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Op-eds

Limmud strengthens, not dilutes, Jewish identity

  • AdinaRothNew
A few years ago, then Commonwealth Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks described Limmud as “the jewel in the crown of Anglo-Jewry”. While American research organisation, the Pew Report, has pointed to patterns of decline in Jewish communal participation, Limmud has remained an outlier, growing in numbers. It’s now thriving in more than 80 countries around the world, and attracting thousands of people to its events, including that sought-after millennial demographic.
by ADINA ROTH | Jul 11, 2019

This success has been noted by the organised Jewish world, leading to Limmud being awarded the much coveted Jerusalem Unity Prize in 2017 for its “global success in bringing Jews together”. Where often the statistics point to disengagement, Limmud has a formula that bucks the trend, instilling passion and excitement in participants, and inspiring devotion in its volunteers who run the conferences, tirelessly, from year to year.

If Limmud seems to strengthen and not water down Jewish identity, it might be interesting to consider its winning formula. Limmud is grounded in ten Jewish values, each contributing to the uniqueness of the Limmud experience. A key value that has come under some scrutiny these past few weeks is diversity. Clive Lawton, the orthodox adult educator and founder of Limmud in the United Kingdom, has always stressed that Limmud is diverse and not pluralistic.

In a pluralistic environment, one might expect that people keep Shabbat in accordance with how each individual defines Shabbat observance. Yet, at Limmud, Shabbat is observed in the public space, halachically, according to the highest common denominator. Similarly, in a pluralistic space, there might be multiple kashrut options, allowing for different communities to define kashrut as they see fit. Not so at Limmud, where kashrut is maintained according to a Beth Din hechsher. Religious observance is a key Limmud value.

Another way in which Limmud espouses diversity and not pluralism, is that Limmud does not hold public plenary sessions where participants are compelled to hear a particular presenter. Every time slot at Limmud contains multiple sessions and is characterised by choice-making and empowerment. We all make choices, based on our interests, values, and backgrounds. Importantly, Limmud invests in both the programme and the programme descriptors, empowering participants to make informed choices.

At Limmud, we are encouraged to attend sessions in line with our interests, and to explore those sessions that might be beyond our comfort zones. This is made possible because all sessions are conducted in the spirit of “arguments for the sake of heaven”, sans political or denominational agendas. This dynamic space, where there is respect for halacha yet an embrace of our diversity and diverse learning experiences, creates something utterly unique: deep unity.

The unity achieved at Limmud does not presume that we are all the same, and does not attempt to ignore our differences. We all make different session choices, yet we share a social, cross-communal, and intergenerational learning space. People feel they can be themselves while posing any question in a respectful manner, accepting or challenging a point of view. This diversity within unity is a space many people long for, which is perhaps why so many people, from observant orthodox to unaffiliated, have become Limmudniks. Indeed, Limmud emulates the rabbinic adage “seventy faces to the Torah”.

These crucial Limmud values: learning, empowerment, diversity, religious observance, community and mutual responsibility, respect, and arguments for the sake of heaven, among others, set a particular tone at Limmud, where we maintain our differences with dignity, and engage with each other in an atmosphere of respect united by our shared love of Jewish learning.

However, in all this discussion about what Limmud is and is not, something gets lost about the passion and excitement Limmud ignites. Many have said that you have to be there to understand. Others have tried to convey the extraordinary quality of joy and engagement that takes place over a Limmud weekend.

Limmud has a grassroots, volunteer energy, and provides a staggering array of outstanding sessions, 150 offerings over one weekend! It is described by some as machaneh for adults (albeit in a four-star hotel), and by others as spending time with hundreds of other Jewish people and loving every minute of it. Yes, Limmud is about Jewish learning and Jewish community. But what is harder to communicate in words is that Limmud is fun, playful, and filled with vitality. It is a weekend where you will laugh, you may cry, and you will feel challenged, moved, and uplifted.

Limmud respects peoples’ abilities to make choices, including those who might choose not to participate at Limmud. But we look forward to welcoming warmly all those who do come to Limmud in August to celebrate the local franchise of this global Jewish enterprise, and immerse in the profound riches of Jewish history, culture, arts, politics, and text on our programme.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Rick 13 Jul
    Adina Roth seems to have missed a key point in her response to the Chief Rabbi. The Chief Rabbi spoke about the need to distance oneself from platforms that dilute Torah values and Torah Judaism. Roth talks again and again about "Orthodox" but does not mention Torah Judaism. Orthodox and Torah Judaism are not the same thing, No matter how you try to sin things, if you offer a platform to speakers who go against Torah values, you are diluting those values.

    One thing is puzzling: Why does Limmud so crave "Orthodox" approval?

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