November 21, 2013

Limmud UK

The very first Limmud Conference was held at Carmel College in the UK during my time as principal. Alastair Falk, a teacher at Carmel, and some friends had been to a CAJE (Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education) in the USA and come back enthused by the range of participants, the enthusiasm, and the mood of commitment. Initially they thought only of replicating CAJE for teachers, but over time the concept expanded to become a forum for the study and experience of Jewish religious and cultural life. Over the years I have attended Limmud events. It now spans the Jewish world and brings together virtually the complete spectrum of Jewish life to celebrate Jewish culture, to study, to learn, and to debate.

The more successful Limmud became, the stronger the opposition from Charedi and not-so-Charedi rabbis in the UK. But why? Because Limmud commits the cardinal sin in UK Charedi eyes of welcoming all Jews regardless of denomination or degree of religiosity and gives everyone a platform. It is truly independent. It is not affiliated to any movement inside Judaism or out. Anyone who has something to say or teach can come and pitch his or her tent . So you might get a Reform teacher in one room and a Charedi teacher in the next. No one has to listen to anyone he does not want to and you can go right through Limmud attending every single hour of lectures and never hear one word of heresy. But yes, the opposite is true too. It’s a Jewish free for all. And UK religious authorities hate independence or anything they can’t control.

The Beth Din imposed a boycott that hitherto has succeeded in preventing most Orthodox rabbis in the UK from attending. They also reigned in any independent-minded rabbi who was unfortunate enough to be employed by the dominant and Orthodox institution of Anglo-Jewry, the United Synagogue. The previous Chief Rabbi Sacks, who was appointed on a much-trumpeted platform of inclusivity, lacked the fiber to stand up to the Right Wing. Not only did he not try to overrule what was, on paper at least, his court, but he betrayed his real constituency by refusing to go to Limmud, himself. Of course the former Chief Rabbi’s defenders have argued, with some justification, that his contribution to Jewry far outweighs his lapses. But genuine leadership is not just concerned with speaking and writing. It should involve action.

In Britain it is very rare for Orthodox and non-Orthodox rabbis to come together or to appear on a common platform. The official policy of the Beth Din is against any form of fraternization or cooperation. As if this will stop the drift towards assimilation. Barring gates never works. Strengthening and disseminating powerful values is what does, as the Baal Teshuva movements have shown. If you don’t like something, argue your case.

But Limmud is primarily for study. We, the people of the book, for whom study is probably the single most important factor in our survival, should welcome any opportunity to reach a wider Jewish audience. So what’s the issue? On paper it is the notion of recognition; if you invite other people with other ideologies you are “recognizing” the validity of their points of view. Strangely, this argument does not seem to apply to non-Jews. If a Chief Rabbi goes to Westminster Abbey to represent the community, is he thereby admitting that Christianity is right and Judaism is wrong? If a Chief Rabbi publicly debates with an atheist, is he thereby recognizing atheism? Of course not. But some on the right seem to think that if I attend a conference at which there are Reform rabbis, I am thereby accepting the validity of their ideology. We are more aggressive with internal schisms than we are with external threats. Freud put it beautifully as “the narcissism of little differences.” This is precisely why competing Chasidic dynasties engage in fisticuffs or why rabbis who back a different politician get beaten up.

Isn’t one of the successes of Chabad that they welcome and speak to and accept any Jew, regardless of affiliation? Does it mean that they are recognizing their different ideologies? If one has confidence in one’s own ideology, why not share it? Did the great proselytizers of our Talmudic past fear that talking to Pagans or Samaritans or Sadducees meant they recognized their points of view? Even the Mishna has rabbis teaching and working together with Sadducee priests who were not so different to Reform rabbis today. If there is a gathering of Jews eager and willing to learn, it is a scandal if Orthodox rabbis refuse an invitation to attend and a platform for their ideas.

The newly installed Chief Rabbi of the UK Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, to his great credit, has realized that he is not the Chief Rabbi of Bnei Brak, but of a broad Modern Orthodox and not so Orthodox community. He has declared he is going to attend. Good for him, and at last someone prepared to be true to his values. He was immediately and publicly attacked by the High and Mighty. Surprisingly, some other important rabbis not hitherto considered extreme, joined the nay chorus. At least Rabbi Mirvis has the guts to stand firm where others crumbled.

But what does this tell us about the Charedi world? It is one in which they resort to bully tactics to impose their point of view and one in which, ostrich-like, they think that if they bury their heads in the sand the problem will disappear.

The world of those committed to Torah and living it and studying it with passion is growing exponentially. But at the same time it is also facing a serious crisis. Latest figures show that while the employment rate amongst Orthodox Jews is 80%, amongst Charedi Jews it is 40%. What is the response of the leadership? To pretend there’s no problem. To go on insisting that any secular studies are against Torah, to bluster and ban and condemn.

