By Simon Rocker
January 6, 2014
The Gateshead Rav, Rabbi Shraga Faivel Zimmerman, has returned to the question of Limmud, in an article in last week’s edition of the Orthodox weekly, the Jewish Tribune.
Rabbi Zimmerman, you may remember, was one of the signatories of an open letter in October which condemned Orthodox participation in the cross-communal conference following the decision of Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to go there.
The release of the letter brought a furious riposte from Jewish Leadership Council chairman Mick Davis and other community who denounced it as “a shocking failure of leadership”.
The letter's target, Zimmerman explained, had been Jews living “on the fringes of Orthodoxy” who might think of going to the conference – Jews who still define themselves as Orthodox even if they are “not committed to anything at all.”
(That was why the letter had been drafted in English – a standard of English which, he confided, “could be considered a little bit above that of those who went through the school system here in Gateshead”).
Here is an extract of what he said in the Tribune (which was based on an address he gave in Gateshead): “Torah Judaism isn’t a product that can be sold one amongst others as on a supermarket shelf. The idea of pluralism and the idea of Limmud has been to establish Orthodoxy as one of many choices.
“In that idea there is a Judaism which believes in a Divine Torah. There is a Judaism that believes that belives that the written law is Divine and the oral law isn’t. Then there is a Judaism where neither Torah nor G-d exists and these are all equal ideas and one is free to pick and choose what’s best for him.
“In fact, the roll call of lectures at the Limmud programme seems to include it like a list of phone options. For Authentic Torah press one. For Written Torah that is Divine but not oral law, press two. For written and oral Torah that’s not Divine press option three. For pro-Palestinian demonstrations press four, and if you want to dance at a disco party in your pyjamas press option five.
“By treating Torah as such they are debasing Torah, not promoting it.”
Some argue that if Orthodox rabbis went, they would be able to reach out to those “at the far end of Orthodoxy.” But that was a fallacy, he contended: Outreach could only work in an environment where one didn’t “belittle” Torah.
“In an arena where Torah is defamed,” he said, “where it is equated to non-belief, then the spark of Torah won’t be able to light up anything. I’ve met many people who became religious as a result of attending a Torah seminar. There aren’t many reports of people who came back from Limmud with a determination to became more religious, to commit to practising more.”
Whether you agree or not, this is as clear an exposition of Orthodox opposition to Limmud as you are likely to get. The intervention by Rabbi Zimmerman and his colleagues almost certainly helped to dissuade some rabbis from going –but as for its impact ordinary synagogue members, the record numbers at Limmud suggest a different story.
(PS The pyjamas disco referred to I believe took place at a previous Limmud - for the under-9s!)