Limmud is a pluralistic Jewish organization that organizes learning conferences for Jewish people all over the world. Limmud London is a very large gathering and for the first time ever, it is being attended by the new Chief Rabbi of England, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. This has set off a controversy. Many charedi rabbis have prohibited their constituents from attending Limmud and are urging Rabbi Mirvis to renege on his commitment to attend. A very important discussion within the Orthodox Jewish community has ensued.
Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo defends the position of the Chief Rabbi in the Jerusalem Post. His argument is mostly that Limmud is a tremendous opportunity to showcase the beauty of Orthodox Judaism to the world and instead of taking that opportunity, they have handed it off to non-Orthodox Jews. Jonathan Rosenblum defends the charedi position in an article on Cross-Currents. His argument can be summarized as a reaffirmation that attending events with non-Orthodox Jews is the wrong forum for teaching Torah. He bases this on two assumptions. One is that Limmud is not serious about learning because they have too many fluffy sessions like “50 Shades of Hummus” and a drumming workshop. The second assumption is that something bad will happen if Orthodox rabbis attend a pluralistic event. He does not mention this in his article, but it is the underlying assumption here. Without making this assumption, his argument about the forum not be serious enough is flailing in a soft breeze.
Rabbi Adlerstein adeptly attacks this assumption in his latest article on Cross-Currents.
The assumption is not necessarily based on facts, evidence, or reason. It is based on a rabbinic proclamation issued 58 years ago and signed by Hall of Fame Orthodox rabbis from the bridge generation between Europe and America. This proclamation declared that it was prohibited by the Law of the Torah to be a member of an organization of Orthodox and non-Orthodox rabbis. In turn, this edict has been interpreted and expanded by the Orthodox Jewish establishment to include any joint learning or activity that may seem to give tacit approval to non-Orthodox movements.
As only he can, Rabbi Adlerstein softly and respectfully suggests that perhaps it is time to revisit this assumption. He makes two arguments. First, the reason for the proclamation in 5716 was to address Jews on the fence between Orthodox and non-Orthoodox Judaism. In his opinion, this is no longer a valid concern.
I agree. In fact, there is no more fence. Now we have a Grand Canyons between us. The soft center is nearly gone. Rabbi Sacks lamented this in his controversial farewell address. It’s true. So there is hardly a concern that we are going to lose the soft middle to non-Orthodox movements if we acknowledge they exist.
Second, Rabbi Adlerstein seems to be saying that working together need not imply approval, tacit or otherwise. We are absolutely capable of engaging in a discussion while acknowledging our irreconcilable differences. We do it all the time in real life. We don’t only talk to people with whom we agree on everything. Somehow it works.
I agree with this as well. Rabbi Shubert Spero made this argument in the 1960’s. He was correct back then and Rabbi Adlerstein is correct today.
It’s possible that we can be a little more forceful that Rabbi Adlerstein. We actually have a responsibility to our shrinking non-Orthodox brethren to shine bright the light of passionate, compassionate, enlightening and enlightened Judaism. Non-Orthodox Judaism has kept many of our brothers and sisters in the fold. They are Jewish and religious in their own way thanks to Reform, Conservative, and the rest of them. For that we sincerely thank them. But many yearn for more. Not everyone that yearns for more will become Orthodox. Many of them would never attend a lecture that has Kiruv written all over it. But they will attend Limmud. They will attend other pluralistic events. That is our opportunity to inspire them.
There is no cost anymore. There is nothing to fear from showcasing our version of Judaism to more people, even if there is a drum circle 25 yards away. Nothing bad is going to happen. They are not the enemy. Our mutual enemy is leaving Judaism, God, and religion entirely. We are actually partners in that war. Let’s fight together.
The only reason we think something bad might happen is because we have a rabbinic edict telling us so.
But the truth is that the edict itself never prohibited a rabbi from speaking at Limmud or at a similar event. It merely prohibited membership to pluralistic organizations. We don’t need to violate the edict in order to participate! Why make the letter more broad than its words? It is shooting ourselves in the foot for no good reason. One can stay loyal to the Gedolim who signed the proclamation and speak at Limmud. They are not mutually exclusive.
We can debate the value of the rabbinic edict with regard to membership another time. Limmud is not membership. It is a speaking engagement. An amazing opportunity that I can only hope will inspire more rabbis to participate in a similar way in the future. We can pave the way for a time where all Jewish people can learn from one another. Yes, there are even some things that Orthodox Jews can learn from non-Orthodox Jews, despite Jonathan Rosenblum’s insistence to the contrary.
Never underestimate the power of unity. We can do great things together if we take a break from chasing demons from the last century.
Let My People Go to Limmud http://t.co/UvAkiieh44
— Eliyahu Fink (@efink) November 19, 2013