Rabbijn Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo (1946) werd geboren in Amsterdam en woont sinds 1977 in Israël. Als kind van een Portugees-Joodse vader en een niet-Joodse moeder heeft hij een lange weg afgelegd. Op zijn 16e is hij ‘uitgekomen’ (Joods geworden) bij Chacham Salomon Rodrigues Pereira. Jaren later haalde hij zijn rabbijnentitel aan de orthodoxe Gateshead Yeshiva. In Jeruzalem richtte hij de David Cardozo Academy op. Rabbijn Lopes Cardozo publiceert regelmatig en neemt daarbij geen blad voor de mond.
Several weeks ago Rabbi Joseph Dweck, senior rabbi of the S&P Sephardic Community in London, gave a bold lecture on Judaism’s attitude toward homosexuality (1). Soon after, a major controversy broke out in which Rabbi Dweck was attacked for his views and for some of his other halachic opinions. Sadly, this controversy spread like wildfire via the media, throughout the Jewish and non-Jewish world, embarrassing Rabbi Dweck and even British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. I feel the moral and halachic obligation to defend Rabbi Dweck, especially after the distinguished rabbi of the ultra-Orthodox Gateshead Hebrew Congregation (which has the largest rabbinical institutions in Europe), Rabbi Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, called for Rabbi Dweck’s resignation – also published via the media. Here is my response to Rabbi Zimmerman. (A printed copy was sent to the Rav by postal mail.)
Dear Rabbi Zimmerman, Shelita,
As an alumnus of Gateshead Yeshiva, where I studied for eight years and from where I received heter hora’ah (rabbinical ordination) from its Rosh HaYeshiva, HaRav Aryeh Leib Gurwicz, z"l; and having been very close to your predecessor, HaRav Betzalel Rakov, z"l, and to the mashgiach ruchani (spiritual educator and leader) HaRav Moshe Schwab, z"l, both of whom I greatly admired; and having studied for several more years in Chareidi (ultra-Orthodox) yeshivot in Israel; and having been deeply involved in the world of Halacha, Hashkafa, Mussar and Chassidut for more than 50 years (I am 71 years old), I was taken aback by your letter in which you accuse Rabbi Joseph Dweck, senior rabbi of the S&P Sephardi Community, London, of not being "equipped to rule on Halacha, due to his limited knowledge, weak halachic reasoning skills and lack of training.” You then accuse the rabbi of lacking "fear (of Heaven), modesty, purity, rabbinic training and scholarly interactions with his colleagues,” after which you conclude with the harsh pronouncement that "he is not fit to be a rabbi" (2).
This extraordinarily condemnatory letter, which is conspicuously sparse in detail, has sparked several strong reactions in letters by rabbis who seem to have lost all sense of proportion and are now attacking Rabbi Dweck not only for his observations on homosexuality, but also for other halachic rulings and for his critique on the rabbinical establishment's lack of knowledge. On top of this, in a separate letter, the same (or several other) rabbis have now threatened Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis:
“If Joseph Dweck is maintained in office as a rabbi, whether it is fully or even partially, in spite of all the letters received from highly respected Orthodox Rabbinical authorities in Gateshead and in Israel and worldwide, Chief Rabbi Mirvis should realize that he will be responsible for the splitting of Anglo-Orthodoxy and lose his credibility as a Chief Rabbi to a large consensus of Orthodox communities….We remind Chief Rabbi Mirvis… that letters condemning Joseph Dweck and calling for his removal from the Rabbinate have already been issued by the Chief Rabbi of Israel HaRav Yitzchak Yosef, by HaRav David Yosef, by HaRav Shalom Cohen and HaRav Shimon Baadani, by the Beit Din Tsedek of Bnei Brak (HaRav Sariel Rosenberg, Av Beit Din), and by the Av Beit Din of Gateshead (HaRav Shraga Feivel Zimmerman), and it would be incongruous for any decision to contradict the conclusion of any of these letters” (3).
This letter constitutes nothing less than blatant blackmail. Moreover, some other letters attacking Rabbi Dweck reflect shameful cowardice on the part of the rabbis who did not even have the decency to sign their names.
