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Hail To The Chief!
The Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, Rav Ephraim Mirvis, has accomplished something extraordinary. He took an impossible situation, and through his strength, wisdom and political acumen, solved it.
For those who don't know, I am talking about his resolution of the controversy surrounding Rabbi Joseph Dweck, senior rabbi of the Spanish and Portugese Synagogue in London. Over the last few months, there has been a storm raging in British Jewry about (depending on which side you are on) various controversial teachings of his, and the response to this by various rabbis and other people. When Israeli Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef declared that Rabbi Dweck should not be allowed to serve as Rabbi, this seemed to have forced the conclusion. Yet, through some supernatural miracle that I cannot explain, Rabbi Yosef then put out a letter admitting that as a non-Brit he was not really qualified to evaluate the situation, and that it should be resolved by Rabbi Mirvis, whose judgment he would accept. Rabbi Mirvis put together a review committee, consisting of various senior Dayanim and - very significantly - a QC. They decided that Rabbi Dweck should remain in his position as senior rabbi, after he issued an apology for some of his teachings, stepped down from his position on the Beit Din, and an agreement to be more cautious in future. (I am simplifying matters - see the full report elsewhere.)
Several people had written to me over the last few months, asking me to write in defense of Rabbi Dweck. I did not do so (although I did defend him against the disgusting attacks of Yosef Mizrachi), for several reasons. One is that I felt that, being who I am, stepping in would inflame matters rather than help them. But another reason is that I felt that I simply did not know enough about the situation.
I find it amazing, and disturbing, how many people are ready to form strong opinions on controversial matters about which they know very little. For example, a few years ago, someone asked (and expected) me to voice my support for a woman stuck in a certain messy divorce case. But I refused to do so, for the simple reason that I did not feel that I knew enough about the situation. While her story seemed compelling, there are very often (if not always) two sides to a story.
The initial storm surrounding Rabbi Dweck was based on a shiur that he gave about homosexuality - a shiur that I did not listen to, on a topic that I know very little about. The subsequent controversy surrounded various statements that he made over the years - and once again, I have no idea what these were. So how on earth was I supposed to give an opinion?
What I find particularly distressing is how many people are criticizing the Chief Rabbi even though they, too, lack knowledge of the situation. There are numerous ordinarily intelligent people condemning Rabbi Mirvis for even the very limited way in which Rabbi Dweck was not fully vindicated. They have accused Rabbi Mirvis of giving in to charedi bullies. But how on earth do they know this to be the case? Maybe Rabbi Mirvis (or the Dayanim that he appointed - at least of whom is definitely not one to fall in line with charedi "Daas Torah") - actually did believe that some of Rabbi Dweck's teachings were problematic? After all, there certainly are at least *some* non-charedi rabbinic figures who feel that way. And, as I discussed in the previous post, you can't claim that *every* statement should be automatically acceptable within Orthodoxy.
So, while it's *possible* that Rabbi Mirvis kowtowed to charedi pressure, it's also perfectly possible that he reached an honest judgement based on his personal appraisal of the situation. And I see no reason why one should not assume this to be case. Furthermore, it seems that people who are so sure of themselves in criticizing Rabbi Mirvis don't actually know any more than I do about the details of the questionable teachings. So it would be appropriate for them to simply keep silent.
There's another reason why they should keep silent. You can be sure that the zealots who tried to destroy Rabbi Dweck will be up in arms about Rabbi Mirvis' verdict to permit him to stay in his post. They will point to Rav Yitzchak Yosef's condemnation of him. And yet, Rav Yosef subsequently wrote that people should go by whatever Rabbi Mirvis decides. If you want Rabbi Dweck's opponents to follow Rabbi Mirvis's decision, then you should likewise follow it and not protest it.
I am far from the only one to be in awe of how magnificently the Chief Rabbi handled this very difficult situation. One well-known commentator on the Orthodox community wrote to me "I was overwhelmed by the difference between the way they handled you - and a dozen other issues in Bnei Brak and NY - and the way they satisfactorily dealt with the Rabbi Dweck in London. Maybe you Brits are on to something!" Chief Rabbi Mirvis took a near-unsolvable situation and resolved it. To adapt an American expression to this British situation, Hail to the Chief!
(I wrote this post in the airport in a hurry, and now I am boarding a plane to Bangkok. So I hope that there are no errors, and I apologize if there are.)