There are millions of Jews out there eager for a passionate, Torah-imbued but reasonable and rational alternative. Most Jews are abandoning Judaism out of sheer ignorance. There are talented Charedi teachers who can show the depth and beauty of our tradition to Jews, regardless of denomination. But for reasons I cannot honestly fathom some rabbis still refuse to condone Jews going to Limmud to study.

Limmud is not an agency for according recognition. It is not a religious authority. It is simply a very successful forum for Jewish study and Jewish life of all sorts. There is not one good reason why any Jew should not go there to teach or to interact.

9 Comments:

At 9:41 AM , Blogger Jack Schuldenfrei said...

Well said, Jeremy. I agree with every word. Wish more Rabbonim would speak out like you.

 
At 3:54 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Jack
Lovely to hear from you. Brings back very many happy memories. Glad your still keeping the aspidistra flying. If you are ever in New York please get in touch.
Warmest regards
J

 
At 11:17 AM , Anonymous Rabbi C L D said...

Dear Rabbi Rosen,
Your comments on Charedim are totally misguided. Cheredim are absolutely dedicated to peace and fulfilling the word of G-d as stated in the Torah and interpreted by leading Torah leaders throughout the generations. They understand that attendance of a mixed denominational event is against the halacha, so have stated this. They love every Jew deeply and would welcome any Jew to visit them at outreach seninars, their shuls and their Shabbat tables. I read your Jewish press article in which you praise ex-orthodox Norman Solomon who denies that the whole Torah was given to Moses at Mount Sinai, like ex-orthodox Louis Jacobs. You three think you are cleverer than the Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, Rashi, Maimonides, Ibn Ezra, Nachmanides, Ralbag, Vilna Gaon, Malbim, Netziv, R' Samson Refael Hirsch, David Hoffman, R' Weinberg, R' Moshe Feinstein, R' Chaim Soloveitchik, R' J B Soloveitchik and all other Orthodox Rabbinic leaders of all times. You should be ashamed of yourselves and fearful of the Hell that awaits you if you do not repent. It is in my deep concern for every Jew that I urge you to repent so you will go to Heaven, where I am sure you would like to go. Until you do so, however, please do not present yourself as Orthodox. You are not Orthodox unless youi accept that the entire Torah was given at Mount Sinai. Otherwise, you can identify yourself as Conservative, Reform, Masorti, Progressive, Liberal or Reconstructionist. Withg prayerful greetings for your return to Orthodoxy.

 
At 2:02 PM , Anonymous Joseph Cohen said...

It seems rather arrogant for Rabbi Rosen to urge Orthodox rabbis in Britain to attend Limmud and by doing so, flout the halakhic directives of their most venerated rabbinic authorities. And why does he accuse the ultra-Orthodox of aiding assimilation when they have been at the forefront of the flourishing Baal Teshuva movement? Rosen surprisingly advocates a "free for all" Judaism, a concept that sounds more liberal than Orthodox.

Rosen has failed to grasp the motives behind Orthodox opposition to Limmud. It’s not about fears that a mere Orthodox presence would automatically legitimise or validate Reform theology. The danger stems from the fact that Limmud markets itself as a Jewish educational conference, a forum for the study of Judaism and Torah based philosophy. As such, the participation of Orthodox rabbis would give tacit consent and lend legitimacy to the Reform and Liberal clergy who also attend to teach about Judaism, surely something no Orthodox rabbi can consent to. While Christianity does not pretend to represent authentic Judaism, the non-Orthodox do. That is the cause for concern. It is because Limmud is synonymous with “learning about Judaism” which is the problem. Ultimately, the current arrangement indeed blurs the distinction between authentic and pseudo Judaism.

More troubling, Rosen is unfazed that sessions containing heresy are freely on offer. Is he not at all concerned that Jews, however strong they may be in their Orthodox convictions, are able with such ease to expose themselves to heretical views? Does he think people will now bother to pick out which sessions are treif when the whole event has been given the hechsher of the Chief Rabbi? Will the Chief Rabbi publicly instruct the assembled Orthodox participants not to attend lectures which heretically advocate alternative lifestyles? Will people who innocently joined an ambiguously titled talk by a non-affiliated speaker have the courage to walk out upon the onset of liberal propaganda, as obligated by halakha?

