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Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks ZT”L didn’t attend Limmud Festival. However Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis did attend, unlike R. Sacks who listened to Haredi opposition.

The Limmud Festival (formerly known as Limmud Conference), takes place every year in the last week of December and is the Limmud organization's flagship event. Limmud is a British-Jewish educational charity. A typical day at Limmud Festival includes around 200 sessions and panel discussions spanning religious, cultural and political aspects of Jewish life. The festival started in the UK but is typically popular among non-Orthodox Ashkenazi communities (generally, although not exclusively from the Diaspora).

Is there an issue with attending the Limmud Festival on either a Halachic or Hashkafic level? Limmud is a secular festival, but even Haredim don’t generally have an issue with secular gatherings so long as they’re modest.

My question is, what should the approach of Orthodox Jews be to something like Limmud, is it better to simply avoid the otherwise secular/Masorti community in terms of being part of a non-religious Jewish community? Beyond Hashkafa, are there halachic issues of Marit Ayin or Lifnei Iver with associating with these people? And if not, then why is the London Beth Din so adamantly opposed to it?

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    Some more details about what happens at limmud and the purpose of limmud might help. Alternatively since you have identified an organization that is easy to contact they can directly answer your question. At best why the London bes din opposes it by someone outside of the London bes din would be speculation
    – Dude
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 0:13
  • I think the basis of the opposition is simply based on the fact that is is a "new thing".
    – The GRAPKE
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 6:47
  • Something to consider: It's possible that there's a difference between a rabbi and posek attending and a non-rabbi or non-posek attending.
    – Harel13
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 8:50
  • "Limmud is a secular festival, but even haredim don’t generally have an issue with secular gatherings so long as they’re modest." (1) Are Limmud festival gatherings modest? (2) Do you have examples of secular gatherings they didn't have an issue with (especially as opposed to not being in a position to offer an opinion one way or the other)?
    – Tamir Evan
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 11:40
  • Can I suggest changing the title to "attending the Limmud Festival"? The title as written sounds like a no-brainer, yes frum people generally attend limmud, that's a big part of frum life! Commented 8 hours ago

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The mainstream position of Orthodox Rabbanim in the UK has consistently been not to attend Limmud, or any other pluralistic platform that undermines the foundational tenets of Orthodoxy.

When Rabbi Mirvis took the step to change that status quo, the move was met by uncharacteristically strong criticism from the leaders of UK's Orthodox communities. A strongly worded letter was published by seven of UK's most senior Rabbis - including Rabbi Avraham Gurwicz, Rosh Yeshiva of Gateshead; Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu, head of London Beth Din; Rabbi SF Zimmerman, Chief Rabbi of Gateshead - denouncing the involvement or presence of any Orthodox Jew with Limmud.

This article quotes Rabbi SF Zimmerman, then Chief Rabbi of Gateshead [now leader of London's Federation of Synagogues]:

Rabbi Zimmerman said the statement reflected “the commonly held principles of every Torah scholar in this country”.

In an article published by Jewish Tribune, Rabbi Zimmerman explained the fierce opposition held by Orthodox Rabbinate (quotation from here):

"Torah Judaism isn’t a product that can be sold one amongst others as on a supermarket shelf. The idea of pluralism and the idea of Limmud has been to establish Orthodoxy as one of many choices.

“In that idea there is a Judaism which believes in a Divine Torah. There is a Judaism that believes that belives that the written law is Divine and the oral law isn’t. Then there is a Judaism where neither Torah nor G-d exists and these are all equal ideas and one is free to pick and choose what’s best for him.

“In fact, the roll call of lectures at the Limmud programme seems to include it like a list of phone options. For Authentic Torah press one. For Written Torah that is Divine but not oral law, press two. For written and oral Torah that’s not Divine press option three. For pro-Palestinian demonstrations press four, and if you want to dance at a disco party in your pyjamas press option five.

“By treating Torah as such they are debasing Torah, not promoting it.”

Some argue that if Orthodox rabbis went, they would be able to reach out to those “at the far end of Orthodoxy.” But that was a fallacy, he contended: Outreach could only work in an environment where one didn’t “belittle” Torah.

“In an arena where Torah is defamed,” he said, “where it is equated to non-belief, then the spark of Torah won’t be able to light up anything. I’ve met many people who became religious as a result of attending a Torah seminar. There aren’t many reports of people who came back from Limmud with a determination to became more religious, to commit to practising more.”

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  • thejc.com/judaism/…
    – chortkov2
    Commented 4 hours ago
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    I don't think I implied that Rabbi Mirvis is not an Orthodox Rabbi. I wrote that the mainstream position of Orthodox Rabbis was consistently not to attend, until Rabbi Mirvis changed the status quo. To be clear, even Rabbi Sacks - not exactly a bastion of Chareidi values - didn't attend the event. The importance of not legitimizing a platform espousing heresy was not unique to Chareidim.
    – chortkov2
    Commented 3 hours ago
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    Perhaps the quote from Rabbi Zimmerman that this was a 'commonly held principle of every Torah Scholar' implies that Rabbi Mirvis is precluded from that description. You can disagree with him, but the implication isn't mine.
    – chortkov2
    Commented 3 hours ago
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An eloquent presentation of the argument is found here where it writes:

...Limmud is pluralist. Speakers from Orthodox, Masorti, Reform and other backgrounds are presented on an equal footing. Participants can attend whichever sessions they like. One can choose to listen to an Orthodox speaker giving traditional interpretations or to a Liberal denying essential principles of Orthodox Judaism and justifying practices forbidden by Orthodox halakha. The implication is that every one of the perspectives presented is equally valid. But for Orthodoxy they are not and cannot be. Orthodoxy recognises a range of different but acceptable views, but it cannot accept views outside that range as legitimate. As the Chief Rabbi wrote the L’eyla in 1990 ‘Either the Torah is the unmediated word of God or it is not. Either halachah commands every Jew or it does not. Either God speaks to us through history or He does not.’

