Subscribe to our Newsletter

click to dowload our latest edition


Limmud and the Orthodox fiasco






Orthodox Rabbi Cardozo, a regular visitor to SA and to Limmud-SA, joins in on the highly contentious debate around Limmud 

“The fact that Orthodox rabbis stay
away from conferences such as
Limmud is downright embarrassing
to all of us Orthodox teachers”


Courage is the word that comes to mind when we think of Britain’s new Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’ decision to come to Limmud, the largest Jewish conference in the world, which will take place in England at the end of the year.

It is a sad commentary on the state of contemporary Orthodox leadership when a chief rabbi is called courageous because he accepts the invitation to teach Torah at such a remarkable Jewish event. What could be more obvious? But the truth is that courage has indeed become a rare commodity in large segments of Orthodoxy.

The letter written by the venerable Dayan Ehrentreu, former Rosh Beit Din of the United Synagogue, as well as some other leading British dayanim and rabbis, calling on fellow Jews not to participate in the Limmud conference because spokesmen of the Reform and Conservative movements will also be present, is most telling. It has once again thrown British Jewry into a fierce, highly publicised, and embarrassing confrontation.

Religious condemnation in the form of bans and harshly written edicts is the worst action these eminent rabbis can take. It displays symptoms of fear, helplessness and miscalculation. It reflects fundamentalism and dogmatism.

Bans such as these are identified with those issued by the Christian clerical authorities who condemned Galileo in the 17th century for suggesting that the earth was not at the center of the universe. Bans have been used against demons, witches and other forms of superstition – hardly activities these rabbis want to be associated with.

It is a sad state of affairs when rabbis believe they can still hide behind high-walled citadels of exclusiveness. More than that, it indicates a total disconnect from reality. Today, we communicate with one another in unprecedented ways. The rules of waging an ideological war have drastically changed, just as the overall situation of the Jewish people has.

What once worked is now nothing more than a farce. While a large part of the Orthodox world continues to believe that there is no need for change, the truth is that there is almost nothing more misleading and dangerous than that belief.

Cracks in the walls of Orthodox strongholds are everywhere around us – the higher the walls, the larger the cracks – and by no artificial process can they be mended again. To believe otherwise is nothing more than wishful thinking.9e-Rabbi Cordoza at Limmud-SA LONG

The fact that Orthodox rabbis stay away from conferences such as Limmud is downright embarrassing to all of us Orthodox teachers. The hopelessness of thinking that anyone will be convinced of the truth of Orthodox belief when its educators stay away because teachers from other movements participate, has gone beyond the point of debatable. 

Such ideas have faded into flickering embers that have lost all meaning. All it does is convince people that Orthodox Jews are afraid of any confrontation with those who think differently. It turns Orthodox Judaism into a laughing stock and convinces intelligent young Jews that it is an outmoded form of Judaism, which no longer has anything to offer and is driven by nothing but fear.

It inexplicably does not occur to these rabbis that by staying away they hand Limmud over on a silver platter to the non-Orthodox denominations, strengthening these very movements. One wonders why they don’t see what is crystal clear to everybody else. 

The enormous damage done by not having Orthodox teachers participating, cannot be emphasised enough. Who of the distinguished dayanim and rabbis have the right to deny the participants of Limmud the opportunity to hear the Orthodox point of view? How do they dare to stay away?

Arguments that it is a matter of principle not to participate because it will give credibility to non-Orthodox denominations, are completely unfounded, since Limmud does not give credence to anybody and is nothing more than a market place where people try to sell their goods.

Deciding not to attend is like deliberately closing one’s business on the Internet and going bankrupt because competing businesses have the chutzpah to use the Internet as well.

Indeed, isn’t fear of the Conservative and Reform movements
the real reason for the rabbis’ refusal to participate?

Indeed, isn’t fear of the Conservative and Reform movements the real reason for the rabbis’ refusal to participate? Too many Orthodox rabbis have no knowledge about these denominations. They don’t study their arguments, read their literature or even speak to those who stand for these ideas. They’re afraid of these movements because they don’t know how to refute them.

When they are asked by Limmud participants why they don’t agree with these denominations and why Orthodoxy is the right path, they are at a loss for words. Their principle seems to be similar to that of the person who reviewed a book but refused to read it first because it would prejudice him too much. 

Arguments today used against Reform and Conservative ideas are often outmoded clichés. Many rabbis are not even aware that major positive changes have taken place within these groups. Neither do they seem to be aware that Orthodoxy itself is constantly reformulating its ideology so that it can meet the new and daunting challenges that modernity heaps upon our Jewish and non-Jewish societies.

Would it not be possible to show a bit of humility and actually listen to some of the opponents’ arguments? Reform and Conservative Judaism, in many ways, but not solely, resulted from Orthodoxy’s failure to read the religious map correctly.

There is much evidence supporting the claim that some delicate religious souls were searching for a Judaism that was committed to halacha but not authoritarian, and Orthodoxy failed to deliver.

Would some modesty not be appropriate here? Is Orthodoxy always right, and can it actually claim that it has the truth and nothing but the truth? Is absolute theological certainty indeed the hallmark of Orthodoxy?

