Homophobic zeal has its upsides. After I signed a letter denouncing the same-sex marriage legislation alongside a number of rather alarmingly extreme faith leaders (and no, I would never sign it again for all sorts of reasons). About a week after this letter hit the press, one of my senior Rabbinical mentors approached me in Mendy’s. “Yashar Koach!” He exclaimed, “I admit I was a bit worried about you, but that letter you signed will definitely help your children’s shidduch potential.” Meaning, I think, if a frum family in Golders Green with an eligible son wanted to marry my eldest daughter but had their doubts about my newfangled ways, I could always pull a faded article from my pocket, show them my stance on gay marriage and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that my daughter came from genuine stock.
Which is precisely why, I believe, seven leading Rabbinical sages of our community attacked Limmud so openly last week. Somewhere, perhaps in the confines of this very paper, you will read that these rabbis got it desperately wrong. They misunderstood Limmud, misjudged the Anglo-Jewish community, preached myopically to their own special interest choirs, turned a tin-ear on Jews hungry for learning, undermined the authority of the Chief Rabbi and generally kept the Third Temple from being rebuilt in our days.
I happen to think these serious halachist thinkers got it just right. Just right for their intended audience. For that sparsely worded letter was not aimed at the average Limmud attendee. Do you think that the intellectual Finchley family, the ‘Essex Man’ of Limmud, cares one iota that Dayan et al, warns that any “heart touched by the fear of God, who wishes to walk upon paths which will be viewed favourably by the Ribono Shel Olam” should now avoid Limmud like a McDonalds Bacon-Double-Cheese-Burger? For that audience, Limmud is too dynamic to be dismissed with slurs of pluralism.
And again, do you really think that those who do care about Dayan Ehrentreu’s p’sak halacha are really the type to shell out considerable funds to find themselves in Warwick for a week of ‘anything goes’ Jewish learning? So, just who exactly are those ‘fearers of heaven’ who are cancelling their Limmud tickets this week?
May I propose, gentle reader, that they are the United Synagogue Rabbis. And they live in two worlds. On the one hand, the rabbis are adept at understanding the average United Synagogue punter. Most of them started their own journey from such a world view, they can speak the language of the 4-4-2 as fluidly as the 4 amot of halacha and they know their peaty malts from the Island stuff. In a word, they can engage. Yet they yearn for the pristine air of the yeshiva and the kollel which inspired them, they want good shidduchim for their own children with the frumest families, and most importantly, they often take p’sak from these seven leading Rabbinical sages, because frankly, these Haredi Rabbis represent some of the wisest halachic minds in Anglo-Jewry.
Now, these wise minds are putting these Rabbis on notice. Go to Limmud and watch your shidduch options plummet, your access to the inner circle close, and your relationships with your Rabbis go sour. In effect, what Dayan Ehrentreu and the rest have demanded of these rabbis is to choose between their two worlds. In the words of unionist Florence Reese: Which side are you on?
Please let’s not take their difficult choice lightly! What would you do if you were asked to choose between joining your Chief Rabbi for a week of purposeful teaching and the footnote your son will carry into every meeting with a matchmaker. “The Limmud-goers boy.”
The way out of this communal labyrinth feels straightforward. Orthodox congregants and their Orthodox Rabbis need to start living together. Sending their children to the same schools might be a good start. Not only would it necessarily drive up the level of serious Jewish Studies in these classrooms, not only would it awaken the Rabbis to the concerns and intricacies of their local Jewish school right alongside their congregants, but it would stop the trend of a community and its rabbi existing in overlapping but almost entirely separate universes. Like the proverbial masgiach who is too religious to eat in the kitchen he supervises, most United Synagogue Rabbis do not aspire for their children to ever belong to a United Synagogue. That disjunct between our Rabbinical elite and congregational plebs is precisely why the anti-Limmud letter is such an effective wedging mechanism–a community thus divided can often by manipulated. Unless the Jewish Orthodox community grapples with the problem of a Haredi oriented leadership ministering to a modern minded constituency, brogues such as Limmud invariably reveal that our community cohesion may be nothing more than a marriage of convenience.