In the House of Commons (unlike at Limmud, which prides itself in remaining wholly non-partisan) it is acceptable that MPs from different political parties debate their variant opinions. In the parliamentary convergence of conflicting ideologies, not only are the party divisions physically distinct, the political debate more often than not consists of opposing parties mocking and de-legitimising each other’s opinions. Could such a thing occur at Limmud? I doubt any Labour leader would be invited to address the annual Tory party conference. That would be a sham. Yet that is precisely what Limmud sanctions by hosting Reform speakers who teach their form of Judaism – something Orthodoxy cannot tolerate. Just as political parties typically require members who voice dissenting views to "toe the parity line," to be considered part of Judaism, Orthodoxy views as imperative belief in the core fundamentals of the faith - something the non-Orthodox have rejected. Pluralism works when differing ideologies remain distinct, not when breakaway heterodox movements are able to operate under the same defining label, in this case "Judaism." Considering this, the fact that Rabbi Rosen feels Limmud is so compatible with his version of Orthodoxy brings his own credibility into question.

 
At 3:16 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Jospeh Cohen:
I no more approve of Reform positions on Judaism than you do. But where there is a chance to teach people Torah I truly belief we should take that opportunity. Particularly if the organization that runs the conference concerned declares itself to be independent and not the voice of any one denomination.
In my case I have gone to Christian debates in order to bring back lost Jewish souls to Yiddishkeit.

Its not that we say Shammai was wrong and Hillel was right on the way to approach non believers or even unbelievers. But we say both are right.

 
At 4:26 PM , Anonymous Joseph Cohen said...

But is that how we encourage Shmiras Hamitzvos, by bringing Orthodoxy down to the same level as the other bogus denominations, giving the impression that Orthodoxy is just as much Judaism as they are - that they fit within the same bracket? I am sure rabbis Gurwicz, Zimmerman and Ehrentreu are fully aware of the advantages of teaching Torah to the uninformed and have weighed up the pros and cons of doing so at Limmud. They have come to the conclusion that more harm is done by Orthodox rabbis attending. In times of doubt, pious Jews look to their leaders for guidance. In the times of Hillel and Shammai, divergent views could both be right. But since then the Halakah has been codified. We mostly pasken like Hillel, light your menorah like Shammi and you would not be yotze! Nowadays Jews are guided by those steeped in Talmudic knowledge and halakhic tradition. If you have recognised poskim who back Orthodox participation at Limmud, so be it. If not, Orthodox rabbis will be viewed as dissenters, mavericks who lack Emunas Chachomim, misguided in their approach to Kiruv Rechokim.

Why is this situation different from the Iranian Holocaust denial conference? Even though Neturei Karta attended to publicize the truth of the Nazi crimes, they were lambasted by all sections of the community for doing so. From your explanation it seems you also would have taken the opportunity to attend?

I would prefer if you carried on your good work strengthening and inspiring the Orthodox community without giving Reform the acknowledgement they so desperately crave.

 
At 7:20 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Joseph Cohen:

You are surely not comparing attending a conference of holocaust deniers committed to the destruction of Israel to the misguided theologies of Reform Judaism? Besides, the rabbis of the Mishna sat down with Tseduki heretics to discuss the Yom Kipur service.Why do you persist in claiming one is either recognizing or acknowledging anyone else? Whats your source for saying that teaching Torah on a non Jewish University campus where there are others present meanbs one is recognizing their views or their denominations? It just does not make sense.

Why is teaching ones point of view "bringing it down" in any way? Surely it is a mitzvah.

Of course any power group religious or otherwise likes to dismiss different opinions as heresy. Within the current Charedi world we have supporters of Rav Shteinman and Rav Oyerbach hurling insults at each other, calling each other cofrim and worse, setting up opposing parties. If Halacha is so black and white, how is this possible? If one is going to worry about what other people will say one will never have the guts to be honest to oneself.

We can argue for ever over who is a Gadol and whether your Rebbe is holier than mine. But this is an issue where there is no clear halachic ruling, just personal opinions that are not binding on Klall Yisroel.I have not seen an actual significant halachic source of any significance that says one cannot teach non religious Jews or Tinokot Shenishbeu. All we have are unsupported assertions. You can accept them if you want to. That is your right. I don't have to. We Jews do not believe in Papal Infallibility.

Neither do I accept the wider usage of Daat Torah that has become fashionable. When I asked my Rosh Yeshiva Rav Chayim Shmuelevitz ז"ל about the extent of Daat Torah he told me that it was confined to specified halachic matters not political ones. The rabbanim you mention are not my authorities and I see no reason why one should not be able to disagree with them as indeed I often have in the past with members of the London Beth Din.

 
At 7:24 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Rabbi C L D:
Thats so sweet of you to be so concerned about me. I must tell you that I am looking forward very much to meeting my Maker confident that I have followed His instructions to pursue justice, honesty and truth to the best of my ability. And if I have failed in any way I am happy to rely on His mercy rather than yours.
Jeremy

 
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