Jewish cultural centre targeted by ultra-Orthodox zealots
Fanatical London rabbi, Aaron Bassous, above, is one of 25 ultra-Orthodox leaders who have signed a letter calling on their congregations to boycott a Jewish cultural centre because it held a gay-themed week of events and provides a meeting space for gay Jewish parents.
Bassous, head of a Sephardi congregation in Golders Green, was in the news earlier this year when he called for the sacking of “dangerous” rabbi Joseph Dweck who is anything but homophobic.
Promote a way of life which is in total contradiction to Orthodox Judaism and halacha [Jewish law]. Members of our community should distance themselves fully from JW3, its activities and services, and refrain from visiting JW3 even for recreational purposes only.
JW3, which opened four years ago, aims to:
Transform the Jewish landscape in London by helping to create a vibrant, diverse and proud community, inspired by and engaged in Jewish arts, culture and community.
By the end of the year, JW3 – which has kosher restaurant, Zest, serving contemporary Middle Eastern food – will have hosted about 7,000 events and activities, including film screenings, Hebrew classes, book festivals, an ice rink, antenatal classes, exercise sessions and youth groups.
The vindictive rabbis are also reportedly trying to get the restaurant’s kosher licence revoked by putting pressure on the Sephardi Kashrut Authority.
In March, JW3 hosted a week of events, under the umbrella of GayW3, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act , which decriminalised gay sex. At the time, a banner advertising the GayW3 events, was defaced with the word “shame”.
In July, a group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis called for a boycott of the centre in protest at:
A programme of activities that in our view promotes a way of life which is in total contradiction to Orthodox Judaism.
Their letter cited a passage of the Torah:
A man who lies with a male as one would with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon themselves.
Last week, the rabbis repeated their call for a boycott in a second letter, believed to be prompted by an event to be held on Sunday by Imahot v’Avot, an organisation for LGBT Jewish families. The event is a celebration of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, which begins on 12 December, with music and crafts for young children.
Said Raymond Simonson, above, JW3’s Chief Executive.
JW3 is cross communal – it reaches every aspect of the Jewish community and outside the Jewish community. We work hard to build relationships with diverse groups and individuals. We’re trying to hold up a Jewish lens to the 21st century, and in particular a British-Jewish lens. And also we’re holding a 21st-century lens to Jewish life.
Simonson said JW3 had resisted pressure to cancel the event, saying the rabbis who signed the letter “represent just a very small, specific bit of the Jewish community”. The centre had received “overflowing support” from across the Jewish community, including from some Orthodox rabbis, he added.
The vast majority of British-Jewish communal leadership want to create tolerant spaces for people of all different backgrounds. It’s a changing world and we want to be open and inclusive – and we believe we’re reflecting mainstream Jewish opinion.
Ephraim Mirvis, Britain’s Chief Rabbi, was unavailable for comment, but after the GayW3 poster was defaced in March, he said homophobia was unacceptable and:
We must have zero tolerance for it.
Laura Janner-Klausner, the senior rabbi to Reform Judaism, said:
The Jewish community should be proud that we are a welcoming and inclusive place for LGBT individuals. The signatories of this latest letter do not appear to represent the majority of mainstream British Jewry.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn