He makes a good argument but falls a bit short. I must admit, however, that in a recent article in The Jewish Press, Rabbi Gil Student makes some very valid observations – both pro and con about Limmud.
Limmud, one may recall is an interdenominational event whereby rabbis from all denominations are invited to lecture the Jewish public on matters of Torah and Jewish interest. The one held in London was attended by British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. For which he was severely criticized by the right.
The criticism was based on the proposition that joining with non Orthodox movements in any forum, especially if it is in any theological context will give the false impression of legitimizing theologies that are anathema to Orthodoxy. This was universally condemned by all segments of Orthdodxy, including Rav Soloveitchik.
Limmud is certainly a theological event. But I have argued that Rabbi Mirvis was not there in any joint context with them and therefore not seen as endorsing anything other that the Orthodox point of view. To the best of my knowledge there was no panel or joint appearance of Rabbi Mirvis with heterodox rabbis. He was there to teach. And teach he did to real acclaim by all who witnessed it, including those of other denominations.
However, Gil suggests a problem I hadn’t thought of which I think has merit. The idea that if a high profile rabbi is there, it is OK for any Orthodox Jew to attend. Which would mean that they would be exposed to ideas they are rarely if ever exposed to – and ill prepared to deal with from an Orthodox perspective. Here is how Gil put’s it:
If the Orthodox leadership permits attendance at Limmud, it will effectively be permitting Orthodox Jews to study Judaism under non-Orthodox teachers. It will be encouraging the spread of heresy among the faithful. Of course, many Orthodox Jews will be able to intellectually deflect these foreign assumptions and beliefs, perhaps even growing stronger from the challenge. But ideas have wings; they excite and inspire. This is especially true when the intellectual match is uneven, when the non-Orthodox best and brightest are teaching the Orthodox not-so-best and not-so-brightest. There is a risk, a very real risk, that some Orthodox Jews will become enchanted by the passionate spokespeople of non-Orthodox Judaism.
I think he’s right and this is a matter of real concern. But as Gil also points out, the positive impact Rabbi Mirvis made has ‘wings’ too. I would go so far as to say he made a Kiddush Hasehm with his appearance:
Many non-Orthodox Jews have never met a refined and intelligent Orthodox Jew. They expect Orthodox Jews to be socially and intellectually backward. But the impact of interaction with Orthodox Jews has brought many people to Orthodoxy, including non-Orthodox rabbis. This is particularly true when an Orthodox scholar teaches, offering an intelligent and compelling worldview. There is great outreach opportunity at Limmud. An Orthodox rabbi has the unique opportunity to teach an audience thirsty for knowledge and often unaware of basic traditional texts and concepts.
Is it worth taking the chance that ‘some of our own’ may leave the fold in order to gain those who may come into the fold? That is the $64,000 dollar question.
Gil suggests that a solution to this might be for prominent rabbis not to attend and thus not be a drawing card for observant Jews who are ill prepared and thereby vulnerable to the ‘enchantment’ of heretical thought presented by charismatic speakers.
If a ‘second tier’ rabbi does the teaching, that risk will be diminished and the goal of attracting Jews with little or no background will still have its impact.