In re Limmud: A Rejoinder to Rabbi Cardozo

Torah Judaism has always been defined by belief in binding halacha, based upon the Torah given to Moshe Rabbeinu at Sinai and the rabbinical exegesis contained in the Talmud. While there are endless disputes as to the precise contours of the halacha, about its obligatory nature and the sources for its determination there are none.

The halacha is the framework within which each Jew creates his or her individual relationship to G-d. Every Jew has a unique mission in the world and an aspect of G-d that only he — by virtue of his unique combination of strengthens and challenges, singular familial and historical situation — can reveal. But again, it is G-d’s commands that create the framework for the fulfillment of that mission.

G-d’s existence is, in philosophical terms, necessary; ours is contingent and depends on our attachment to Him.

BETWEEN TORAH JUDAISM AND THE VARIOUS HETERODOX MOVEMENTS of Jews there is no theological common ground or meeting point. There is no continuum from lesser to greater Jewish practice, for at the theological level the chasm is unbridgeable and absolute.

Both in our eyes and those of our enemies Judaism was always defined by the Law we received at Sinai. Paul, the founder of Christianity, came to free mankind from the “curse of the Law.” And Martin Luther thought the Law existed only to drive men mad and into the bosom of the church. In its rejection of the Law, Reform lines up on the Christian side of the divide.

That Law starts with the objective command, though the details of the command may subject to dispute. For the heterodox denominations, however, the starting point is individual: He decides by what to be bound, for how long, and to what degree. As Reform leader Eric Yoffie puts it, “ultimately I must examine each mitzvah and ask the question, ‘Do I feel commanded as Moses was commanded?'”

The result is that each Jew creates his own religion – one that denies the very possibility of any objective standards. As another Reform clergyman describes the theology of his congregants, “I will do what I want, call it Judaism, and refuse to indulge or even tolerate rabbinic judgment to the contrary. Reform is an intellectual and political technique of immunity from normative Jewish evaluation.”

That explains why so many heterodox Jews respond to the claim that their denominational brand names lack all historical or theological coherence with the accusation that they have been labeled non-Jews. They conflate, “Who is a Jew?” and “What is Judaism?” because in their minds Judaism is whatever a particular Jew does or does not believe.

The emphasis on subjective experience as the defining element of religion, Rabbi Yosef Ber Soleveitchik pointed out, derives from German Protestantism and before that to pagan rituals. Perhaps that is why the New Age “Jewish” festivals, with their call for each person to define is own relationship with G-d, invariably degenerate into Dionysian bacchanals.

ENGLAND’s annual Limmud Conference reinforces the very idea that Torah Judaism considers the most pernicious: Judaism has no objective content; it is whatever you want it to be. It offers a smorgasbord from which participants can choose – some by Orthodox presenters. But the subliminal message is: There is a denominational spectrum – and every band width is equally valid. Pick and choose that which suits you best.

Limmud was repeatedly approached by some of the leading rabbinic figures in England, including Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu of the London Beis Din, with the request for a single-day for only Orthodox presenters, But those requests were repeatedly rebuffed because such a day would be out of sync with the message of a denominational spectrum.

At Limmud, various speakers hawk their wares like so many fishwives, while participants stroll about sampling from the a la carte menu, including no less than ten sessions devoted to homosexual advocacy and a healthy dose of anti-Israel propaganda – e.g., the screening of Jumpers, about the destructive effect of IDF service on four young Israelis. The conference directors assume that to attract young British Jews one needs plenty of the latter. A close friend of mine who participated as a presenter last year told me that the pervasive anti-Israel tone left him skeptical of the value of the entire endeavor.

Jews can identify strongly with Israel without being religiously observant. But I would guess that the likelihood of young Jews who are easily convinced that their fellow Jews in Israel are militaristic oppressors, perpetuating the worst human rights abuses against innocent Palestinians, coming to identify with the broader Jewish community any time soon — other than as a means to attack to Israel — are slim.

THE CONTEXT IN WHICH TORAH is taught is crucial. A wealthy, non-observant Jewish merchant once found himself at an inn with one of the great figures of the Mussar movement. The two Jews entered into a discussion of deep matters of Jewish belief. In the middle of the discussion, the merchant’s servant entered the room and was told to prepare the carriage.

The rabbi immediately cut off all conversation, despite the merchant’s protestations that he was thoroughly enjoying their talk. The rabbi explained to him, “I thought this was a serious discussion. But if it was serious, then you would have to be prepared to change your life depending on the outcome. When I saw that you had already made up your mind to continue on to your destination, I realized that you did not entertain any possibility of change and were not serious. For you the conversation was only an entertainment, and to provide intellectual entertainment, I have no time.”

