(JTA) — The United Kingdom’s top Sephardi rabbi became the center of an international controversy after he praised societal acceptance of homosexuality as a “fantastic development.”
Rabbi Joseph Dweck, who serves as senior rabbi at London’s S&P Sephardi Community, came under fire after making the comment at a lecture last month. An Orthodox rabbi in London asked a rabbinic court to look into removing Dweck from his position and a petition created by an American Orthodox rabbi calling Dweck a “heretic” had gained some 480 signatures, The Jewish News reported.
A letter from Israel’s chief Sephardi rabbi, Yitzchak Yosef, also condemned Dweck.
“I am amazed and angry at the words of nonsense and heresy that were said about the foundations of our faith in our Torah,” said the letter, which was posted on the Israeli news site Kikar HaShabbat.
Dweck received rabbinic ordination from Yosef’s father, the late Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, Ovadia Yosef.
Dweck, who grew up in Los Angeles and has been in his current position since 2013, has refused to back down, although he acknowledged that his use of the word “fantastic” was “exaggerated,” The Jewish News reported.
“I did not say that homosexual acts were fantastic. I said that the development in society had residual benefits much in the same way that Islam and Christianity did, as the Rambam pointed out,” he said.
Dweck continued: “These residual effects in my opinion are that it has helped society be more open to the expression of love between men. I was not asserting law, nor for that matter, demanding a particular way of thought. I was simply presenting a personal observation.”
The rabbi isn’t without his defenders. More than 1,900 people signed a petition backing Dweck,
“The current situation, wherein character assassination, misrepresentations, and misconstrued contexts has constituted a majority of the responses rather than honest, open, and sensitive discussion is disheartening and reflective of a most unfortunate climate in our community,” the petition reads.
A recording of the lecture from last month was originally posted on the website for the S&P Sephardi Community but has since been taken down, according to The Jewish News.