Limmud backlash over visit by Chief

The first major conflict of the new Chief Rabbi’s tenure erupted this week over his decision to attend the Limmud education conference in December.

More than 20 communal leaders have written to the JC attacking last week’s public condemnation of Chief Rabbi Mirvis by strictly Orthodox rabbis.

The group of seven Charedi rabbis who included the former head of the London Beth Din, Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu, said that God-fearing Jews should avoid “Limmud or similar organisations”.

Their statement condemned anyone who attended Limmud for blurring “the distinction between authentic Judaism and pseudo-Judaism”. Attendance would “bring about tragic consequences for Anglo Jewry”.

Although they did not refer to Rabbi Mirvis by name, their action was widely seen as a direct criticism.

A spokesman for the chief rabbi responded to the attack by saying that Rabbi Mirvis was “disappointed” with the statement and “disagreed with its contents”.

But the row deepened this week when communal figures, including Jewish Leadership Council chairman Mick Davis, Board president Vivian Wineman and United Synagogue president Stephen Pack, wrote to the JC to say that the statement by Dayan Ehrentreu showed “a shocking failure of leadership”.

They insisted the chief rabbi’s presence at Limmud should be “warmly welcomed and not the subject of misplaced and disrespectful criticism”.

The attack “has the potential to cause great harm to our community and appears to be rooted in tactical power play, as opposed to religious principle”.

United Synagogue rabbis and their regional Orthodox colleagues now say there is a deep split over this latest controversy to erupt over Limmud, with some saying that they have been put in a “difficult” position.

At least one respected Orthodox rabbi, Dayan Yitzchak Berger, the head of the Manchester Beth Din, is understood to have declined to sign the anti-Limmud statement.

Rabbi Chaim Kanterovitz, of Manchester’s Yeshurun Synagogue, said that Dayan Ehrentreu remained “very influential among the rabbis. As long as he is against it, there is going to be a significant proportion of rabbis who won’t go.”

Although Limmud had achieved “amazing things,” Rabbi Kanterovitz felt “uncomfortable with the idea [of going]. I don’t like its pluralistic side.”

Another northern rabbi, Daniel Levy, of the United Hebrew Congregation, Leeds, said that although he had been to Limmud many years ago, he would not do so now.

Rabbi Baruch Davis, the chairman of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue, said that “we offer the chief rabbi all our support, but we feel that public statements are unhelpful.”

One US rabbi said that his colleagues were “split”. He said it has “become a stark question of ‘go or not go’. That puts a number of people in a difficult position, if there is pressure from their community to follow the chief rabbi but pressure from another source not to go to Limmud.”

Rabbi Michael Harris of Hampstead Synagogue – who in 1995 was the lone US rabbi to brave the Beth Din’s opposition and go to Limmud – said the latest events underlined the “courageous nature” of Rabbi Mirvis’s decision to go and “can only strengthen him in the eyes of the mainstream community of all denominations”.

Rabbi Mirvis announced last month his intention to be the first serving chief rabbi to go to Limmud in December. His predecessor, Lord Sacks, had avoided the conference during his term of office because of the opposition of the London Beth Din, headed by Dayan Ehrentreu until 2006.

See the communal letter to the JC in support of Chief Rabbi Mirvis (edited version)

Last updated: 2:51pm, October 17 2013