This past week in England, the Limmud conference, which describes itself as a “dedicated to Jewish learning in all its variety,” disinvited and cancelled the sessions of a representative of the London branch of the Kabbalah Center. The last time I wrote anything even remotely positive about the Kabbalah Center, more than six years ago, I was subjected to intense criticism and disparagement from some on the right wing of Orthodox Judaism in the UK. One rabbi publicly attacked both my integrity and intellect simply because I dared point out that the Kabbalah Center might not be all evil and may in fact be doing some good. With this article I expect similar wrath and hatred to ensue.
Let me be clear, however, I have no reason or desire to defend the Kabbalah Center per-se. In fact, I disagree with much of what the Kabbalah Center espouses, and many of its actions. However, the pressure put on Limmud to disinvite the Kabbalah Center raises a much larger issue that must not go unmentioned: the double standards and unjust behavior that are allowed to go unchecked in the Jewish community.
The reality is that the Judaism of the new millennium is both varied and diverse. Over the last 200 years new movements have sprung up in Judaism, and from Hasidism to Humanistic Judaism, there are now many varieties, flavors, and versions of Judaism. This trend has accelerated over the last 50 years, culminating in a mosaic of Jewish experience, ideology, doctrine, theology, and life as we go into 2014.
Given this reality, it is unlikely that any one form of Judaism will see eye-to-eye with another. In fact each group has claimed, over the years, that the other is not legitimate and does not represent Judaism properly. And, whilst many Orthodox Jews will still not recognize non-Orthodox factions of Judaism as being authentically Jewish, even this is changing. The Chief Rabbi on the UK going to Limmud is itself one example of this. But there are more. Recently, the leader of the Reform movement was invited to sit together with the head of the Chabad movement, Rabbi Yehudah Krinsky, at the Chabad International Convention. Similarly, non-Orthodox leaders were invited to participate in the installation of Rabbi Asher Lopatin as the new president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School. Whilst none of this should be seen as an endorsement of non-Orthodox theology or practice by the Orthodox, it is certainly an indicator that even non-Orthodox movements are beginning to gain acceptance within the umbrella of Jews and Judaism even in some Orthodox sections.
It is, therefore, ironic that an organization such as Limmud, itself castigated and excluded by the Orthodox for years, would now exclude a Jewish group that continues to have a big impact on Jews, Judaism, and the way Jews think about their Judaism. From my experience it is clear that the Kabbalah Center has impacted the lives of thousands of Jews around the world and is a very powerful force that engages Jews in their Judaism. Many people come to my own synagogue and become involved with Judaism in my community only because they were first exposed to it by the Kabbalah Center.
Indeed the Kabbalah Center is not all good. It is led by one family and some of their cronies.They have large property holdings and there are allegations of financial improprieties. They also have some cult like practices.
But none of this is new in the world of Judaism. Many Hasidic sects have been controlled by only one family for well over one hundred years and many also also have large real estate holdings, millions of dollars in the bank and allegations of financial improprieties. Many hasidic and non-Hasidic forms of Orthodox Judaism also have cultish practices. I don’t intend here or elsewhere to defend any of that. But I note that the Jewish establishment has not come out against these sects or had them disinvited from conferences.
Why the Kabbalah Center has been subjected to such terrible double standards is beyond my understanding. The rhetoric used against it by some, comparing them to Jews for Jesus and the like, is not only unfair, it is misleading and, in my view, intellectually dishonest. One can but speculate on reasons why the Kabbalah Center has been mistreated in this way, but in the end, it is fundamentally unjust and not in keeping with any Jewish values I know of and it damages the cause of Judaism and the Torah.
Now that Limmud has has caved in and disinvited the Kabbalah Center, its entire credibility as a forum “dedicated to Jewish learning in all its variety” must be called into question. By disinviting the Kabbalah Center, they have been unfaithful to their own mission and brought shame to their endeavor. It would be appropriate for them to rededicate themselves to the mission they have themselves set and reissue an invitation to the Kabbalah Center to present their ideas at the upcoming Limmud conference in the UK.