Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Don’t Make Me a Match with Limmud: The Anti-Limmud Letter and the Rabbis

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? moshe

May I propose, gentle reader, thathey 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.

About the Author
Rabbi Natan Levy is the Interfaith and Social Action Consultant