It is a known fact that Rabbi Dweck has already apologized for some of his derogatory remarks (4) about several rabbis' Torah and halachic knowledge which, it must be admitted, are not entirely untrue. (To my knowledge, Rabbi Dweck never referred to anyone by name, while several of his opponents even deprived him of his rabbinical title!) Rabbi Dweck's type of rhetoric is commonly used in the Sephardic world. While he was no doubt wrong in making these statements, the problem with these rabbis' attacks on him is that they (deliberately?) took some of his halachic observations out of context, seemingly did not listen carefully to his words (perhaps having learned of them only by hearsay), and lacked the knowledge to judge these halachic suggestions on their real worth. I became aware of this after I carefully studied the relevant material.
While it may very well be true that Rabbi Dweck made several minor mistakes in his halachic observations (what rabbi doesn't?), it is most disturbing that you provided the impetus for the rabbis to declare war on Rabbi Dweck, and now on Chief Rabbi Mirvis as well, by declaring that Rabbi Dweck must be removed from the S&P because otherwise British Orthodoxy will be split.
I am astonished at the threats made by these rabbis. Do they not understand that by trying to undermine and blackmail the chief rabbi they have gone beyond the tolerable? Even more than that, they are playing into the hands of those they fear the most – the Reform and Mesorati communities. After all, if Orthodoxy itself has now rejected Rabbi Mirvis’ Chief Rabbinate, these denominations will no longer feel the need to view the chief rabbi as the primary representative of all British Jewry.
There is little doubt that your letter will also push people away from Orthodoxy and right into the arms of other denominations, or even secularity.
I sincerely wonder whether before you made this most offensive observation you were in contact with Sephardic rabbis of the Syrian and Portuguese community (to which I belong), to ascertain what the Syrian or Portuguese-Spanish masoret (halachic tradition) is all about, as it is quite different from the Ashkenazic one, which you are used to, and even from the Sephardic Moroccan tradition. I am referring here to those authorities who have not learned in or been influenced by Ashkenazic yeshivot.
I wonder whether you've made an in-depth study of this masoret, which Rabbi Dweck happens to rely on. Were you not able to at least see Rabbi Dweck's point of view, even if you yourself would not pasken (decide) similarly? Isn't that an accepted practice in the halachic community?
Such an approach would have been wiser, instead of throwing oil on an already burning situation in which Rabbi Dweck was being attacked even before some of these letters were written.
What seems to be totally forgotten is that Rabbi Dweck's methodology in studying, understanding, and applying Halacha is very different from yours (and perhaps mine) but absolutely authentic and legitimate.
I would recommend that you and the other rabbis study the halachic works of: Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel (1880-1953), especially Responsa Mishpatei Uziel; Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasner (1856-1924), author of Responsa Dor Revi’i; Rabbi Chaim Hirshenson, z"l (1857-1935), particularly his magnum opus, Malki Ba-Kodesh, which is now being reprinted; Rabbi Yosef Mashash (1892-1974), former Sephardic chief rabbi of Haifa, and his highly unusual and controversial halachic rulings in Responsa Mayim Tehorim; and Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits (1908-1992), the talmid muvhak (distinguished and brilliant student) of the Sridei Aish, Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg (1884-1966), especially his book HaHalacha, Kocha VeTafkida. You would then see that Rabbi Dweck's approach is surely acceptable and may hold the future of halachic Judaism.
To deny that these great men are supreme masters of Halacha would be a farce.
I must also add that your letter begs the question of why you did not write and circulate similar letters concerning other rabbis, even well-known poskim, who have expressed views that are much worse than those of which Rabbi Dweck is accused. Why did you not call for their resignations? I am willing to send you, privately, their names and piskei din (rulings of law) with exact references. Some of these piskei din are hair-raising and oppose the very foundations of Judaism, having hurt many people, and having given a very bad name to our holy Halacha. I do not want to name these poskim here, as doing so would shame them and add to the great chillul Hashem that has been created around Rabbi Dweck.
Although I am aware that you stated, in 2015, that child abuse in the Orthodox community should be reported to the police, I am puzzled as to why (as far as I know) you did not protest against any of the other scandals that are taking place within the Orthodox communities in England and around the world. They are by now common knowledge, even outside the Jewish community, bringing shame to us and our holy Torah.
Why, for example, do you (and the other rabbis opposing Rabbi Dweck) not voice your condemnation against the abuse of women and the financial corruption in the ultra-Orthodox community in England and beyond? Why do we not hear from you concerning the constant discrimination, in large segments of ultra-Orthodox sectors, against Orthodox converts, Ethiopians and Black Jews, not to mention the enormous suffering inflicted on agunot, or the fact that Israeli Chareidi soldiers are now being harassed by their own Chareidi brothers for having joined the Israeli army so that others can sit and learn in safety in Israeli Chareidi yeshivot? (I myself had the zechut [merit] to serve in the Israeli army for a short period of time, which gave me the opportunity to do a lot of kiruv work by explaining the beauty of Orthodox Judaism.)
