A record 3,000 people attended this year’s Limmud conference, where sessions included an eclectic mix of everything from Gerald Kaufman being branded “a disgrace” and the powerful testimony of a child sex-abuse campaigner to the argument for women’s ordination from the first female Orthodox rabbi and criticism against Israeli military occupation, writes Jack Mendel.
More than 1,200 sessions took place at the cross-communal conference on Jewish learning, held this year for the first time at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole and attracting a crowd of all ages, from as young as nine months to veteran “Limmudniks” in their 90s.
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, senior rabbi to Reform Judaism, described the event, the 35th Limmud conference, as “glorious”.
She added: “As always, this is a glorious experience of British Jewry at its best. A wide spectrum of Jews learning together, enjoying each other’s company and being cared for by an outstanding model of volunteering.”
Her comments came as Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, spoke out against the lack of representation from United Synagogue rabbis, calling their absence “institutional cowardice”.
He added that Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who is currently away on an official visit to India, brought “erudition and warmth” to Limmud when he attended in 2013 and 2014.
In a column written for Jewish News, Rich said: “The failure of the United Synagogue rabbinate to engage with Limmud is a disappointment to its own adherents and a sadness to those who believe that learning comes from variety not uniformity.”
However, a spokesman for the United Synagogue flatly denied this was the case and said: “His rather odd analysis is based on a demonstrably false assumption.”
Keynote speakers included Labour MP John Mann, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, who condemned his fellow Labour colleague Gerald Kaufman for his recent comments pertaining to “Jewish money”.
Mann said the MP for Manchester Gorton was “a disgrace to parliament, a disgrace to the Labour Party”. Elsewhere, Manny Waks, who blew the whistle on the sexual abuse of Orthodox schoolchildren in Australia having been a victim himself, revealed he will meet Chief Rabbi Mirvis in the new year to discuss his global campaign against the problem.
Female ordination was also on the agenda as Lila Kagedan spoke out about her experience since becoming the first Orthodox woman in North America to take the title of rabbi. Kagedan was ordained at the women’s seminary Yeshivat Maharat in New York earlier this year, but has not been officially recognised by the mainstream Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America.
Meanwhile, there was standing room only during a session with Breaking the Silence, a non-profit organisation of veteran soldiers who are critical of the Israeli military occupation in the West Bank. Limmud also welcomed acting Israeli ambassador Eitan Na’eh, who has taken on the role since the departure of Daniel Taub.