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Where have all the (US) rabbis gone?

    This is something I imagine I’d not be writing about again.

    But first some figures.

    Number of United Synagogue rabbis listed to speak in the Limmud UK conference programme:
    2013: 10
    2014: 9
    2015: 1

    For many years, whenever I went to Limmud, a member of a US congregation would complain to me about the dearth of US rabbis at the conference. There were, of course, a handful of perennial exceptions, who have always supported it such as Rabbis Michael Harris and Zvi Solomons. But overall, the US rabbinate maintained a near-boycott of the cross-communal event.

    That changed when the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis became the first Chief Rabbi to go there two years ago, clearing the way for other rabbis who had never been to accompany him.

    Now the US is down to a single rabbinical representative this year. Add three regional rabbis, a chaplain and two from the London School of Jewish Studies and that makes seven rabbis from British Orthodox institutions.

    As it happens, my impression is there are fewer British rabbis of any kind on the programme – but the local Orthodox are still considerably outnumbered by the non-Orthodox.

    The Chief Rabbi himself, who went again last year, will not be back for a third year because he is on a mission to India. But neither he nor the same group of rabbis can be expected to attend year in, year out.

    It has been suggested to me that the near-absence of US rabbis is not down to widespread religious objections. Rabbis want a winter break with their children, and some can’t afford the cost of going to Limmud.

    For all that, given that the US is the largest synagogue organisation in the country, one might expect it to be able to muster at least four to five of its rabbis each year. Not everyone goes for the full five days of conference any way – people often turn up for a day or two.

    If cost is a problem, congregations ought to subsidise their rabbi, and if it would help to improve numbers, then the United Synagogue and the Office of the Chief Rabbi should consider running a central bursary fund.

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