A range of events at Limmud to make a song and dance about


While Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’s talks will be historic as the first given by an Orthodox Chief Rabbi at the event, and other big Jewish names such as Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky will be speaking, there is no hierarchy at Limmud.

There are no keynote speakers or highlighted sessions: the programme makes no distinction between world experts and young amateurs giving a debut presentation.

From breakfast yoga to midnight rock, participants can choose from up to a couple of dozen sessions offered in any one slot, running the gamut of Jewish experience from archaeology to Zionism.


New Yesh Atid MK Dov Lipman and former Israeli government spokesman Miri Eisen are among a large cast of guest speakers from Israel. Sessions will cover a host of issues, including African refugees, the peace process and the Women of the Wall. Verbal fireworks are likely at a panel discussion featuring veteran settler activist Yisrael Medad and a member of the anti-occupation soldiers’ group, Breaking the Silence.


Are rabbis relevant in the internet age? What does it mean to be a Zionist in the 21st century? How far are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender Jews accepted when same-sex marriage is increasingly being introduced in Western societies? Just a few of the issues on the table.


Limmud has a record of attracting the world’s top rabbis and religious scholars to lead study of the Bible, Talmud and other Jewish texts. Among those at Warwick this year are the Conservative Rabbi David Wolpe — voted as Newsweek’s most influential American rabbi last year — Israeli modern Orthodox yeshivah head Rabbi Yuval Cherlow and Orthodox Bible scholar James Kugel.


Limmud would not be Limmud without a few off-the-wall sessions. There’s a group of sci-fi sessions looking at the Jewish sub-text of Dr Who and Star Trek, with titles such as “The teshuvah of the Jedi”, and an investigation into whether cartoon hero Bugs is a semitic bunny.


Are there better ways to celebrate Shabbat? Does the religious definition of charity only encompass aid to the poor? Environmentalism, euthanasia and defamation in the media (examined by a member of the Israeli press council) are some of the other subjects that will be explored from a Jewish point of view.


Educators in particular can refresh their repertoire by discovering new techniques. There are sessions on learning Ivrit through games, using animation in adult education classes and dramatising Talmud stories


A strong arts and culture programme, which increasingly has become a conference attraction, boasts comic song-writers like Daniel Cainer and Dave Cohen, along with Hagit Yaso, the winner of Israel’s equivalent of Pop Idol. There is also more religiously-flavoured music, with new composers of synagogue song and a 20-minute electronic composition, The Sounds of Sinai.


Leading scholars such Dead Sea Caves archaeologist Richard Freund provide fresh insights into the past, while veteran South African-Israeli journalist Benjamin Pogrund, author of a book on Nelson Mandela, is one of those looking at Jewish societies in modern times.


One room, “Hamakom” (“The Place” in Hebrew) has been dedicated to meditation and other spiritual techniques, including Hebrew mantra and adaptations of Asian movement disciplines such as Shin Ghi.


It is not all heavy duty thinking or schmoozing by the bar. Some sessions have a practical bent: you can learn to make sushi with a rebbetzin from Japan, find out if parev desserts can really be as good as dairy, make your own tallit or learn the finer arts of ganache with a kosher chocolatier.

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