Aren't these scandals much worse than anything Rabbi Dweck may have said? Unfortunately, I could mention many more examples.
Why focus on Rabbi Dweck's minor mistakes, when the Orthodox community has so many greater and more severe problems (many created by its own rabbis), which have caused incredible harm to Torah Judaism?
Furthermore, I ponder why you did not invite Rabbi Dweck to discuss this matter with you privately. Given the pressing nature of the issue of homosexuality within the Orthodox community, I cannot understand why you would not want to hear his perspectives and ideas on this, as well as on a large number of other subjects, which are of utmost importance to our people and to Orthodox Judaism. This would surely have been a more productive and less destructive way of voicing any disagreement you may have with him. By writing an open letter as you did, you actually dodged the substance of the issue, and it is being perceived as nothing more than an attempt to shame a man of courage who is trying his best to bring people closer to Orthodox, albeit not Chareidi, Judaism.
Have you read Rabbi Chaim Rapoport’s book Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View, for which I wrote a letter of approbation and which contains a foreword by Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks? It also includes a preface by Dayan Berel Berkovits, z"l, who served on the beit din of London's Federation of Synagogues, and with whom I studied in Gateshead Yeshiva. The book in many ways reflects what Rabbi Dweck said.
And even if you do not agree with some of these ideas, is that really a reason to attack him the way you did, undermining his integrity, religiosity and standing in the Spanish-Portuguese community? Do you sincerely believe that calling for his resignation is justified?
You may wonder why I publish this letter to you on the internet. I indeed would not have done so if not for the fact that by now, your letter and those from the other rabbis have had extensive exposure via the internet, giving Rabbi Dweck and Orthodox Judaism a bad name.
So I had no choice but to use that same internet to defend Rabbi Dweck and Orthodox Judaism against these verbal assaults, which came in the name of a complete misrepresentation of authentic Judaism and its halachic tradition.
I feel the need to tell people that real Judaism is far removed from these types of misguided attacks.
I am therefore writing this letter, as an expression of my great love for Orthodox Judaism and Halacha. I strongly believe in their supremacy, their ethos, and their compassion and wish to share this great way of exalted living with others.
I want to tell my readers that I, as an Orthodox Jew, together with many rabbinical colleagues, will have no part in this meaningless condemnation of a qualified rabbi, which is clearly a personal vendetta motivated by power struggles and jealousy among several rabbis and laypeople.
I call on Chief Rabbi Mirvis – who will have to learn that playing it safe is regrettably not always possible – and all decent rabbis and Jewish leaders to end this travesty. I urge the S&P community to continue to stand with Rabbi Dweck and to ensure that he will not appear before any beit din or other ad hoc authority. He must continue to sit on the Sephardic Beit Din, even if its piskei din, including on issues of gittin, will not be recognized by Rabbi Dweck’s opponents.
The time has come to stop giving in to this kind of blackmail, whatever the consequences. In the long run, this policy will be victorious and will save Orthodox Judaism from its downfall. That which is healthy and honest will ultimately win. If Rabbi Dweck and the S&P will be marginalized, so be it.
And if it means that Chief Rabbi Mirvis will have to step down, let him do so with pride. We will be behind him!
But if the S&P and Rabbi Mirvis will give in, rabbis will no longer be able to speak their minds. The S&P and other communities will lose their independence and be subject to censure by all sorts of self-acclaimed rabbinical extremists, creating a situation that will terribly compromise Judaism.
We cannot permit those rabbinic forces that want to own and dictate Judaism to destroy it. Inquisitions do not belong in authentic Judaism. Without strong opposition to this destructive trend the beautiful house of Judaism will collapse; and without proper renovations it will crumble to nothing.
I therefore suggest that you, as one of the most important halachic authorities in England, retract your comments concerning Rabbi Dweck and advise those rabbis who follow you to do the same. It would show great integrity and strength and will be seen as an outstanding example of how a real Orthodox rabbi acts.
Having the courage to admit a mistake is what turns life into unmistakable splendor. Rabbi Dweck did it. Now, those who oppose him should follow suit.
I care as much about your honor as I care about the honor of Rabbi Dweck and, above all, the honor and integrity of Judaism.
(3) Quoted in The Jewish Chronicle, 30 June 2017.