To say that all views are equally valid is not just non-Orthodox, it is anti-Orthodox, it is a denial of Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy does not and cannot accept that it is one option among many. It is the single authentic Jewish view (or range of views). As the Chief Rabbi wrote in 1990: ‘Orthodoxy stakes its being on the existence of some truth that transcends the relativities of man’. By giving an equal platform for all opinions Limmud effectively endorses this anti-Orthodox position. Pluralism is based on the assumption that there is no absolute truth, Orthodoxy makes just that claim, and it claims that Orthodoxy alone possesses that truth. Again the Chief Rabbi: ‘pluralism proceeds on the explicit or hidden premise that Orthodoxy is false. It could not be otherwise, for if Orthodoxy is true, pluralism would be false.’

The result creates an awkward dilemma...

We therefore find ourselves in a stalemate. If an Orthodox rabbi attends Limmud it appears as though he is diminishing authentic Judaism into just one of a range of legitimate options, a position that Limmud implicitly asserts but which is a denial of Orthodoxy, and in Orthodox terms is a denial of Torah itself. On the other hand, there are two and a half thousand Jews who want to learn Torah, and if all Orthodox speakers followed the logic I have set out, there would be no one to teach them. They would be forced to attend sessions which deny Torah and mitzvot as Orthodoxy understands them. Perhaps this is why the debate continues, because each side of the argument is so strong...

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  • It is worth noting that the Orthodox approach to Reform and other non-Orthodox approaches to Judaism in the UK is dramatically different to the US. In the UK, only about 14% of Jews are Reform, compared to something like half in the US, so the UK approach is to not give legitimacy to Reform as a valid alternative to Orthodoxy. That would probably be somewhat pointless to try in the US because of the vastly different demographics. Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 8:41
  • @MosesSupposes - to be fair the Orthodox component is not that different, maybe a bit more than 14%. Close to 35% identify themselves as "Secular" so I don't think it is that far off the US model.
    – Dov
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 8:49
  • Also you are discounting Liberal Judaism which stands separate to Reform Judaism in the UK. It is not really a thing in the US.
    – Dov
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 8:52
  • TBH I'm not familiar with the difference between Lliberal, Conservative, Masorti and Reform. I'm Orthodox, and in the UK, most Orthodox people who I know tend to lump it all under "Reform" and not consider any of them to actually be proper Judaism (which is not to say that a lot of the members are not Jewish). That said, I'm Mancunian, and in Manchester, I think that the above groups have an even smaller proportional presence - I think that Manchester is almost entirely Orthodox, Traditional or Secular. Liberal is probably more of a London thing and only 6% of UK Jews. Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 11:05
  • So I'm also Orthodox but based in London. Whilst I'm not so familiar with the inner workings of progressive Judaism etc I know that although Liberal Judaism align themselves ideologically with the Reform, they are more radical and probably close to the American reform model. So with the two combined they are equal to the Orthodox population...
    – Dov
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 11:10
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The November 2023 answer links to a 2011 article by Ben Elton. Since 2015 Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton has been Chief Minister and Senior Rabbi of the Great Synagogue in Sydney, Australia. He is a regular speaker at Limmud Australia

The London Beth Din is the Beth Din of the United Synagogue. The Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogue, Chief Rabbi Mirvis, (now Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis), first attended Limmud in 2013. Despite a certain backlash also for example discussed here, the United Synagogue participation in Limmud has flourished and the Chief Rabbi has continued to attend Limmud regularly.

There is every reason for other orthodox Jews to follow the lead of Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis, Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton and Israeli rabbis who have spoken at Limmud such as Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Rabbi Benny Lau.

As Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum (Dean of London School of Jewish Studies (LSJS) and Rabbi Sacks Chair in Modern Jewish Thought) another regular Limmud speaker put it in a 2016 article

The truth is that there have always been plenty of great Orthodox rabbis from around the world at Limmud, just not so many from the UK. This was due to worries about "legitimacy" and "sharing platforms".

Over the years, however, with the growth of Limmud, a burgeoning Orthodox attendance, a sustained atmosphere of respect, and the realisation that people really are able to understand and judge religious differences for themselves, things have changed. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis led the way in 2013, and many United Synagogue rabbis came along too.

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  • How does this answer the question? Are you saying that orthodox Jews should emulate the mentioned personalities and that is why you conclude it is OK to join?
    – Yoreinu
    Commented 6 hours ago
  • @Yoreinu are you seriously suggesting that Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis, Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton and the others named on the linked material should each not be considered to be an orthodox Jew ?
    – Edward B
    Commented 6 hours ago
  • I apologize for not being clear, I meant to ask what the answer you are providing is. Are you concluding that because the chief rabbi and Rabbi Elton, both surely orthodox, joined, that it it is ok for all to join? That conclusion is fine with me (although disputable) , it just isn't stated in your response
    – Yoreinu
    Commented 6 hours ago
  • As I understand it a downvote is given when the downvoter considers that an answer is "not useful". It is really unhelpful if downvoters do not explain why they consider an answer to be "not useful." In this case I must be honest in saying that I think that my answer is a good one and is, therefore, useful
    – Edward B
    Commented 4 hours ago
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    @Yoreinu sadly it is common on Mi Yodeya for people to downvote based on disagreement. That is "not my minhag"
    – Edward B
    Commented 3 hours ago

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