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Beth Din reinforces prohibition on rabbis attending Limmud

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The Beth Din this week reinforced a ten-year prohibition of local orthodox rabbis from attending or teaching at Jewish learning festival Limmud. This was after the South African Rabbinical Association requested the Beth Din’s opinion on their long-standing policy.
by TALI FEINBERG | Jun 20, 2019

Following the request, the dayanim (judges) of the Beth Din met the leadership of Limmud to learn what it stands for, as many did not know anything about the organisation. But, in spite of a productive meeting, the policy remained unchanged.

“After much deliberation, the conclusion of the Beth Din is a complete endorsement of the policy of the Rabbinical Association for its rabbis to neither attend nor teach at Limmud because of the latter’s promotion of values which are contrary to the Torah’s philosophy and principles,” the Beth Din told the SA Jewish Report on Tuesday.

This is in spite of the fact that “Limmud South Africa is strictly kosher under the Beth Din, and shomrei Shabbos [Shabbat observant] in public spaces, and 90% of people who attend it across South Africa are orthodox-affiliated. In Johannesburg, 35% are shomrei Shabbat,” according to Limmud South Africa chairperson Adina Roth.

Many international orthodox rabbis and rebbetzins attend Limmud in this country. South Africa is the only place worldwide where there is a ban on local orthodox rabbis attending.

When asked what the Beth Din meant by Limmud not promoting Torah philosophy and principles, the organisation responded, “The Beth Din’s mandate is to uphold halacha and Torah values within the community. Underpinning everything we do is the fundamental belief in G-d and the divine origin of the Torah.

“On questioning the Limmud team, we were told that these core beliefs are not a prerequisite for educators, nor is it a prerequisite for content that is delivered at the conference.

“As a result of this Limmud policy decision, the Beth Din is unable to approve or verify this conference, and endorses the policy of the South African Rabbinical Association. If Limmud would change this policy decision, the Beth Din would certainly reconsider its position.”

In response, Roth explained that across the world, Limmud is guided by a set of values which are grounded in Jewish ideas. “There are a range of presenters, and there are always orthodox presenters, including orthodox rabbis, at Limmud. All our learning is conducted with the intention of learning more deeply about Jewish history, culture, religion, and text. Limmud is a space where orthodox and observant people feel very comfortable.”

The Beth Din said the policy extended to rebbetzins (the wives of rabbis). “The grounds for the Beth Din endorsing the existing rabbinic policy are as applicable to rebbetzins as they are to rabbis. Any suggestion that a difference should exist undermines the undeniable and invaluable religious standing and leadership role which our rebbetzins rightly hold and fulfil, with tireless dedication to Torah values and principles.”

Chief Rabbi Dr Warren Goldstein said the long-standing policy of the South African rabbinate not to attend Limmud was a joint decision made by himself and the Rabbinical Association.

Rabbi Yossi Chaikin, who heads up the Rabbinical Association, said the policy dated back about ten years. “As is the case with many old policies, these are reviewed from time to time to see if they are relevant in the current context.”

The SA Jewish Report heard from an anonymous source that the Beth Din was considering imposing a psak on the matter – a halachic ruling that would make this policy official Jewish law in South Africa. It is still unclear if the endorsement of the policy by the Beth Din is officially a psak.

Though the SA Jewish Report asked for more explanation for how the Beth Din had arrived at its conclusion, the dayanim declined to offer it.

Limmud is a Jewish festival of learning that originated in the United Kingdom and now holds more than 80 events worldwide. It allows anyone interested in Judaism to attend and present. In South Africa for 13 years, 2 000 people attended Limmud events across the country in 2018.

In these 13 years, the Beth Din has never before asked to meet Limmud, so when its dayanim requested a meeting with Limmud’s leadership, the organisation saw it as a positive step possibly resulting in the relaxing of the policy on rabbis’ attendance. “We were open to meeting, and always will be,” said Roth.

In the meeting, Roth said she and her team explained Limmud’s strict policies on Shabbat and kashrut, and that there was strong orthodox attendance at Limmud events globally, both in terms of participants and presenters. In fact, in England, it is attended by the chief rabbi, Beth Din dayanim, Chabad rabbis, and other orthodox rabbis.

“In South Africa, the demographics of our community are similar to the demographics of those who attend Limmud. Ninety percent of our participants are orthodox-affiliated,” said Roth. “Although local rabbis do not attend, we bring in orthodox rabbis and teachers from overseas. Both shomrei Shabbos people and unobservant people say that Limmud is the best Shabbos of their year. For those who don’t keep Shabbat, it becomes one of the times when they do,” said Roth.

“In terms of how we put our programme together, we are guided by Limmud’s values. This includes diversity, as well as the idea that everybody should learn, and anyone can teach. We encourage people to empower themselves and rise to the challenge of learning and teaching.

“On the same note, we never force anyone to listen to someone they don’t want to hear. It’s all about making empowered choices. There are eight sessions per time slot, and everyone’s biography is available, so you know what you are going to hear and can make an informed decision,” said Roth.