Our Sages enjoin us to avoid the company of scoffers and light-headed people. How else can we describe a venue that offers next to Torah lectures sessions on “Fifty Shades of Hummus;” “Old Jewish Jokes;” “Kaddish for Deceased Pets;” “Pyjama Party Disco;” and a “drumming workshop”? Is that a place where young Jews are in a frame of mind to change their lives?

No doubt those Orthodox rabbis who attend Limmud are convinced that they have profound impact on their listeners. It is an occupational hazard of Torah speakers – in whose ranks I fall – to consistently over-estimate the impact of a single speech. But that is particularly true of those whose stock-in-trade is confirming the validity of every prejudice against Orthodox Jews and Judaism of their listeners, but offering their own sterling character as proof that one can be decent and Orthodox.

RABBI NATHAN LOPES CARDOZO goes even further. He does not just urge Orthodox presenters to take advantage of whatever opportunities they are given at Limmud, but to sit together with their heterodox colleagues and learn from them. What should they learn? Biblical criticism? Guitar-playing?

Cardozo suggests that the Orthodox might have learned from the heterodox how better to read the “religious map” of world Jewry. Has he read the PEW study of American Jewry – the 71% intermarriage rate among non-Orthodox Jews, the wildly disproportionate overrepresentation of Jews in cults, the million or more American Jews who describe their religion as “none” or “other”? Has he read last week’s JTA article on Conservative and Reform temples surviving by renting out space to Orthodox minyanim?

Is there a comparable phenomenon in the Reform and Conservative movements to the ba’alei teshuva movement, which has brought tens of thousands of Jews into the Orthodox fold? Does he know Conservative and Reform Jews dramatically changing their lives around the question: What does G-d want of me?

RABBI CARDOZO hails the courage of new British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis for his decision to attend the upcoming Limmud Conference and bemoans the cowardice of Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu and other senior religious figures for urging Orthodox rabbis not to attend.

It is an open secret that the selectors of the new chief rabbi made attendance at Limmud a condition for the appointment. Rabbi Mirvis may have decided that his considerable personal and organizational skills were just the thing to revive the moribund United Synagogue, and there was nothing to be gained by passing on the appointment, since whoever was appointed in his place would also go. And he may have reasoned that his opening address, with no heterodox rabbis on the podium with him, could do little harm, and he might even inspire some with his words of Torah and encouragement of Torah learning. But an act of heroism his attendance is not.

And conversely, Dayan Ehrentreu surely knew that his public letter urging Orthodox rabbis to stay away from Limmud, as presently constituted, would subject him to widespread calumny in the Anglo-Jewish media and from the so-called leaders of British Jewry. Whatever the merits, his decision to go public with his criticism was not an act of cowardice.

The real tragedy is not that more Orthodox speakers don’t offer themselves as “window-dressing,” in the words of London rabbi Alan Kimche, at what should properly be called the Limmud Conference of Progressive Judaism. But that the British Orthodox establishment did not continue funding a program called Encounter, which served as a effective counter to Limmud and attracted large numbers of non-observant Jews. Encounter provided the model upon which South African Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein – a true hero – built the phenomenally successful Sinai Indaba, which attracts far more Jews than the British Limmud every year.

This article first appeared in the Jerusalem Post

You may also like...

19 Responses

  1. L. Oberstein says:

    This is a good example of how different people will see the same thing from a different perspective. Of course you are right according to the practices of the frum community,at least in major cities. It is rare to find an orthodox rabbi today participating in non demoninational adult education series if the rabbi is from the yeshiva world.The gedolim said not to join the Board of Rabbis and this comes under that rubric. Out of town, it is common and normal if e.g. the JCC in Atlanta or Birmingham has a series to invite all the local rabbis to give a class. This isn’t the same as being on a panel with a hetrodox rabbi. It works out of town, it isn’t done in the big cities where the orthodox are a major presence on their own. On the other hand, it is hard for many non ideological, amei haaretz to understand how you can want them to listen to you when you won’t sit with their rabbi. The do not get it and many take it personally. To you it is a matter of hashkafah, to them it is a matter of derech eretz. Those rabbis who do participate do not feel they are legitimizing a false religion, they honestgly believe they are reaching out to all Jews and teaching Torah. No one is muzzling them. In the end, this is just another example of the polarization of British Jewry and the decline of the United Synagogue and the rise of the more chareidi element as the decisive factor. I guess the new Chief Rabbi may be making a statement that he won’t be boxed in by the chareidim. So, in the end, all of your arguments, while 100% true, are not really the real issue to those who participate.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    One basic question is whether attendees have open minds going into such an event, or whether they are already 100% committed to one of the factions represented there, and are looking for camaraderie and validation. Are there any data or strong, direct impressions to support an answer for this Limmud event?

