How Limmud row turned Chief Rabbi into a political pawn

How Limmud row turned Chief Rabbi into a political pawn

By Brian GORDON, Conservative Councillor, Barnet.

Brian Gordon

THE NEW Chief Rabbi’s decision to attend the Limmud conference comes as no surprise. It is an open secret that Rabbi Mirvis had no real option in the matter.

The United Synagogue’s selectors made participation in the event a pre-requisite of the appointment, so it was basically a case of Limmud or no job.

If the Chief Rabbi had been selected by the rabbis themselves rather than the wide hotchpotch of lay activists who comprised the selection committee, I am sure the situation would have been different. Rabbi Mirvis would probably have been the choice in any event – and deservedly so – but the criteria for his appointment would have been more religious in nature.

Limmud attendance would have been well down the agenda, if not completely off. Whatever posture Rabbi Mirvis may publicly adopt, I cannot believe that in his heart he wanted to accept the Limmud invitation.

He well knows that the London Beth Din, of which he is now officially head, previously prohibited rabbinical participation due to the active presence, on an equal basis, of non-Orthodox clergy – causing serious halachic issues.

He knows that his predecessor held the line against his own attendance. Rabbi Mirvis also knew, well before he assumed office, that the Charedi rabbinate would denounce his participation at such a theologically-confused event. Indeed this has happened – somewhat obliquely, but in no uncertain terms.

Rabbi Mirvis is an experienced community minister, with a deep sense of spiritual responsibility. He is also an accomplished Torah scholar. He is acutely conscious that there is only one real factor that has sustained the Jewish people throughout the ages – namely adherence to Orthodox doctrines.

He knows that the Jewish faith is not a popular democracy based on trends. Nor is it an ice-cream parlour, where customers can pick and mix the mitzvah flavours that suit them and reject those that don’t.

Most people realise that the argument about Limmud is one more of symbolism than substance. It is a controversy stirred up largely by certain elements of the secular Jewish press and the Reform Movement to promote their respective agendas.

The former will stop at nothing in its efforts to split the Orthodox community, to try to drive the left-wing of the United Synagogue into the non-Orthodox camp. The latter has a deep-rooted complex, desperate for “official” recognition as an authentic synagogue movement.

Both lobbies will rush to interpret Rabbi Mirvis’ presence at Limmud as a signal that the reformers have finally “arrived”. By the pressures they have applied, the United Synagogue selectors have effectively played into their hands. The fact is that without the said symbolism, Limmud is a pretty insignificant sideshow in the Anglo-Jewish calendar.

Yes, its conference attracts a large attendance. However, apart from being an intellectually-stimulating event, with plenty of razzmatazz, how many participants really become more observant as a consequence, even by non-Orthodox standards? Precious few, I would suggest.

The event hardly merits the immense media attention it receives. Contrasted with Limmud, consider the organisations that really do succeed in attracting people to authentic Judaism. Seed, Aish, Lubavitch, Jewish Learning Exchange, Tribe – these are just some of the names that come to mind.

Thousands of lives have been transformed by those genuine kiruv (outreach) movements. They are run predominantly by strictly Orthodox rabbis and educators who are steadfast in their adherence to halacha, and open-minded and welcoming to individuals from all backgrounds.

They are the organisations that really make a difference. And as demographic statistics continually show, the future strength of Anglo-Jewry lies fairly and squarely with the Orthodox camp.

Rabbi Mirvis should be given the benefit of the doubt. I believe he is a pawn in a larger tactical game that has been orchestrated for years, awaiting Lord Sacks’ retirement.

It is to be hoped Rabbi Mirvis’ attendance will be perceived as an exceptional act of unavoidable expediency, not to be emulated by colleagues free of the political pressures and constraints to which the Chief Rabbi is unfortunately subject.

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