For centuries, commentators have struggled with and argued about the incident of the Mei Meriva (the waters of strife). After the Children of Israel complained about the lack of water in the desert, God ordered Moshe to speak to a rock and draw forth water, but, as is well known, he hit the rock instead (Bamidbar 20:1-11).
Moshe was punished harshly for his failure to adhere strictly to the details of this command. Indeed, his ultimate dream to enter and live in the Land of Israel was shattered because of this one seemingly small mistake, and in spite of all his pleas for forgiveness, God did not allow him to lead the Israelites across the Jordan.
God’s severity in this narrative is unprecedented. Four times the Torah refers to this divine expression of “anger,” and five times God condemns Moshe for this sin: 1) “Because you did not have faith in Me” (Bamidbar 20:12); 2) “You defied My word” (Ibid. 20:24); 3) “You disobeyed My command” (Ibid. 27:14); 4) “You betrayed Me” (Devarim 32: 51); 5) “You did not sanctify Me in the midst of the Children of Israel” (Ibid.).
The sin is even more perplexing when one considers that causing water to gush forth from a rock by hitting it is no less miraculous than producing the same effect via speech. Only one slight blow produced enough water to quench the thirst of millions of people. No scientific explanation could ever account for this! What was it in Moshe’s actions that reflected such flagrant disbelief and rebellion as to warrant that harsh response? What changed as a result of Moshe’s decision to hit the rock rather than speak to it? And why did God insist that water be produced miraculously by speech and nothing else? Why not leave this seemingly small decision in Moshe’s hands? After all, Torah “lo bashamayim he” (Devarim 30:12). The Torah is no longer in Heaven, and its rulings are up to humans to decide.
To Paraphrase Sophocles in his Philoctetes: I see that everywhere among the race of men, it is the tongue that wins and not the coercive act. Hitting implies coercion – a brute force that leaves the other no option but to follow the orders of the attacker. Obedience, therefore, does not demonstrate any real willingness, or agreement with the resulting action. Even the threat of physical coercion casts suspicion on one’s deeds, and usually implies a complete lack of authenticity.
Speech, on the other hand, is a means of persuasion that does not bypass or disable the listener’s decision-making process. Any response to speech will therefore be genuine. This is actually alluded to in Meshech Chochma (ad loc. See also Maharal).
In many ways, the revelation at Sinai was an intensely coercive event. This position is borne out by the Talmud’s famous remark that God threatened to drop the mountain on the Israelites if they chose not to accept the Torah (Shabbat 88a). Rabbi Acha ben Yaakov protests this divine intimidation, saying that God indeed threatened to kill the Jews if they refused to be party to the covenant, and therefore the legality of the agreement, which was reached under coercion, is called into question. This implies that perhaps the Jewish people are not really obligated to keep the commandments in the Torah! Some Chassidic masters even suggest that it was this threat and this feeling of having been forced that led to the sin of the golden calf. (See, for example, Chiddushei HaRim on Parshat Yitro.) If so, it would seem that the harsh coercion was too much for the Israelites to bear and at a certain level became counterproductive.
That said, it was of utmost importance that the Jewish people accept the Torah. Sometimes coercion can be beneficial to people, serving as an essential ingredient for their education. Homines enim civiles non nascuntur, sed fiunt (Civil men are not born, but made), said Spinoza (Thomas Hill Green, Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation [London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1895] p. 53), reflecting an old Jewish truth. But Law must ultimately lead to moral freedom. This means that liberty is primarily an issue of education. To be an agent of freedom, and not constraint, lawful coercion must lead to awareness in people that had they understood the values inherent in the laws, they would have accepted them with even the gentlest forms of persuasion.
King David expressed this concept when he said: “I will walk in freedom, for I have sought out Your laws” (Tehillim 119:45). Using a beautiful exegetical wordplay, the Sages read the description of the tablets, on which God wrote the Ten Commandments, not as “the writing of God engraved (charut) on the tablets,” but as “freedom (cheirut) on the tablets” (Pirkei Avot 6:2). Only when we engrave the laws into our hearts do we experience absolute freedom – self-expression in the deepest and truest sense. (1)
When standing at the border of the Land of Israel, the Jewish people underwent a radical change of “weltanschauung.” At Sinai, and during their years of wandering in the desert, God used coercion as a necessary device to prepare them for lives as Jews. Suddenly, as they entered the land and became more spiritually independent, they began to understand that the survival of Judaism would depend upon the effectiveness of gentle persuasion. While bound by the Law, they realized that to build a deeply religious society, Jewish educators would need to use the power of the word – gentle and inspiring – and not the rod, if they hoped to foster conditions in which Jews would be willing and feel privileged to live their lives according to the Torah’s mandate.