    Jonathan Rosenblum wrote above, “But that is particularly true of those whose stock-in-trade is confirming the validity of every prejudice against Orthodox Jews and Judaism of their listeners, but offering their own sterling character as proof that one can be decent and Orthodox.” I’m reminded of the program and activities of the CLAL organization, which offers itself as being friendly to all persuasions—Orthodox included—and a unifying force, but is something else in practice.

  3. dr. bill says:

    You write: “BETWEEN TORAH JUDAISM AND THE VARIOUS HETERODOX MOVEMENTS of Jews there is no theological common ground or meeting point. There is no continuum from lesser to greater Jewish practice, for at the theological level the chasm is unbridgeable and absolute.”
    The real slippery scope slides both ways. If there is even a theoretical chasm, it is not all that actionable. A new book by prof. Christine Hayes on what is divine about divine law, soon to be released, will do much to improve legitimate debate, like prof. katz’s work on divine law in human hands addressing a more recent / relevant period. When I heard her lecture on this topic, a year ago, someone tried to get her to comment on a position like you outlined versus that of ḥakhmai ḥazal. She jokingly demurred, saying she does not have expertise beyond the seventh century, reading even rishonim primarily for their analysis of more ancient text. While I do not believe her views comport with a reform agenda, they are significantly more nuanced and, imho, frankly in keeping with even more modern views of traditional psak. I would not deign to summarize. Both outline the extent of change that occurred in various positions.

  4. Shades of Gray says:

    Jonathan Rosenblum responded well to why an Orthodox rabbi should not attend Limmud, notwithstanding the attendance and opinion of R. Mirvis. It blurs lines, and does not have the context for proper Torah study, unlike the Sinai Indaba which was conducive to drawing people closer to Torah. However, the article did not respond to one of R. Cardozo’s points, that “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.” R. Adlerstein discussed this issue in his review of “One People, Two Worlds” in the Spring, 2003 Jewish Action:

    “The second charge leveled against us was that we refuse debate because we are fundamentally insecure. Neither our content nor our thinking could stand up to the scrutiny of enlightened critics; our only recourse was to ban the prodding and poking from outsiders. Again, Rabbi Reinman’s effort stood this argument on its head. He showed Orthodoxy unafraid to debate, self-assured in its beliefs and fully conversant with the arguments of the competition. Indeed, while some readers will reject many of Rabbi Reinman’s arguments, they will not be able to dislodge the image of a supremely confident and articulate Orthodox personage
    whose knowledge runs rings around his Reform counterpart.

    …To do a good job, Rabbi Reinman did not have to slam-dunk every question put to him. All he had to do was demonstrate depth, confidence and humanity, and he would burst bubbles of negativity that envelop our image. The book was never intended to be a modern rerun of the medieval church debates in which both sides attempted to bring irrefutable proof to establish the True Religion. It did not have to be perfect. Would some of Rabbi Hirsch’s arguments resonate more with some readers? Perhaps, although very unlikely, except to those already in his camp. Would this make any difference? Not really. Those who were lost to the other denominations made their move decades ago; there are no more groups of Jews sitting on the fence, waiting to choose between traditional and non-traditional models of Judaism. The project was a classic win-win proposition.”

  5. DF says:

    While Jonathan Rosenblum’s role as a spokesman for the Agudah view is well-known and appreciated, he still usually displays a keen understanding of the opposing view. It is surprising, then, that this article seems so myopic in discussing the by-now very old question of orthodox participation in non-orthodox events.

    Essentially JR adopts, as expected, the view of the 11 Roshei Yeshivas who declared such participation forbidden. There is much merit to that view, particularly given the time when it was made, the 1950s. One well understands the fear of “conferring legitimacy” or appearing to condone viewpoints viewed as heretical. But JR does not even seem to grasp the equally compelling other side. That if you want to win Jews, you have to go where they are, even if that means going to “mixed denomination” events. That tens of thousands of Reform Jews were lost simply because, due to this ban, they were never exposed to the orthodox viewpoint. And that orthodoxy need not fear conferring legitimacy by its attendance, because in the eyes of the public, orthodoxy has no more right than any one else to confer this mantle.

