Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has spoken of his delight at experiencing “wonderful sense of togetherness and a deep thirst for knowledge” at the Limmud 2013 conference.
When he arrived to speak, the packed lecture hall greeted Rabbi Mirvis with rapturous applause, and his speech also prompted a standing ovation.
“Here at Limmud you can’t escape the fact that it’s great to be Jewish and I’m delighted to be a part of it. We as a nation should always extend our love and kindness,” he said.
He also said he had seen "amazing acts of selfless volunteering".
After these brief introductory remarks, the Chief Rabbi presented an in-depth commentary on Exodus chapter two, the Torah portion for the week.
He also drew lessons from the early years of Moses, saying: "Ego stands in the way of great leadership and that's why Moses reached the highest possible level."
While Jews should be committed to their own people, he said, they should also have "universalistic ideals" and not exist in “self-imposed ghettos away from other peoples of the world."
One of those impressed by the Chief Rabbi’s inaugural address to Limmud was Bryan Slater, a 61-year-old legal adviser who is a member of the Whitefield United Synagogue in Manchester.
“I think amongst all the pressure and venom he received from the Charedim and the fact his predecessor never came is testament to the great quality of our new Chief Rabbi,” said Mr Slater.
“It doesn’t matter what he said, the point is he came, but I think some of his comments were a real swipe at the [intolerance] of the Orthodox and the Charedim.
“I am uplifted by the Chief Rabbi coming to this wonderful institution. He’s got real courage coming here, especially so soon after his nomination,” he said.
But Antony Cohen, 59, a Jewellery wholesaler also from Manchester and former Yeshivah student, was more critical of Rabbi Mirvis’s speech.
“I was struck by the lack of precision in the way he was talking,” said Mr Cohen.
“At times there was a total contradiction in the things he said and there was no attempt to even acknowledge it.
“I think [Rabbi Mirvis] has a more heart-oriented approach, which is what we need right now. But I don’t think he can reconcile this emotional compassion to others with the dictates of the halachah which I think is intrinsically bigoted. The real problem is with the halachah,” he said.