Ask The Rabbi – 21/11/2013

Ask The Rabbi – 21/11/2013

Dear Rabbi,

The Limmud controversy doesn’t seem to be going away. There is a split among leading Orthodox rabbis as to whether it is right or wrong to attend this annual event. How can there be such diverse opinion on the matter within the same ranks?




Dear Raphi,

As the Limmud saga rears its head again, a number of quetions swirl through my mind: 1) If Chief Rabbi Mirvis is going to Limmud out of true conviction, why has he refrained from doing so until now? 2) If Emeritus Chief Rabbi Sacks truly believed it was fine to go, and advised some of his rabbis, myself included, to do so, why hasn’t he ever attended? 3) Would Limmud entertain a session by the Kabbalah Centre or Jews for Jesus?

And if not, why not? Before attempting to offer a knee-jerk reaction to these questions, it’s worth considering them to determine what is at the core of all the controversy. To offer some classic Talmudic analysis, there is the essence of Limmud per se, and there are the individuals involved.

Limmud in and of itself is all its proponents argue; a market- place of diverse learning opportunities, a potpourri of Jewish thought and culture – a pick-and-mix of diverse ideas. To have, as I have argued previously, a large percentage of United Synagogue attendees and deny them an Orthodox flavour to pick from doesn’t make sense.

And of course, if “outreach” is the modus operandi of the United Synagogue Rabbinate, where better an opportunity than at Limmud? If KLBD (the London Beth Din kosher licensing department) were offered an opportunity to promote kosher food at a food fair that would also be presenting other, non-kosher, stalls, would it go? I think it would.

That is the fundamental basis for those arguing in favour of Limmud. Then there are the people involved. By this I do not mean the many wonderful organisers or presenters, but other movers and shakers in the wider Anglo-Jewish community for whom pluralism is central to their agenda. I maintain there are those who use Limmud to promote their own political cause.

Take for example the one Reform activist who said he wants more of a United Synagogue presence in order to undercut the concerted Masorti presence, which he deems a direct threat to his own organisation. Or the Masorti layman who was overheard saying he wanted an opportunity to stage a debate between United Synagogue and Masorti representatives.

It is precisely those who have politicised Limmud who have sewn suspicion and made some within Orthodoxy react as they have. It is precisely because of this, I believe, that Chief Rabbi Sacks was reluctant to attend.

He didn’t want to feed into those who may use Lim- mud as their own political football. It is also precisely because of this Chief Rabbi Mirvis is choosing to be there. He made transcending politics part of his mission statement even as he will never cross the theological divide. But while the sole purpose of his attendance is to educate, there will be those who would like to construe it as something it is not. Essentially it is those people who are the problem, not Limmud.

Constraints in this column prevent me from elaborating, so see my blog for more.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

A member of my small community always runs out before the end of the morning service, leaving us one man short for kaddish. What should I do?




Dear Richard,

Talking to him is always a great starting point. Maybe he doesn’t realise he is needed. Perhaps the one required to say Kaddish should explain to him why he needs him. Maybe emphasise the point made by Jewish law that one who helps with a quorum merits long life.

Failing that, tie him down or consider a ball and chain.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

I’m going on a cruise in January. It leaves on a Thursday. A friend says I’m not allowed to be on a ship that leaves just before Shabbat.





Dear Hazel,

Not entirely so. The Talmud states it’s forbidden to set sail within three days of Shabbat. The commentaries offer many explanations for this rabbinic prohibition. The Code of Jewish Law cites the reason offered by Maimonides, that there is a concern one might become seasick and this will interfere with the celebration of Shabbat. It generally takes three days to get your ‘sea legs’.

The Talmud, however, permits one to leave on a ship even within three days if one is travelling for the purpose of a mitzvah. Some suggest that travelling for business or to visit friends and family is considered a mitzvah, because business brings in money, with which you can give charity, and visiting friends strengthens bonds of love and friendship.

Authorities also argue ships today are far more stable and motion sickness is less likely, thus it is permitted to travel on such a ship within three days of Shabbat. So your cruise plan is on ‘solid ground’. Just don’t rock the boat![divider]

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