by Jack Mendel

Limmud may make people feel good, thrashing out controversial topics in civilised discussion, but what does it achieve when so many of us slip back into our daily routines and habits after. 

Over the past few days the range of speakers that gathered in Birmingham has been staggering. Orthodox and progressive, left and right, Jewish and non-Jewish, and of course, young and old. 

On offer, are topics as diverse as sexual abuse in the Jewish community, to the types of vodka from Ukraine. 

Whatever you’re interested in, there is something you can indulge in. 

It’s at first overwhelming. All this choice, all this expertise on offer.

Before you realise, that some of these things are simply one-off’s, whilst others are just playing out familiar arguments that happen all year round. 

I’ve only been twice, but from my short experience there are broadly two types of Limmud-nik.

One, is the Limud-nik that goes to things they don’t know about to find out something new. 

The other, is the Limmud-nik that goes to something they do know about to argue about it. 

In both instances, they come away with relatively little, because either they rarely follow it up afterwards, or they have just reinforced existing views. 

There’s nothing wrong with Limmud. It’s not damaging or harmful. But it’s almost like an intellectual one-night-stand. 

You can go to something, and not only never have to engage with it again, at least until next year, but be comfortable with the fact that someone is doing that work for you.

Someone else is researching sexual abuse in the Haredi community. Someone else is producing reports on the price of living a kosher life. Someone else is fleshing out the halachic complexities of being Jewish in space. 

And then everyone leaves. 

Everyone goes back to London, to Manchester, to America, Israel, or any of the 28 countries that were represented this year. 

Whereas one can appreciate the value of hearing new things, meeting new people, arguing, discussing and challenging oneself, nothing really happens afterwards.

The atmosphere in which things are discussed is in a bubble.

It’s safe and inclusive almost to the extent that it is insulated from ever actually influencing anything.

Whatever is said at Limmud, stays at Limmud.  

Everyone gathers for a week to socialise, to eat and drink, and binge on new and old things, and then go back to normal. 

This doesn’t happen on a more localised level, or on a regular basis.

Although there are day Limmuds and Limmud in the Woods for example; the flagship event for the masses, is very much a one off. 

Long may it continue, but let’s not make it something it’s not.