Anybody who studies the primary religious texts of Judaism knows better. To a great extent, authentic Judaism consisted of a multitude of seriously competing ideas, and while simultaneously not compromising halacha there was a full awareness among the Sages that even halacha was open to many opinions.

The enormous loss of prestige that Orthodoxy has suffered over the last 100 years, due to its failure to understand what was happening with the spiritual condition of our people, is beyond description.

It has still not realised that it is nothing short of a miracle that so many young, intelligent Jews became or even remained Orthodox despite what Orthodoxy had to offer. Most of the time, it was possible only because some Orthodox individuals, thinkers and leaders went their own way and, just like the Baal Shem Tov, realised that mainstream Orthodoxy got it terribly wrong.

The outcome of the constant war waged by conventional Orthodoxy against these new ideas and new directions was predictable. It capitulated, leaving behind lots of fatalities.

Judaism is the most astonishing and daring
religion with which the world has been blessed.


Real Orthodoxy has nothing to fear. It has all the vital ingredients necessary to enter the battlegrounds and show its worth. Judaism is the most astonishing and daring religion with which the world has been blessed.

It has infinite courage, standing head and shoulders above everything else. It dares, and never avoids any obstacle or critique. It enjoys a good fight so that it can enrich itself. It is a protest movement against many “isms”, but above all against small-mindedness.

I call on Dayan Ehrentreu, who is not only a great scholar but also an outstanding orator, to come to Limmud. Instead of criticising Chief Rabbi Mirvis, he should compliment him for his courage and ask Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks to join him, abandoning his former practice of stopping him from going to Limmud.

I encourage the Dayan to sit on panels with Reform and Conservative rabbis and thinkers and carefully listen to what they have to say, take advice from them and, if necessary, prove them wrong. He should invite them to join him in the struggle to ensure that young Jews fall in love with Judaism and become convinced of the beauty of Orthodoxy.

Judaism is on the decline in many parts of the world, and we have to do everything in our power to turn the tide. What is necessary is creative thinking and bold ideas. Scaring people away from Limmud is the last thing we need. It’s a sign of cowardice. If Orthodoxy is unable to educate its followers to withstand other ideologies, it is guilty of an educational fiasco.

Dear Dayan Ehrentreu, do not spend your energy on denunciations and censorship. Show us that real Orthodoxy is unbeatable. That’s what we are all waiting for: Orthodox courage.

Continue Reading


  1. Vivian

    Nov 7, 2013 at 7:01 am

    ‘Fanstasic article, really highlights the frustration felt by many.’

  2. Choni

    Nov 8, 2013 at 8:00 am

    ‘\”Judaism is on the decline in many parts of the world, and we have to do everything in our power to turn the tide\”

    If this statement is true, and I believe it is, then any movement like Limmud, or Orthodox, or reform, who keep on holding conferences will reverse this tide.

    Besides, has anyone thought that maybe, just maybe, the decline of Diaspora Judaism is an important aspect of the  beginning of the Redemption of the Jewish nation in their own Land.

    Surely almost 2000 years of exile have come to an end.

    I suggest that any Limud, or other groups, in the Diaspora realise that the only worthwhile agenda in any conference is the urgent need for the young generation of  Diaspora Jews to become part of the Redemption process by furthering their Judaism in Eretz Yisrael.

    DIASPORA JEWISH LEADERSHIP, REFORM OR ORTHODOX, IS FAILING. Where are leaders of real courage to stand up and tell our youth. After 2000 years the Jewish people, with God’s help, regained sovereignty of much of the Land of Israel. There can be no justification for a young Jewish person to remain in voluntary exile, no matter how comfortable he might feel.’

  3. Akiva

    Nov 8, 2013 at 11:56 am

    ‘Comparison to the internet is disingenuous.

    The internet is  marketplace of competing ideas, and one is required to look for alternate ideas should he/she wish to.

    However, when visiting a website for say cars, one doesnt expect to find details about food. And when visiting a website about food, one doesn’t expect to find inforation about boats.

    Limmud is one stop shop for competing ideas, and like it or not, it does provide a platform for heretical views (according to the opinion of the orthodox).

    Would Rabbi Lopes in in a retaurant which has on its menu both kosher and non kosher items? I assume he would – he would simply select the kosher items, and expect others to have the conviction to do the same. And if they happen to select a non kosher item – I guess thats okay too – it’s all part of the experience.

  4. Michael Golding

    Nov 17, 2013 at 7:32 am

    ‘So Choni, when are you making Aliyah? Or have you already done so?’

  5. Choni

    Nov 28, 2013 at 7:53 am

    Hello Michael,


    Only saw your question today. I would never make the comments I do without having made Aliyah myself. Unfortunately I did so at a very late stage of my life -75 years old-.(I am now 81).


    However, my comments and observations are not about whether I have made Aliyah or not. My concern is about the future of tens of thousands young Jewish boys and girls who have been [Sorry, Choni, offer positive comment rather that unfairly attack Rabbonim unfairly -ED]


    We should ask these leaders if they [Ditto, an entire class of people who don’t agree with you do not deserve your scorn – make positive suggestions -ED]? Has any religious leader [Sorry, Choni, ditto -ED]


    Thanks for your question Michael. I hope my reply is adequate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.