It was only a few hours old but Limmud was already showing it could accommodate everything from the kooky to the philosophical.
At the “Teshuvah of the Jedi” discussion, Rabbi Rick Brody led participants in a rendition of the Star Wars theme music. It was a light-hearted start but soon serious religious themes were being teased out.
Citing Genesis and the Cain and Abel story, the rabbi showed that just as the characters in Star Wars are engaged in an inner battle between the way of the Jedi and the “dark side,” Judaism also teaches us to “master” the dark side — the urge to sin.
Asked what inspired him to connect the sci-fi classic with Jewish teachings, Rabbi Brody said: “When I was a teenager I realised that the closest I could come to becoming a Jedi was being a rabbi.”
Elsewhere, Limmudniks were being advised that Jewish laws do not prohibit sex outside marriage.
Rabbinic student Daniel Lichman led a talk under the title “Sex and Halacha in the Age of Grindr”, which aimed to dispel the notion that Judaism cannot to speak to people who have sex outside wedlock.
Mr Lichman said: “Nowadays, with Grindr and Tinder dating apps on our phones, it’s never been easier to hook up with people. It is important to remember that halacha is still relevant.”
Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner welcomed the discussion. She said: “It is vital to find a language for sexual relations that is not so judgemental that people can’t hear it.”
Meanwhile, a Liberal rabbi was exploring how synagogues could survive in the face of the challenge of growing secularisation among British Jews and cultural alternatives such as the new London community centre JW3.
Shuls offered “vital elements” of community life that cultural programming lacked, argued Rabbi Aaron Goldstein.
At their heart was instilling a sense of responsibility and willingness to support others, he suggested. “For me, the nature of a shul engenders something that is more than a synagogue… it is more community-focused, which isn’t so worried if the synagogue is full for a religious service but if the synagogue is full of activities.”
Some participants argued that lack of belief in God was no bar to shul attendance.
“I have a friend who is an atheist who says he goes to synagogue because he enjoys the music and singing,” one woman ventured.
A visitor from California mused: “Judaism is a fabulous buffet. But in LA they see synagogues as a restaurant with just one item on the menu.”
And if the first day was too exciting for some, there was always, the “Ahava — Love Meditation” session, where participants were taught a range of relaxing techniques.
Sam Cowan certainly felt the benefit.“I was so het up when I arrived as there was nowhere to put my bags,” she said. “But what better way to start Limmud than with love?”