The freedom of belonging

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By Bryan Opert

I hate having to start an article about Limmud with the following, because it is really not relevant to any intelligent discussion about attending Limmud on religious grounds or not. But here goes, I have both attended every single Limmud since arriving in Cape Town over ten years ago (my wife has missed one) and have presented at almost every one. I know Limmud.

Craig Nudelman mentioned in his August Using my Nudel column, titled Celebrating Diversity in our Community, that the Orthodox Rabbi’s ‘boycotted’ Limmud, I think this is a very unfortunate word. 

We all know what boycott implies within our community. The Rabbis have made a Halachic decision using rigorous Torah principles, not to attend Limmud, and scores of rabbis around the world agree with them. Other Orthodox Rabbis might reach different conclusions, that is their right. Suggesting however that the South African Orthodox Rabbinate are boycotting Limmud is like suggesting that they boycott KFC or Steers. The Chief Rabbi wrote an article explaining what the Halachik p’sak (decision) is based on, it was respectful, clear, articulate and cogent. It is based on opinions that traverse sources from the Talmud through 2000 years to Sages of this century. The Beit Din and Chief Rabbi are world renowned experts in their field and just like research in any discipline it takes years to understand the language, development of ideas and philosophical underpinnings of opinion to reach conclusions. In courts when a judge gives a final judgement it is unreasonable to assume that anyone not trained and with years of experience in the field will understand the judgement to its full depth with all its nuance. Furthermore, other judges may dispute it without diminishing the character of the original judge, like in the Pistorius case when we all learnt the words ‘dolus eventualis’ without being invited to sit on the bench of future murder cases!

It gives me enormous pleasure that the Beit Din, however, partner with Limmud in ensuring all the food is Kosher. That is tolerance and love. Even when they disagree with the programme they will still give every Jew the opportunity to eat Kosher food. And the Beit Din is consistent, as one other example, kosher restaurants may serve meat during the nine days before Tisha B’Av when according to Orthodox law one is to refrain as a sign of increased mourning. That, my friends is tolerance and loving your fellow as yourself. Even though not agreeing with their opinion supporting their right to eat Kosher. 

Hillary Clinton once said ‘Part of diplomacy is to open different definitions of self-interest’. If values are so broad any number of definitions can plop right into them — it is pure diplomacy. The article mentions the core values of Limmud which I think are superb and noble and thank G-d are exactly the same at every interfaith learning space I have attended. These are not exceptional to Limmud making it a Jewish/Torah environment, they are principles that every open liberal society adheres to. The only Limmud principle I find fascinating is the one: ‘argument for the sake of Heaven’. I am wondering how on earth anyone on Limmud’s board could define what (or where) ‘Heaven’ is. A number of years ago I attended a captivating talk at Limmud on Humanistic/Atheistic Judaism. If Heaven is a place on earth then that is correct, if not, I am completely befuddled about what it could possibly mean. I suggest a good number of speakers at Limmud do not have Heaven in their minds when they construct their presentations. And that is their right! 

Another of Limmud’s values is ‘religious observance’. As Rabbi Alexander, also in the Cape Jewish Chronicle, cogently pointed out in his article on Limmud, the keeping of Shabbos and Kashrut in public spaces is only in accordance with Orthodox Judaism, so who defines ‘religious observance’? The atheistic presenter mentioned above has quite a different understanding of religious observance to both Rabbi Alexander and myself or perhaps rejects it altogether. 

I find it astounding how many Limmudniks quote only certain statements by only certain Sages. Hillel, who appears throughout the entire Torah did not define community as including all communities, when warning against separating from the community. To make a clear value statement and sit in judgement of the SA Beit Din that they have contradicted Hillel and separated themselves from the community, in my opinion is bad form. 

Hillel also had some very different opinions to what one might expect, including the principle of applying the death penalty for contravention of a number of ritual laws. One statement by a Rabbi is as indicative of his value system as a single swallow is of summer.

I am most fond of the statement oft quoted by Limmudniks that there are 70 facets of the Torah. Have you ever wondered why there are only 70 perspectives of the Torah and not 71, or 75 or the rabbis just saying it is multi-faceted? I suggest because not every opinion is acceptable. There are only a limited number and then — it is no longer Torah. Every person may decide for themselves what is in and what’s out, the Orthodox Rabbinate have that right as well. 

One of the values of Limmud is respect and I think that Limmud should come out with a strongly worded statement making it clear that it distances itself from all of the disrespectful and disdainful remarks made about the Chief Rabbi and Beit Din. I suggest they call it #notinmyname. 

See you all at Limmud 2020. 

To download a PDF of the Chronicle for October, click here

To read the editor’s column this month, titled ‘Why we need more difficult females’ click here

To read the most read story online in September, click here

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