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Chasm emerges among Jewish community as Orthodox rabbis call for boycott of JW3 cultural centre in Hampstead

PUBLISHED: 13:31 24 July 2017 | UPDATED: 17:04 25 July 2017

The JW3 centre on Finchley Road is at the centre of a controversy over its alleged promotion of lifestyles 'condemned by the Torah'

The JW3 centre on Finchley Road is at the centre of a controversy over its alleged promotion of lifestyles 'condemned by the Torah'

© Blake Ezra Photography Ltd. 2014 www.blakeezraphotography.com +44 (0) 208 207 3966

Orthodox rabbis in St John’s Wood and Golders Green have called on their congregations to boycott Hampstead Jewish cultural centre JW3 in protest at the cultural centre’s promotion of ‘lifestyles and behaviours forbidden by the Torah’.

In a letter circulated among Orthodox Jews in the area, seven rabbis write that ‘members of our communities should distance themselves fully from JW3, and avoid visiting this centre’.

The letter refers to ‘a programme of activities that in our view promotes a way of life which is in total contradiction to Orthodox Judaism’. The rabbis invoke a passage of the Torah that states: “And 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.”

It is understood that the rabbis in mentioning this passage are taking exception to GayW3, a series of events at the Finchley Road centre in early March that explored LGBT issues within Judaism. The programme included talks and screenings of films with titles such as Sorry God, I’m Gay.

It is not clear why the rabbis have chosen to object some months after the completion of the programme; one of the signatories to the letter, Rabbi Mordechai Fhima of Anshei Shalom congregation in St John’s Wood, declined to comment when contacted by the Ham&High.

The other signatories include Rabbi Aaron Bassous of Beit Hamedrash Knesset Yechezkel in Golders Green, Rabbi Yisroel Greenberg of Munks Shul, also in Golders Green, and Rabbi Shimon Winegarten of the Bridge Lane Beth Hamedrash in Temple Fortune, as identified by the Jewish Chronicle. Two further signatories remain unidentified.

“We are of the strong opinion that a red line has been crossed in launching campaigns and initiatives that promote lifestyles and behaviours forbidden and condemned by the Torah,” the rabbis write in their letter.

“It is our opinion that JW3 has never promoted the upkeep of Halacha [Jewish religious law], the observance of Mitsvot [the commandments of God] and religious commitment, and as far as we are aware it does not provide any conference or seminars on religious education and Torah learning.”

JW3 CEO Raymond Simonson shrugged off the boycott, saying the centre focused on diversity and inclusiveness.

“These rabbis represent a tiny, tiny minority. They do not represent Orthodoxy,” Mr Simonson told the Ham&High. “At our most recent event we had everyone from an Orthodox rabbi’s wife to the non-Jewish Tory MP’s wife.”

He added that he had not been in contact with the rabbis who have called for the boycott, but invited them to JW3 to discuss any issues they had,

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