    This is an old question, and lots of great men, on both sides of the coin, have debated it. I personally don’t think the question is even capable of an answer, as it all depends on time and circumstance. But even if JR comes down on the agudah style, I should think he would display some appreciation for the difficulties of the question.

  6. Steve Brizel says:

    The real issue with Limmud as opposed to kiruv and chizuk, is that Limmud essentially is a nice Karaoke exercise in “I’m Jewish, you are Jewish, and halachic and hashkafic differences are irrelevant”. While RYBS differed from other Talmdie Chachamim on issues of Klapei Chutz, on issues of Klapei Pnim , RYBS viewed any interdenominational theological discussions and participation as unacceptable. That is why RYBS supported the SCA, but was very opposed to Orthodox participation in such institutions as the NY Board of Rabbis.

  7. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Jack Wertheimer, in a recent article in Commentary, explained why community Kollelim, Chabad , and other kiruv groups offer and atract the unaffiliated as well as those who were turned off by the heterodox movements. Limmud, IMO, offers a no pain, no gain atmosphere wherein any Orthodox individual is engaging in rope a dope like apologetics without explaining and demonstrating the profundity of a life rooted in Torah observance.

  8. Mr. Cohen says:

    Throughout Jewish History, Jews have repeatedly attempted
    to combine Judaism with Gentile values that were popular
    at the time. Some examples:

    In the times of the Prophet Elijah, Jews attempted to
    combine Judaism with the worship of the Gentile idol
    known as “Baal,” whose worship was popular at that time.

    In the times of the Maccabees, most Jews wanted to adopt
    Greek culture, which was dominant at that time.

    In the times of the Rambam (Maimonides) Jews attempted
    to combine Judaism with the philosophy of Aristotle,
    which was very popular at that time.

    The 1800s, the early Reform Judaism movement attempted to
    combine synagogue worship with organs, a musical instrument
    which was very popular in churches at that time.
    Other “improvements” adopted by the early Reform Judaism
    movement included: crucifix-shaped synagogue buildings
    and “Rabbis” who officiated while wearing clothes similar
    to those worn by Christian ministers.

    In the very early 1900s, some Jews attempted to combine
    Judaism with Marxism, which was popular with Jews at that time.
    (Marxism eventually became less popular with Jews because
    of Soviet persecutions of Jews a few decades later.)

    In the 1970s, Martin Rosen, a Baptist Minister of Jewish birth,
    created “Jews for Jesus,” which combines popular Fundamentalist
    Christian theology with Jewish symbols and Jewish rituals.

    In 1997, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) was
    founded with the goal of combining Judaism with Feminism,
    which was very popular at that time and still is.

    Why should a religious faith like Orthodox Judaism,
    which is more than 33 centuries old and the world’s
    oldest surviving religious faith, be expected to comply
    with the demands of American-style-Egalitarianism,
    which is less than one century old?

  9. Lisa Liel says:

    Thank you, Jonathan.

  10. Shimon says:

    As a baal teshuvah, it has always been my impression that the most genuine, committed baalei teshuvah are those that were attracted by the most genuine, commmitted, UNAPOLOGETIC frum Jews, those not afraid to stand out and be different.
    Unfortunately, today there is a trend to create a “sliding scale” in the kiruv world, choosing more “trendy” frum Jews to market Yiddishkeit to the not-yet-frum, in the mistaken belief that this is more likely to appeal to them. Sometimes this seems to work, but I wonder if those who enter on the lowest rung of “It’s fun/cool to be frum” really progress much beyond this, most critically, to anywhere near “It’s amazing to do ratzon Hashem”?
    As we know, learning shelo lishmah only leads to lishmah if that was the original intention. If the shelo lishmah (to have a good time, have a better marriage – all the self-serving reasons) was the whole impetus to becoming “frum” then it seems unlikely that the end result will be anything much worth having, to be honest.
    People go to Limmud to have a good time and to have that good time “validated” in the context of their “Jewish identity.” Thankfully, I was never there. But I have seen the results of other similar attempts to bolster Jewish identity and they are dismal. At the end of the day, it’s still going to be easier to have a “good time” in a totally secular setting. The days of secular Jewish youth wanting only to socialize with “their own” are long over.
    If I were a secular Jew attending Limmud for whatever reason, I think I would be impressed by the appearance of the chief rabbi, denouncing the whole conference as a legitimization of the “streams” idea of Judaism and proudly asserting that the Torah has always been the only thing that defines a Jew. I don’t think I would become a baal teshuvah on the spot from hearing such a speech, but it would sow real seeds of Jewish pride that could easily sprout later on.
    Unfortunately, I doubt that was what Rabbi Mirvis had to say.

