Orthodox participation? Don’t just count the rabbis
Numbers may have dipped, but they will recover, says one frum Limmudnik
I’VE BEEN going to Limmud for over 20 years. My first time was a bit of a shock — such a range of people and sessions, such a passion for learning, such a joy at “doing Jewish”. I was hooked.
Limmud is a novel take on the Yarchei Kallah, an ancient Jewish institution. It was a bi-annual study convention for Jewish scholars in Babylon. In various forms it has continued to the present day.
With such a variety of Jewish learning, Limmud surely realises the aim of the Yarchei Kallah: to ensure that, as the Midrash says, the Torah “would never be forgotten by Jews and their descendants until the end of time”.
Limmud values what really matters to me — being together as a community, respecting difference, studying our great texts day and night, arguing for the sake of heaven, learning about our history and culture, volunteering to help others, deepening our connection to Israel, and facing up to communal problems such as decrying abusive policies and people.
The buzz of all this is what brings me back year after year.
The truth is that there have always been plenty of great Orthodox rabbis from around the world at Limmud, just not so many from the UK. This was due to worries about “legitimacy” and “sharing platforms”.
Over the years, however, with the growth of Limmud, a burgeoning Orthodox attendance, a sustained atmosphere of respect, and the realisation that people really are able to understand and judge religious differences for themselves, things have changed. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis led the way in 2013, and many United Synagogue rabbis came along too.
That’s why many people were surprised this year that so few US rabbis were there. But to my mind it’s just a blip. I know many communal rabbis, from all different denominations, who find coming to Limmud difficult. It can be a busman’s holiday and it’s not cheap. Rabbis need some downtime too, away from the crowds. Limmud organisers do make an effort to accommodate rabbis, but I think more could be done.
Some, though, are committed. My friend, Rabbi Dov Kaplan of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue says he feels “professionally obligated” to go where his congregants are. “Personally I find it exciting sitting as a pupil. I plan to be back there next year,” he adds.
It is a shame that this issue is so rabbi-focused. Orthodox communal leadership takes multiple forms and is well-represented at Limmud every year.
Fault-finders are also overly malefocused. There are numerous knowledgeable and inspiring women who are leaders and educators in today’s United Synagogue communities.
Indeed, many were trained on the LSJS Susi Bradfield programme. And many gave sessions at this year’s Limmud, including Doreen Samuels (a US trustee), Maureen Kendler (an LSJS teaching Fellow) and Nicky Goldman (executive director of Lead), to name just a few. So let’s laud them and not always focus on counting men with rabbinic ordination.
My father often quotes the saying from Proverbs, Berov am hadrat melech. It means: “Amid a multitude of people, the king is glorified”. The Talmud explains that the king is God and that a large Jewish gathering is holy because it can honour the integrity, joy and wonder bound up in God’s name. For me, that’s Limmud. Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum is the dean of London School of Jewish Studies. More Limmud comment, p42
Critics who say the observant wing
Itcanbea busman’s holiday, and it’s not cheap.And rabbisdoneed downtime