Had this not become clear at the inception of the first Jewish Commonwealth, the nation’s government could have become a tyrannical and fundamentalist dictatorship. This mode of leadership would have been a sign of weakness: Do the Jews have to be beaten into observing God’s law? It would have called into question the inherent truth and persuasive powers of the Torah, thereby profaning God’s name.
This, then, was at the core of Moshe’s sin. For the sake of later generations – who would need to know that the ways of the Torah are ways of pleasantness, of the gentle word and not the hard strike – God denied Moshe the merit of living in the land. In this way, He made it clear to all that leaders who seek to turn Israel into a holy nation by way of threat or by force may very well bring disaster to themselves and their people.
(1) This is not what the British philosopher Isaiah Berlin calls “negative liberty” (i.e., freedom from…), but rather a constitutional freedom in which one’s own freedom automatically respects that of the other, and for which one is prepared to make sacrifices. Otherwise, “Freedom for the pike is death for the minnow.” Berlin explains this at great length in “Two Concepts of Liberty,” Four Essays on Liberty (Oxford University Press, 1969) pp. 118–173.
It is most disturbing that for the second time in almost 315 years the celebrated S&P (Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community of London), an affiliate of its mother synagogue in Amsterdam (of which many of my ancestors have been members for generations), is at the center of a major eruption within Orthodox Judaism due to the small-mindedness and deliberate misinterpretation of their rabbi’s views by some of his colleagues.
On the 20th of November 1703, the venerable Chacham David Nieto (1654-1728), chief rabbi of the S&P and a great Talmudic scholar, philosopher, mathematician, and author of his remarkable magnum opus, Matteh Dan, was accused of being a secret follower of the Dutch, Jewish, Portuguese-Spanish world class philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), who had turned his back on Judaism and declared that God was transcendent but not immanent, denying His involvement in the affairs of humankind and even His being the Creator of the universe. This doctrine, called pantheism, also suggests that God is not a Personality to Whom we are able to speak, or Who can reveal Himself to humankind through some type of verbal communication.
Chacham Nieto, in an attempt to refute deism (a very popular belief among philosophers of his time), which teaches that the living God created the universe but is no longer involved in it or in the affairs of humankind, said that God and nature are one and the same. By this he meant to say that God is not only transcendent but also immanent and, as such, deeply involved in the world. Unfortunately, he used the same words that Spinoza had used to explain his pantheistic views: God and nature are the same. Misunderstanding Chacham Nieto’s words, the Ma’amad (lay leadership of the S&P) thought that he was supporting Spinoza’s pantheism. They accused him of heresy and wanted to fire him. When this matter came to a head, shaking the foundations of the community, with far-reaching consequences for its future and for Judaism in general, they wisely decided to ask the opinion of the world-famous Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Ashkenazi (c.1660-1718), also called the Chacham Tzvi, the former chief rabbi of the Ashkenazic community in Amsterdam who was then living in Altona, Germany. The rabbi convened his beit din, studied all the relevant material from both sides, and vindicated Chacham Nieto completely, telling the leaders of the S&P that they had misunderstood their rabbi and that he must continue as their religious leader (1). This ended a most unfortunate controversy and dangerous development within Judaism.
Now, more than 300 years later, a new scandal with major ramifications is again erupting around the S&P – this time, regarding a lecture on homosexuality given by its venerable Senior Rabbi Joseph Dweck. In this case, however, it is not the lay leaders of the S&P who accuse their rabbi of heresy (in fact, they are standing with him) but some influential rabbis in England and abroad who felt the need to accuse Rabbi Dweck of heresy. In a tirade of mostly meaningless words, they attacked his integrity, faith and scholarship, calling him a wicked person and using even worse descriptions. By doing so, they showed ignorance, bias and self-interest and, above all, as in the case of Chacham Nieto, they completely and probably deliberately misinterpreted what the rabbi said.
In this remarkable lecture at the Ner Yisrael Synagogue, where the congregation is led by my dear friend Rabbi Dr. Avraham (Alan) Kimche, Rabbi Dweck presented an entirely new way of understanding homosexuality. Drawing on non-Jewish historical sources, he explained that homosexuality was an accepted lifestyle in the ancient non-Jewish world and, quoting many Jewish classical sources, he then specified what the prohibition of homosexuality in Halacha is all about and what is not prohibited in a same-sex, male loving relationship. He presented the different points of view and their nuances, and expressed the idea that current Western attitudes toward sexuality force traditional Judaism to rethink some of its core values, as it has always done when challenged. While it is true that Rabbi Dweck used some unfortunate phrases in the heat of his argument (What speaker doesn’t, from time to time?), nothing that he said was outside the boundaries of established Halacha.
