Piercing the halachic veil

The recent controversy surrounding Rabbi Dweck has prompted a plethora of parishioners’ voices: of confusion and of embarrassment; of approval and of condemnation. And like the very best of stories, the Chief Rabbi has, at long last, emerged from behind the scenes to “resolve the situation” and save the day. What a coup de grace. The community can now breath a collective sigh of relief that such an insidious episode is now coming to a close.

But, what puzzles me is: what is there to resolve? I’m not talking about the shiur Rabbi Dweck gave: I wasn’t there, I never heard it and it is far beyond my abilities to dabble in matters of Halacha.

However, a recent article has championed the Chief Rabbi’s intervention after a number of weeks as showing true leadership.

I have no doubt that the Chief Rabbi was indeed working hard “behind the scenes” as the article states, but I still don’t understand why there was no immediate condemnation of the slurs levied at Rabbi Dweck. These were breathtaking attacks against a rabbi, whose charisma, deep intellect and oratorical skills has electrified Anglo Jewry. At least that’s my take. Even if he didn’t posses these attributes, even if rabbi Dweck was just a regular Jo as opposed to a Joseph, the attacks were vicious.

It is heartening that the Chief Rabbi 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.”

But what bothers me is the rather undignified and inappropriate fashion in which Rabbi Dweck has been maligned. Because that is the real issue here. Not his teachings or his rulings. Not really. Not when the brouhaha of righteous outrage has been smoothed and settled. Because if we peer behind the halachic veil, we see all manner of baseless hatred.

Rabbi Dweck had done nothing to deserve the ferociously vituperative utterances which has been meted out to him. His character has been impugned. Disagree vehemently with his argument, but do not denigrate the man. He has been accused by colleagues of lacking, amongst other things,”fear of Heaven, modesty, purity.” Who are we to presume to know about anyone’s relationship with G-d? Who are we to judge or pass comment on anyone’s yirat Shamayim?

If slurs like these are allowed to linger, with no repudiation or rectification from the rabbinate, let alone the Chief Rabbinate, what sort of example does that set?

Anglo Jewry guards a rich rabbinic history: the Chief Rabbinate has flourished to worldwide renown from its inception in the 18th century. Is it therefore not fitting for the current holder of that august office to embrace such renown and lead even more by example? To be a leader is to forego the comfort of neutrality. Let us hope that the Chief Rabbi forgoes such comfort.

Two weeks ago, in the midst of this most unedifying of sagas, we concluded the prayer for the impending month of Tammuz, by praying for, as we do before every new month, “…chaverim kol Yisrael ” “…so that all Israel may be united in friendship”.

In a couple of weeks, we will usher in a new month, the month of Av, often referred to as “Menachem Av”, since we crave G-d’s comfort during the saddest month in the Jewish calendar. But it is also said to be the month when the Messiah is born.

Perhaps we may be worthy of his arrival when our rabbis lead us into friendship with one another: with all Israel, even those with whom we may vehemently disagree.

May G-d grant our rabbinic leaders that strength, and may we sing that last refrain with one voice. And let us all say, Amen.

About the Author
Andrew Freedman is a communications consultant from London. Prior to embarking on a career in public relations, Andrew practised as a solicitor for a couple of years. Before that, Andrew read Classics at Oxford. He is a member of the World Jewish Congress Jewish Diplomatic Corps and is also active on behalf of several Jewish charities within the UK.