It is difficult to think of a more crass, ill-judged and ultimately self-defeating intervention in a communal issue than the statement issued last week by a group of seven strictly-Orthodox rabbis. The issue of the Chief Rabbi’s attendance at Limmud is long running. To the disappointment of many, Lord Sacks chose not to attend. There was a widespread expectation that his successor would take a different approach and that proved to be the case almost immediately upon his taking office.
But while mainstream opinion clearly supports Rabbi Mirvis’ decision — more than that, there has been a groundswell of delight at it — there is a strand of Charedi opinion that is irreconcilable. They are fully entitled to their view and to argue that those rabbis who do attend are making a mistake. They are equally entitled to make their views public.
But the statement from Dayan Ehrentreu and his colleagues attacking Rabbi Mirvis is so hideously worded and contemptuous of those who take a different view that it has no place in any serious discussion of the issue. It is not the language of debate — the Jewish way — but of insult. Branding all other Jews as ‘pseudo-Jews’ is simply bigotry.
Their choice of words and method of communicating their view have, however, had one positive outcome. The statement has managed the previously near-impossible feat of uniting almost every Liberal, Reform, Masorti and United synagogue and rabbi — even some of those United rabbis who still have their doubts about Limmud, but who cannot accept that accusing anyone who attends Limmud of causing “tragic consequences for Anglo-Jewry” is a legitimate way of debating the decision. So the signatories to the statement have scored a decisive own goal.
As for the Chief Rabbi: simply by saying nothing and behaving with the dignity that is his stock in trade, Rabbi Mirvis has shown with stark clarity the difference between his own approach and that of his critics.