In fact, much of what he argued had already been said by Rabbi Chaim Rapoport, a great halachic scholar in London, in his well-known book Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View, for which I wrote an approbation and which carries a foreword by Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and a preface by the late Dayan Berel Berkovits of the Beth Din of the (Orthodox) Federation of Synagogues in London.
However, that didn’t stop Rabbi Dweck’s rabbinical opponents from deliberately misrepresenting him. Nothing but fear, lack of knowledge about homosexuality, and personal (not so kosher) reasons seem to have motivated them.
One rabbi felt the need to scrutinize all of Rabbi Dweck’s lectures from the time he came to live in London – a witch hunt of sorts – looking for possible mistakes the rabbi may have made in earlier lectures so as to undermine his reputation, as if no Orthodox rabbis ever make mistakes in some of their rulings. He completely ignored the fact that Rabbi Dweck comes from a different Sefardic-Syrian tradition with its own (halachic) practices and religious outlook on life.
Rabbi Dweck is married to the granddaughter of Chacham Ovadia Yosef, z”l, former chief rabbi of Israel. But that didn’t prevent the current Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef and his brother Rabbi David Yosef – both sons of Rav Ovadia – from refusing to see him (their own nephew) when he asked for a meeting. In fact, both wrote a letter to the Sefardic communities of New York and New Jersey condemning Rabbi Dweck (while never mentioning his name!) and asking for his dismissal, thereby showing lamentable small-mindedness, a lack of general knowledge, and ignorance of the Jewish religious philosophical tradition.
I have been told by reliable sources that by now Rabbi Dweck’s weekly lectures have been cancelled and his former lectures removed from the Internet. Not only is this a grave injustice but it greatly harms his remarkable and most successful influence in London and beyond, in bringing people closer to our holy Torah.
The great danger of this unfortunate affair is not just the controversy surrounding Rabbi Dweck. More than anything else, it is an indication of where British or perhaps all European Orthodoxy is heading. When Orthodox rabbis are told that they are no longer able to speak their minds, offer new insights into Orthodox Judaism, or try to find solutions to serious problems by using innovative ideas, we are faced with a rabbinical world that is wearing blinders, is comprised of yes-people looking over their shoulders, and is generating a hazardous small-mindedness that has far-reaching effects.
Sure, there have always been differences of opinion within Rabbinic Judaism. This is healthy, and Judaism has only benefitted from it. But this was always done in a framework of well-informed argument and discussion, not in tirades of meaningless and hateful statements.
One of the biggest problems of current mainstream Orthodoxy is that it believes it is always right, knows all the sources, and doesn’t need to be apprised of new information coming from our traditional sources. The consequences are that it is rewriting Orthodoxy in ways that sometimes make authentic Judaism unrecognizable.
What rabbis like those attacking Rabbi Dweck do not realize is that they are slowly but surely becoming irrelevant. They may be great Talmudic scholars, but instead of using their exceptional knowledge to make Orthodox Judaism more and more vibrant, they drown in it and become stuck in the quicksand of intransigence, which they themselves have created.
The danger is that in their stubbornness they take down all of British Orthodoxy, which seems to be unaware or too immature to understand what is happening.
The task of great rabbis is to jump aboard the sinking ship of Orthodoxy, with knives between their teeth, ensuring that a fearless Judaism, in full sail and in full force, will sail the ship of Torah into the midst of the sea of our lives.
I call on:
The venerable British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and his beit din to unequivocally condemn the attacks on Rabbi Dweck and stand staunchly behind him;
Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks to join Rabbi Mirvis in this endeavor;
My dear friend Rabbi Dr. Alan Kimche to resume Rabbi Dweck’s lectures in his community without further delay;
The relevant parties to restore Rabbi Dweck’s lectures on the Internet;
The S&P to continue to show courage and to oppose with full force any attempt to fire Rabbi Dweck and/or discredit him;
The New York and New Jersey communities to immediately invite Rabbi Dweck to be their scholar in residence again;
Chief Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, Rabbi David Yosef, and other rabbis to cease harassing Rabbi Dweck and subjecting him to a meaningless inquisition; to begin listening to what he has actually been saying; and to stop the witch hunt, which has no place in authentic Orthodox Judaism.