“Limmud trusts in people’s ability to make adult choices about their Jewish lives. They can hear something and disagree with it, or choose not to go to a particular session if they don’t want to. We encourage debate, and no one is put on a pedestal. Another value of Limmud is having an ‘argument for the sake of heaven’. We focus on education and not polemics, and do not take sides,” she said.

In an environment in which many youth feel alienated, Limmud is one of the spaces that attracts young Jews. “Last year, we had an equal number of 20 to 40-year-olds as 60 and up! That’s unheard of in any other local Jewish community space. This is a 48-hour weekend of intensive Jewish learning from 08:00 to 01:00 every day. With the statistics showing increased disengagement with Judaism, we are proud that Limmud is successfully promoting engagement with Jewish learning and Jewish values, and drawing on people from a range of ages and Jewish backgrounds,” Roth said.

She wondered what the basis was for excluding members of the Jewish community from participating and presenting at a Jewish event. “Surely Jewish values such as ahavat chinam (unconditional love for one another) is something all of us should welcome? Limmud SA welcomes people of all backgrounds to learn and build community in a respectful manner. We do not endorse any stream or denomination, rather we provide an inclusive platform to expand Jewish horizons and enhance Jewish life in South Africa.”

She said Limmud’s doors were always open. “We hope to continue conversations with all parties involved, and find a way through this impasse. We respect the decision to not attend just as we respect all those who elect to attend Limmud.”

6 Comments

  1. 6 Carla 20 Jun
    Mazel Tov to Adina and Limmud SA. 
    Here is the statement I have heard in a long while.

    "“Limmud trusts in people’s ability to make adult choices about their Jewish lives."
  2. 5 Marie Bickof 20 Jun
    Here is an organization trying to get Jews of all types to get together and get along with each other but are hampered by the Orthodox leadership in shying away to teach and try to inculcate more religion into South African Jews.

    I have learnt that Moshiach will come when all Jews are united and get along with one another.  Instead of trying to do so, the Johannesburg Beth Din is doing the opposite and we can thank them in their definitely not wisdom for ensuring that Moshiach has no intention of coming soon.

    Why can they not try and get along with others - Orthodox Rabbis in other countries try to encourage Jews all over to get along with each other but this diminishing Jewish population of South Africa is faced with leadership who seem to be holier than thou.

    A very sad day for South African Jewry!!
  3. 4 Rafi Plotkin ( Toronto) 21 Jun
    What a bunch of reactionary closed minded people the Johannesburg Beth Din is.
    They should encourage debate and participate in Limmud.
    Very Middle Ages view of the world they have, Spinoza would have been their favourite!!
    Talk of being intolerant!!
  4. 3 Debbie Lubinsky 23 Jun
    Quote by Chief Rabbi Mervis UK: speaking at Limmud fulfills “one of my primary functions as teacher of the community. I see Limmud as an opportunity to teach Torah to large numbers of people who want to learn.”
    https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/u-k-has-new-chief-rabbi-new-inclusive-policy-1.5335870
  5. 2 Joel Bergman 24 Jun
    Re Limmud:
    Your Editorial comment said it all. I am mid-70's, SA born of a traditional "orthodox" background - and simply cannot understand what the dayanim of the Beth Din and our Chief Rabbi fear. They are demonstrating a blinkered attitude which is not supported by the path of history. Our religion has metamorphed over the centuries – and will continue so to do. And the fact that a similar ban is not found anywhere else in the world (!) demonstrates an unparalleled height of self-righteous arrogance.
    As you said in your editorial, in the real world there are divergent religious views and practices – from the far right to far left. Limmud provides me with a satisfying path to ongoing attraction to, and inclusion in, the non-religious Jewish intellectual fold. Limmud provides an all-encompassing and stimulating environment in which diverse views and perspectives are discussed and debated. It is unbiased and does not aim to alter religious beliefs.
    In the face of resurgent anti-Semitism worldwide, where the label of “Jew” is unrelated to any special level of actual religious practise or ritual, the Rabbonim should be doing everything in their power to ensure harmony amongst our people – not to sow division and exclusion. Who is a Jew and which Jew is the target of anti-Semites? Anyone so designated by any non-Jew. Banning Limmud shows pathetic weakness.
  6. 1 Pauline 05 Jul
    I think that this decision made by this arrogant beth din is another reason to be dissatisfied how this archaic system is working. How can they expect, us mere mortals, every day to be sure that we follow halachic practises without question, thats what people are striving for, its a mindfulness practice it doesnt hsppen in a day. Unortunately this decision is whats dividing Jews both here and in Israel..Are they afraid there will be too many controversial question? Sometimes i stsrt to feel like a hatred for orthodox biggots. Ive had two experiences with the Rabbanut in Israel  when i went to apply for my Army pension from my decease husband. They asked for my son to do this on my behalf and only male witnesses they wouldnt even  give me eye contact or answer my questions 7220Ebecause i was a woman. How do feminists accept this? By refusing to come to limmud with an open mind and an open heart they are definitely not spreading light. It feels like they are a group of misogynists. i would like each rabbi that opposed it to explain in their own words about why they feel this is for the greater good of the Jewish Community. By the way I'm not affilliated to Limmud at all. 

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