By Simon Rocker
December 17, 2013
Limmud’s decision late in the day to drop a speaker from the London Kabbalah Centre, following outrage over his scheduled appearance at next week’s conference, has prompted debate over the limits of inclusion.
Personally, I believe Limmud’s decision was right. Not least, because Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has already taken enough flak from the religious right for his willingness to go to the event. And although he was not directly involved in the Kabbalah Centre controversy, he would inevitably have been sucked into it. This was not the year to have a representative from the centre there.
Critics of the Kabbalah Centre internationally have attacked both its methods and content. Judging from the online Q and A of the London branch, Kabbalah is presented as distinct from Judaism, and Judaism appears even incidental.
But I have heard people argue that rather than denounce the centre, it would be more appropriate to find out what it does that continues to attract people, since despite the adverse publicity over the years, some Jews are still drawn through its doors.
But the question remains how does one police the borders of acceptability at such an event: who’s in and who’s out. Take Messianic Jews, for example. They would be widely regarded as beyond the pale. But recent scholarship suggests that the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity in the early years were more fluid than we like to think – so are Messianic Jews, or at least some, of them reclaimers of a lost heritage?
Perhaps the Limmud organisers could timetable a forum at the conference to discuss the issues surrounding the cancellation of the Kabbalah Centre speaker.
In the meantime, there’s a session at the conference on Sunday from Tel Aviv University academic Tomer Persico to discuss the whole phenomenon of contemporary “neo-Kabbalah”.