And I call on Rabbi Dweck himself to continue leading and inspiring the S&P with pride and self-confidence and spreading Torah wherever possible. Let him not forget the wise words of Jonathan Swift: “Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent” (2).
Let us hope that this story will end in the same way as did the attack on Chacham Nieto, once again proving the power of Judaism when confronted with the lamentable closing of current rabbinic minds.
(1) See Responsa Chacham Tzvi, responsum # 18 (Amsterdam, 1712). See also: Jakob J. Petuchowsky, The Theology of Haham David Nieto: An Eighteenth Century Defense of the Jewish Tradition (NY: KTAV Publishing House, 1970).
(2) From Swift’s satirical essay, “Various Thoughts, Moral and Diverting,” first appeared in Miscellanies in Prose and Verse (Leicester, UK: Scolar Press, 1711).
Sponsored Le-ilui Nishmatah shel HaZekenah Miriam Robles Lopes Cardozo, eshet HaRav Ha’Abir Neim Zemirot Yisrael Abraham Lopes Cardozo, by her daughters Judith Cardozo-Tenenbaum and Debbie Smith.
Woody Allen, a keen but unusual observer of our world, once remarked: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness; the other to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.” (1)
Many people will agree with this observation. Our lives seem to be surrounded by war, destruction, hunger and illness – with no end and without much hope. Philosophers, scientists and physicians continue to seek solutions, but not only do we still suffer terrorist attacks in many civilized countries, and major disasters in nearly every part of the world, but we get the impression that the global situation is only worsening. Every illness that is overcome is replaced by one even more serious; and many peace accords are violated and invite more disastrous scenarios.
This, however, is only part of the picture, and it is based on a psychological condition from which many of us suffer. If we take a closer look, it reminds us of a type of lashon hara (gossip) – not about our fellow humans, but about our world.
Evil speech reflects a self-distrust that is rooted in our underlying insecurity. It is predicated on an optical illusion, similar to two adjacent glass elevators that move in opposite directions. When one descends, the passengers in the other elevator feel as though they are moving upward. Similarly, by emphasizing the faults of another, one tries to prove one’s own perfection.
But the world is also a place that contains an abundance of goodness. Most human beings are decent and law-abiding. Millions of people arrive home safely every night. Hundreds of thousands of planes land every day without the slightest problem. Most children are born healthy. The sun comes up every morning without exception. There is always enough air for everyone to breathe. Millions enjoy higher economic standards than ever experienced by their ancestors. Pain prevention has improved dramatically over time. International communication systems have brought us in touch with each other under all circumstances, wherever we live. Luxurious senior citizens homes have replaced the tragic scenes of the elderly languishing in the streets. Clearly, marriage is still seen as sacred, and helping each other as virtuous.
True, the world is far from ideal, but it seems that we view our globe as we would a white paper with a black spot on it. When asked what we see, we say, “a black spot”, completely ignoring the white paper. It is only the odd, the out-of-place that catches our attention.
Why is this? Because the good presents us with a problem. Goodness exposes us to a higher order of things. It demands of us that we think about the meaning of our lives, because it is the beauty of goodness that touches our souls. We hear a murmur coming from a wave that is beyond our average shore. Here, we cannot complain, we can only contemplate. And this embarrasses us, because we don’t want to respond. What if life makes higher demands of us than we want to hear? It is goodness and beauty that remind us that our lives do have a moral and religious purpose.
So we hide, dig in, and create defense systems. We make sure not to be exposed to all the beauty. We emphasize the black spot and deny the white paper. And we are all in good company. Our media help us by reporting the disasters and revealing the diseases. We all know that we need much more balanced reporting, but we can’t afford it. It’s too risky.
So we speak lashon hara about the universe, because the exaggeration of all that is bad in this world serves us well. We give it a bad name so that we can declare that we’re okay where we are. Life is hard enough, we’re barely able to survive; so who has time for meaning? We force the elevator of this world to descend so that we can convince ourselves that we are moving upward even as we maintain our mediocrity.
The purpose of genuine religious life is to protest against this optical illusion and to teach us to reframe our spiritual spectacles. It is not that religion shows us something new. It shows us what we have seen all our lives but have never noticed.
Its message is clear. When all is said and done, there is dazzling goodness in this world; there is order instead of chaos; there is diversity, not just monotonous existence; and above all, there is the infinite grace of the human deed.
