was slowly replaced by the arrival of mainly Iraqi (and Indian) Jews.  They made the community less formal.  Slowly the lay leadership changed.

It is no coincidence that Rabbi Dweck is of Iraqi origin and that the official name of the community is now the “Sephardi Community” and not the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation — and the fact that the lecture in question was given in an Ashkenazi synagogue and not a Spanish and Portuguese one.

That is the real change.

About the Author
Born in London, made aliya on my own at the age of 18 in 1986. Moved to Dimona in 1990 and becamde the UJIA representative there. Later worked for the Jewish Agency Partnership 2000 as representative of Dimona, Yerucham, Mitzpe Ramon. Married to Avi and mother of 5 children, 20 year old triplets, Asher, David and Yaara, Talia a 15 year old and Ariel 9. Currently working at Sde Boker.