Friday, 16 June 2017

On Homosexuality and the Pressure Put on Relgious Leaders

Rabbi Joseph Dweck, Senior Rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese Sephardi community of this country gave a speech in which he spoke warmly about some issues around homosexuality. He went far too far for a number of ultra-orthodox Rabbis, in this country and abroad, who have taken against him. He’s been referred to as a ‘heretic,’ ‘unfit’ to serve as Rabbi and even - gevalt - ‘more poisonous that Louis Jacobs’ (sic. as I believe you have to say at this point).

I don’t want, here, to restate my own understanding of the Bible’s approach to homosexual desires for intimacy. For what it’s worth I feature in a BBC Documentary on the subject viewable [here -]. I’m more interested in the application of pressure on Rabbis. It is, of course, something our founder Rabbi and the founder members of this community knew well. Pressure hurts - of course it does - and when the pressure is applied to the very heart of everything you have given your life to, besides from the professional and personal impact, that pressure can be deeply wounding. But some kinds of pressure help. They clarify; not only one’s own position but also one’s sense of integrity. ‘The good thing about being in hot water,’ Rabbi Louis Jacobs used to say frequently, ‘is that it keeps you clean.’ I think he meant that being in hot water ensures one has the opportunity to realise one’s deepest commitment to the pursuit of truth. When personal deceit is an easier option than the truth of hot water one finds out what one truly stands for and what one is prepared to sacrifice for one’s integrity.

Louis, of course, walked away from the attempts of the ultra-orthodox to persuade him to be silent, or recant. As did the 500 founder members of this community. That took incredible courage. And I salute all to found the strength to that step, our founder Rabbi most of all. But there is a cost also in bowing when pressures applied by others. The cost of apologising and recanting what one believes to be true is not only an internal one. It strengthens the hands of bullies and those who wish one no good fortune. You bow to pressure once and the pressure will come again and again.

I’m reminded of a letter written by the former Israeli Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Goren, who refused to back down from an issue involving Mamzerut. “I’m delighted [he wrote to the JTS professor, Saul Lieberman] to note that I have never felt myself so free to deliberate, to teach, to make legal decisions as I see them, according to my own deliberations. I have been set free, blessed be God, from all the impure notions that they continually pursued me with – what would this one say, what would this lot say, or that lot – now I am fulfilling the Gemorah which states that Rabbi should judge only on the basis of what their own eyes see. [Citing BT Sanhedrin 6b. The letter was published by M.B. Shapiro in Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox].”

Hazak, hazak v’Nithazek - we sing at the end of each book of the Torah - ‘Be strong, be strong and be of courage’. It’s based on the blessing Moses gave to Joshua before he took on leadership of the Jewish people. It’s the best thing to wish any Jewish leader.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Jeremy

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