The great Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein thought that we all see the world like a fly looking out of a transparent glass bottle in which it is stuck, limited by confines beyond its control. When asked what is his aim in philosophy, Wittgenstein replied, “To show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.” (2) The fly keeps trying to escape by banging against the glass. The more it tries, the more it flounders, until it drops in exhaustion. Its failure is that it doesn’t think to look up toward the opening.
(1) “My Speech to the Graduates”, The New York Times, Aug. 10, 1979, p. 25.
(2) Des MacHale, Wisdom (London: Prion Books Ltd., 2002).
For some years now, there has been a major debate among religious thinkers over whether the Holocaust should be seen as divine punishment. Pointing to the Torah's warnings that divine curses would come true if widespread violations of the Torah’s laws were committed (1), some thinkers maintain that the Holocaust is clearly the result of the Jewish people’s transgressions.
After looking into these verses and reading their midrashic comments, it would indeed be difficult to deny the marked similarity between the Torah’s predictions and what happened during the Holocaust.
Nevertheless, this position could be challenged and is, in fact, dangerous.
Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, z“l, one of the greatest halachic authorities of our generation – and popularly known by the name of his multi-volume magnum opus of Talmudic halachic works, Chazon Ish – discusses the problem of heresy and deliberate violation of Jewish law, and its halachic consequences in today's society.
In the old days, people guilty of holding heretical views, or deliberately violating Torah law, were penalized and prohibited from joining some of the community's religious ceremonies and fulfilling certain religious functions. Today, however, according to Rabbi Karelitz z”l, such halachic rulings can no longer be applied without great hesitation:
"[Such laws] only applied at times when the divine presence was clearly revealed, such as in the days when there were open miracles and a heavenly voice was heard and when the righteous would operate under direct divine intervention, which could be observed by anybody. Then, the heretics were of a special deviousness, bending their evil inclination toward immoral desires and licentiousness. In such days, there was [the need] to remove this kind of wickedness from the world, since everybody knew that it would bring divine retribution to the world [including] drought, pestilence and famine. But at the time of "divine hiding", in which faith has become weak in people, there is no purpose in taking such action [harsh measurements against heretics and violators]; in fact, it has the reverse effect and will only increase their lawlessness and be viewed as coercion and violence [by religious fanatics]. And therefore we have an obligation to try to bring them back with “cords of love” (2) (3)”.
This unprecedented statement, made by a major ultra-Orthodox authority, is, we believe, of great importance. The Chazon Ish maintains that we cannot compare earlier (certainly not biblical) periods with our own days. In former times, faith was strong and people didn’t doubt its foundations. Divine intervention was clear, so there was no reason for anyone to doubt God's existence and the truth of His will as stated in the Torah. Therefore, heresy and violation of the Torah's precepts could only be the result of deliberate rebellion. People knew that they were violating the words of the living God, since there was no doubt concerning His existence and will. Thus, there were legitimate reasons to take action against those who broke the covenant and spoke heretically. They knew that they were falsifying the truth. It was purely their earthly desires that made them travel down that road.
This, however, is no longer the case. God's presence is not manifest as it once was, and much of what happens to humankind seems to be random, with no indication that it is the work of the Lord of the Universe. Therefore, one can no longer call heretical views the result of deliberate viciousness. These views may, in fact, be the honest consequence of careful deliberation that is clouded by confusion; by not knowing how to view and understand the workings of history, and events such as personal tragedy.
For several centuries, so-called ‘academic studies’ of the Torah have undermined its authenticity, convincing a great number of well-meaning people of ‘proof’ that the Torah does not reflect God’s will. Therefore, there was no reason to live by its precepts.
This is no longer deliberate heresy. It could rather be called intellectual perplexity.
As such, it is difficult to argue that the Holocaust was caused by divine anger for the violations of Torah precepts and deliberate heresy. The curses in the Torah are meant to come down on those who, against better judgment, and with the full understanding that they are violating God’s will, decide to do so; but not on those who are confused by or are the victims of others' misunderstandings. This, I believe, is the implication of the words written by Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, z“l, in relation to the question of whether the Holocaust should be seen as divine retribution.
Whatever the religious meaning of the Holocaust may or may not be, it is clear that it cannot be seen in terms of divine retribution.
(1) Vayikra 26: 14-43; Devarim 28: 15-69.
(2) Hoshea 11:4.
(3) Chazon Ish, Yoreh Deah, Hilchot Shechita 2:16.