Boycotting Limmud failed. So why again with JCoSS?

The Orthodox establishment should follow the lead of their American counterparts and embrace JCoSS

By Miriam Shaviv, May 21, 2009

Certain generals, it is said, always fight the last war — using the tactics that provided victory in the past in order to fight new battles, even when completely inappropriate. But our United Synagogue rabbis are blundering even further — fighting the last war, even though it was one they lost.

As reported in last week’s JC, the rabbis are worried about the impact of the new cross-communal day school, JCoSS, due to open in September 2010. Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, chairman of the US Rabbinical Council, told his colleagues that the school “is not an option for anyone seeking to give their child a Jewish education in keeping with the [US] ethos. We further recognise the need to do more to promote the many wonderful Orthodox Jewish schools in our community.”

Another rabbi said that his peers “are keen to avoid bad feeling that might drive people into the arms of the school,” so will “play it low-key.”

It is time the rabbis faced facts.

First, the existence of JCoSS is the fault of their own Orthodox establishment. JCoSS would never have come about had it not been for the behaviour of the US, which excludes certain members of the community from its schools. Was it really worth keeping three kids out of JFS if, as a result, 1,000 or more go to JCoSS?

Another factor was the quality of the Jewish education the schools offered, which many on the more liberal end of the spectrum perceive to be unnecessarily narrow, and many others consider to be of poor quality.

Second, JCoSS is here to stay. No amount of wishful thinking will change this.

And third, given all this, the correct response to JCoSS is not to fight it, but to embrace it. JCoSS’s mandate is as a cross-community school — bringing together all sections of the community. Hundreds of children, mostly fully halachically Jewish, will be attending, whether the US likes it or not. In America, Orthodox rabbis are integral parts of community schools — and the Orthodox world has not collapsed. Rather, thousands of children have been exposed to Orthodox influences. So who exactly do the US rabbis think they will be hurting by boycotting JCoSS, other than themselves? (This, incidentally, works both ways — the Progressive movements must be committed to a genuinely cross-communal school and not just pay lip service to it.)

We have been here before. For years, most US rabbis refrained from attending Limmud, thereby hoping to discredit the annual conference, and render it beyond the pale for their congregants. But there are plenty of Orthodox participants at Limmud, and plenty of Orthodox lecturers, including many rabbis from overseas. The US rabbinical boycott of Limmud — just like their ongoing boycott of all things non-Orthodox — has accomplished nothing, other than to remove themselves from Anglo-Jewry’s most successful programme, and to lose the opportunity to influence thousands of interested Jews.

Everyone but the rabbis acknowledges that they lost this war long ago. And yet here they are, replicating their failed tactics against JCoSS. For their own good, it is time to drop the passive-aggressive attitude and abandon battle plans. They just don’t work.

Last updated: 2:21pm, May 21 2009