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British chief rabbi’s letter exposes deep communal rift

LONDON, March 18 (JTA) — Controversy surrounding remarks made by Britain’s chief rabbi have exposed a deep rift between the country’s Orthodox and Reform Jewish communities. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in a recent letter to an Orthodox leader, described the Reform movement as a “false grouping” of Jews “who destroy the faith.” Sacks sent the letter to Dayan Chanoch Padwa, who heads the Union of Orhtodox Hebrew Congregations, to explain his decision to attend a memorial service last month for Hugo Gryn, who was the country’s leading Reform rabbi. The letter was leaked to The Jewish Chronicle and published in its edition last week. Sacks has called the leak of his letter “scandalous” and a “breach of confidence.” Sent to Padwa in advance of the service, Sacks explained that he would be eulogizing Gryn as a Holocaust survivor, not as a Reform rabbi. Sacks added that his attendance also was intended to prevent the Reform community from establishing its own chief rabbinate. Sacks warned that “the impression would emerge that there are two kinds of Torah” if there were two chief rabbis. “The Reform, Liberal and Masorti movements know that they have no enemy or opponent equal to the chief rabbi,” Sacks wrote. Rabbi Jacqueline Tabbick, of the West London Synagogue for British Jews, where Gryn served for many years before his death, expressed pain over the letter. “We regret and are appalled at the tarnishing of the memory of a great rabbi and are so upset that his family have to face such an unpleasant situation while they are in mourning,” Tabbick said. Reform Jews had earlier protested Sacks’ decision to not attend Gryn’s funeral in August. “It is so obvious that Rabbi Sacks has an impossible juggling act to perform and at West London we are anxious that the wider issue of the chief rabbi’s role in Anglo-Jewry should be suspended from our memories of Rabbi Gryn.” Meanwhile, Sacks has issued a seven-point platform known as a Coalition for Peace in the Community in which he appeals to Jewish leaders to work together to bridge their differences.