Limmud row deepens after ‘aberration’ slur

An outspoken attack on Limmud by one of the candidates for chief rabbi this week reignited the furore over Orthodox participation in next month’s cross-communal conference.

Rabbi Alan Kimche, in an article sent to congregants at his Ner Israel Synagogue, claimed that Limmud “celebrates a rejection of all that is precious to Orthodox Judaism”.

His broadside — which came only days after the head of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations issued an anti-Limmud statement — in turn provoked a flurry of online declarations of support for the education organisation, including one from the son of former chief rabbi Lord Sacks.

In one blog posted in reply to Rabbi Kimche, Rabbi Michael Harris of Hampstead United Synagogue, wrote: “It is hard to escape the feeling that we in the Orthodox rabbinate have let our community down in recent weeks, and frankly it is hard not to feel shame and distress at what has occurred. I look forward to learning and teaching at this year’s Limmud.”

The uproar over Limmud followed the decision in October by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis to become the first serving chief rabbi to attend the event.

In his article, Rabbi Kimche contended that Limmud-goers were largely being taught an “aberration of Judaism”, which was seen as sanctioned by the presence of Orthodox rabbis.

He also claimed that the conference offered an imbalanced agenda on Israel fuelled by left-wing organisations, and advocated lesbian and gay lifestyles which ran counter to Orthodox values.

Limmud, he said, should be called the “‘Limmud conference of Progressive Judaism’ and leave the Orthodox rabbinate out of it.”

Rabbi Kimche told the JC that he had intervened simply to advise members of his own, independent Orthodox community who might think of going to Limmud. “The fact that the chief rabbi never went was for me always a statement that the Orthodox rabbinate had reservations about it. That was sufficient for me,” he explained.

But the chief rabbi’s participation this year could now be “misinterpreted as a hechsher [kosher certificate]” for the event, he said.

Rabbi Kimche acknowledged that he might consider going himself, but only if a clear distinction were made between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Judaism in the conference programme.

“I have suggested, and it has been mooted in the past, that Limmud maybe dedicate one day out of the five days to Orthodox Judaism — or one morning or one afternoon. Under those circumstances, I would reconsider,” he said.

In a riposte, Josh Sacks — the Limmud-going son of Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks — said that Rabbi Kimche’s article “set a new standard for inappropriate responses” to Limmud.

At the conference, he said, “you feel like part of the Jewish people, not just part of a Hendon clique”.

The head of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, Rabbi Ephraim Padwa also waded into the row, recalling the Orthodox war on “Reform” in a statement against Limmud published in the Charedi press.

He coupled his remarks with warnings of breaches in Orthodox piety within the United Synagogue — although avoiding mention of it by name — which he said represented a “whiff of Reform”.

Limmud organisers declined comment on the dispute.

A United Synagogue source predicted that there would be “the biggest ever showing” of central Orthodox rabbis from the UK at the event.

Last updated: 12:52pm, November 14 2013