The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

Rabbi Dweck, Rabbi Bassous and Homosexuality

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  1. Rabbi Dweck is an enormously charismatic personality and he clearly cares very deeply about the Jewish community, particularly those who are finding it increasingly hard to straddle the two worlds of orthodox Judaism and the modern secular world.  He got a bit carried away at one point in a shiur when he used certain phrases, which he has since publicly modified or retracted.  And personally I think he is suggesting detaching a particular biblical prohibition from other aspects of an accompanying lifestyle in a way that runs contrary to the traditional halachic approach of surrounding prohibitions with fences, the laws of yichud being perhaps the most relevant example in this general area.
  2. Rabbi Bassous is one of the rabbis who has given a public lecture denouncing Rabbi Dweck – I listened to his lecture on YouTube and personally I found the tone much more repellent than the tone of anything that Rabbi Dweck said; it seemed to me to be a piece of rabble-rousing in the best traditions of religious bigotry and intolerance, and did nothing to help heal wounds or advance understanding.
  3. Most of the reaction to Rabbi Dweck has been to play the man and not the ball: rather than focusing on the subject of homosexuality, the controversy has turned into a general tirade against his general approach.  (He is, as I say, burdened with enormous charm and charisma, both serious handicaps for a religious leader that make it very difficult to avoid saying the occasional daft thing – and which inevitably attract the envy of less effective leaders.)
  4. Homosexuality and other gender issues are among the most pressing issues confronting young Jews today.  The modern world is readjusting at such an enormous pace that it is becoming very difficult to keep up.  Much of halachah is necessarily reflective of culture, and the faster culture is changing around us the more difficult it is to work out what parts of halachah can and must develop to remain reflective of and relevant to the modern world, for those of us who choose to live in it and not to hide from it.
  5. Unless religious leaders openly and regularly confront the substance of gender issues, the Jewish orthodox community will necessarily be left behind by the pace of change, and a generation of young Jews risks being alienated, excluded and lost.
  6. I don’t know exactly where we should end up on all this.  Ideally, we would deal with much of the problem by a combination of tolerance and sensitivity on everybody’s part.  If a young male couple come to my shul every week, are known to live together, and address each other affectionately, there is no reason why they should not feel as fully welcomed as part of the community as anyone else, and as fully involved  in the community’s religious and social activities: as Rabbi Dweck says, none of their  behaviour involves a prohibition, and I don’t need to make any assumptions about what they do in their own home and I don’t need to start any witch-hunts.  If they come in wearing gay-pride teeshirts and demand the right to give a shiur about sexual equality and the barbaric nature of certain biblical prohibitions, I will need to explain that I cannot accommodate them within an orthodox Jewish community.  And hopefully whatever we do will be done sensitively and in a way that expresses love of humanity rather than smug self-appreciation of our own supposed holiness.
  7. So discretion and tolerance could get us a long way: but I fear things may have got beyond the point at which either “side” will be content with that.

Written by Daniel Greenberg

June 25, 2017 at 10:06 am

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