But I question that. There is a reason that Rabbi Mirvis is an attraction and a second tier rabbi might not be.
I know that a lot of it is politics. But you don’t become the Chief Rabbi of England without the kind of substance that can make the kind of impact Rabbi Mirvis did at Limmud. I don’t think a second tier rabbi would have been able to make the kind of Kiddush HaShem Rabbi Mirvis did which included broad based accolades he received from non Orthodox media like the Forward. In addition, the very thing that Gil says makes Rabbi Mirvis’s appearance there problematic – is what made it have the kind of impact it did. The Chief Rabbi by definition will get that kind of public attention. On the other hand, Rabbi ‘Joe Ploni’ will be generally ignored. Stature makes people notice you. And notice what you say.
That is indeed the conundrum.
As I see it there are several issues at play here. One is outreach. Another is the appearance of legitimizing what Orthodoxy deems illegitimate. And still another is when ill-prepared observant Jews start attending these events by virtue of the implied imprimatur given by the Chief Rabbi’s attendance. They can easily become mesmerized by the people whose views are anathema to Orthodox Judaism.
What to do.
I’m not sure. But I believe that matters of such import deserve the attention and analysis of rabbis of high stature. Not a group of well meaning but mistaken rabbis who without consulting anyone have decided to jump in head first and embrace heterodox rabbis even in religious matters. Which gives the clear appearance of endorsing their views. There is a right way and a wrong way to do this.
But I if I had to make a decision I would have to factor in the circumstances of the 21st century. While Halacha doesn’t change – circumstances do. Which require a new look at old polices. The fear used to be that giving the appearance of legitimacy to problematic theology would lead the un-initiated astray. They would think that these are all legitimate versions of Judaism with a left, right, and middle and choose based on that. Orthodox Judaism – if it is to be true to its ideals – cannot allow that impression to be made. But I do not see that as the great danger it once was.
The far greater danger is apathy and disinterest by the majority of Jews in the world. Jews that have virtually no Jewish background. They are abandoning Judaism in droves. We need to reach out to as many of them as possible. I don’t think we have any choice anymore.
I believe that there are recognized rabbinic leaders who know this and might re-think our interaction with non Orthodox clergy – as long as lines of separation are made clear at the outset and at public venues.
I am convinced that heterodox clergy will welcome us in a joint effort of ‘conserving’ Judaism. We should accept them with the caveat that there will be no joint public discussion or debate on any religious matters… and that our joint efforts should be to reach out the the hemorrhaging Jewish masses. It is in fact already being done on a small scale.
Limmud is a venue that enables us to have contact with masses of unaffiliated Jews that we would otherwise never have.
What about the impression made on observant Jews that would attend such events – with its attendant risk of losing them from Orthodoxy? That is a problem. But it’s a fixable one. It’s called education.
About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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