Tuesday, 12 November 2013

a response to rabbi kimche's open letter about limmud.

A guest post from my mother:

Dear Rabbi Kimche 

I read your open letter about Limmud  on Friday afternoon, and my menuchat shabbat was greatly challenged by what I read.   Having thought about it and reread your letter, I hope you'll consider my response. 

Yes, let's be honest:   Limmud is fun, different, vibrant, entertaining and a challenge to Orthodox Judaism.  Anglo-Judaism has by and large (rather successfully) avoided any challenge, particularly one that involves learning and education, creative thinking, discussion outside its own dalet-amos, or teaching its children/ young adults how to respond to the occasionally difficult and often daft things that the outside world (including non-orthodox, non-observant Jews) consider important.     

Let's be honest:   there is some stuff at Limmud that is apikorsus [and then some], and some of it is just plain incredible.  The Conference has no hidden 'agenda' -- it is an open opportunity.   Information in the handbook makes clear the affiliation of all presenters, and there is much that is good and valuable.   Since Limmud exists and is flourishing, I think that the Orthodox should be there, to teach and to talk and to share authentic Torah--  their continued absence creates a vacuum and suggests that they have nothing to give [or nothing they want to give] to their fellow Jews 

Yes, Ruth Gledhill entertainingly compares Limmud to Glastonbury;   I think 'university' would be a better analogy.    Universities offer serious courses, and at the same time, provide lots of spare-time discussion opportunities over meals and coffee and just hanging about time, and also have space for special interest groups and clubs that are entirely optional.   Let's be honest:   living and learning involves thought and challenge and choice.       

Let's be honest:   after a shiur, never has the teacher/rabbi/ rebbitzen/ educator said to the four or five people who hang about at the end anything like 'come, let's find somewhere to sit down and continue this discussion'.   Never has it been said:   there are important ideas here,  good questions,  let's continue now or arrange to continue …    

Let's be honest:   North-west London Jewry discourages radical thought.  The community is so worried about other influences that its young are cautioned about university,  encouraged to live at home if they want tertiary education, put in fear of losing their yiddishkeit and their souls to a world that is only interested in corrupting them.    How often are youngsters at university asked 'how many frum Jews are on your course?'  as if that's the main consideration.  They scurry in to classes and race back to the safety of Hendon, Golders Green, Edgware.   Better they should do Open University!   Their intellectual worlds are shrinking as surely as their geographical boundaries -- they cannot imagine living anywhere other than the gilded ghettoes where everyone acts and dresses and shops alike;   how welcoming are we to those who are different?   

You mentioned a young man who should have known better than to fall for Reform Bible Criticism;   your description is not an indictment of Limmud but a ringing condemnation of his educational, religious, and social background and upbringing....   why does he [and the many like him in  our community] not know 'mah lehashiv'?     More than 40 years ago,  I encountered these ideas when I went to university and had a hard time with it precisely because my teachers of Kodesh subjects, whenever I asked a question, thumped the desk and told me to do and not ask.     

If you don't want to go to Limmud, fine, so be it.   If you don't want your children to attend, that's between you and them.   But please:  attending Limmud is not like attending Reform or Liberal Sabbath Services;   making that connection is inaccurate,  a false analogy, and a fine example of an attempt at marginalising thinking Jews.   

- Sandy Littman is an experienced educator, teaching regularly at LSJS and at many other forums for women's education around London. She is a veteran teacher at both Ner Yisrael Synagogue and at Limmud. 

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