A red line has been crossed with the ‘fatwa’ against JW3

In 2003, when she came back from Manhattan bursting with enthusiasm about her visit to the Jewish community centre there, Dame Vivien Duffield held a special breakfast for Anglo-Jewry’s movers and shakers.

She wanted, she said, to recreate a Jewish Community Centre in London, and made it clear that what had attracted her so much to the Manhattan model was that it was a place for everyone, young and old, rich and poor, and, most importantly, from whatever strand of Judaism with which they felt comfortable.

By and large, that ambition has been realised, as JW3, as it became known, has become a cultural and social landmark on the Finchley Road, and we can hardly remember life without it.

But even when the project was just a gleam in Dame Vivien’s eye, she was fairly sure about one thing: no religious hegemony. It was not destined to be a place for the Orthodox or the Reform, but for those of all faith and of none.

Nevertheless, the JW3 board had to get the Orthodox on side in order to have a functioning building.

Accordingly, JW3 is not open on Shabbat or chagim, and it has a kashrut licence so that everyone can eat there.

And here is the problem. Because that kashrut licence is from the Sephardi Kashrut Authority, and its very existence was brought into discussion around six weeks ago at the heart of the febrile negotiations in the Rabbi Joseph Dweck affair.

The reasonable among you may legitimately ask what has JW3 to do with Rabbi Dweck – the senior rabbi of the S&P Sephardi Community – who was not a member of the Sephardi Kashrut Authority when the row exploded over his controversial lecture about homosexuality and Judaism.

But it may be a little clearer with the publication this week of a so-called “fatwa” or denunciation of JW3 by seven strictly Orthodox rabbis.

In an open letter published last Friday, the writers – who include Rabbi Aaron Bassous, who spearheaded the campaign against Rabbi Dweck – say: “We are of the strong opinion that a red line has been crossed in launching campaigns and initiatives that promote lifestyles and behaviours forbidden and condemned by the Torah”.

Accordingly, they call upon their communities to “avoid visiting the centre”.

It is understood that this is a reference to JW3’s March programme, “GayW3”, a series of events to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain.

I don’t know whether this “fatwa” is genuine, as it would be all too easy to cut and paste signatures from other such letters. But if it is, it has a nasty whiff of bigotry and blackmail about it.

Those who failed to topple Rabbi Dweck are now, allegedly, after other prey – even though the idea that the members of the strictly Orthodox community would even venture through JW3’s doors is somewhat laughable.

As it is, that JW3’s kashrut licence was even mentioned within the Dweck deliberations – I am of the strong opinion that a red line has been crossed.


About the Author
Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist.
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