  11. Raymond says:

    I have been an admirer of Rabbi Cardozo ever since I personally attended his lectures at Ohr Sameyach in Jerusalem several decades ago. So it was a bit shocking for me to see that anybody in the Orthodox Jewish world would have anything negative to say about that very stimulating thinker and brilliant man.

    And on this issue, too, I side with Rabbi Cardozo. I think of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, how he used to attend those rather off-the-wall New Age Spiritual Fairs, because he knew that that was where the Jews were who most needed him to guide them back to Judaism. I think of a Rabbi Grossman, known as the Disco Rabbi, because he would go inside Israeli discoteques in Tel Aviv to help bring back Jews to their Jewish roots. I think of the whole Chabad Chassidic movement, how they establish Chabad Centers in all sorts of far-off places such as India because, again, that is where the lost Jewish souls are for them to help rescue and bring back to Judaism.

    There is certainly nothing wrong with Torah Rabbis addressing Jews who are already within the Orthodox Jewish community. However, to limit oneself to that, is to preach to the choir, and does nothing to bring back the vast majority of assimilated Jews who would not otherwise be brought back to Judaism. I myself often find myself deliberately engaging in discussions about Judaism with Jews who are totally secular. I may not have the spiritual force to make them suddenly turn them around and completely change their lives, but I figure that even temporarily putting the Torah view into their consciousness, may have a positive effect on them, somewhere down the line.

    And so, I applaud Rabbi Cardozo for caring to that extent about the lost Jewish souls of our world.

  12. C. Kanoiy says:

    “At Limmud, various speakers hawk their wares like so many fishwives, while participants stroll about sampling from the a la carte menu, including… a healthy dose of anti-Israel propaganda – e.g., the screening of Jumpers, about the destructive effect of IDF service on four young Israelis.”

    I appreciate the many valid points that Jonathan Rosenblum adressess in this article. However the comment quoted above seems somewhat irrelevant to the point at hand. Furthermore, on this point the Orthodox world could actually learn something from the limud confrence. Perhaps the affiliation of the Orthodox world with the pro-settler movement in Israel should be questioned and challenged. Perhaps a showing of “5 Broken Cameras” at an Agudah convention can help us question the “beauty” of building “Torah Cities” like Kiryat Sefer, Brachfeld and Beitar on the other side of the greenline. Perhaps it can serve to remind us of Rav Shach’s opposition to building settlements. Today Chareidi settlements are some of the largest settlement blocks in Yehuda and Shomron. A little self introspection would not hurt.

  13. mb says:

    One of the highlights of Limmud was a Talmud chavrusa between, R.Cardozo and R.Norman Lamm.
    One of the many positive things that happen. How can you write about something you’ve never experienced.
    Shame on R.Rosenblum for this .

  14. Ben Bradley says:

    This article is a perfect example of why people who are not adequately familiar with a particular section of Jewish society should not presume to comment on it. Rosenblum is a product of American Jewry which has its own quirks and cultural idiosyncracies. The UK Jewish is different in a whole number of ways which this is not the place to point out. Limmud feeds off the specific quirks of the UK Jewish scene. It is undeniably organised by pluralist ideologues and as such is hardly a place of tahara v’kedusha. Nonetheless I know that there exist a cohort of people of Anglo-orthodox persuasion who go primarily to hear Orthodox shiurim from Orthodox teachers. I also know that this cohort get genuine benefit from what they hear. I have yet to come across anyone turned from Orthodoxy to any other stream by attending.
    So the Rabbonim may ‘scream like cranes’ with perfectly good hashkafic reasons but the fact remains that the presence of Orthodox teachers reaches people at Limmud without which there would be spiriual hole for a number of attendees.
    Point is, essentially, that Rosenblum has no helpful insight into an event outside his range of Jewish vision. It would be really, really helpful if people stopped to reflect on their personal hashkafic pecadilloes before putting fingers to keyboard.

  15. cvmay says:

    I know nothing of the Limmud conference of UK and understand the dangers of integrating and associating with Jews of diverse stripes and uniforms. Yet if Rav Cardoza foresaw a value in attending, I wish him success in accomplishing a “Kiddush hashem”.

    Is there a sincere thirst for connection to the Divine among participants that we should want to spark?

  16. cvmay says:

    “Perhaps the affiliation of the Orthodox world with the pro-settler movement in Israel should be questioned and challenged”

    COMPLETELY CLUELESS on this statement.
    The settler movement in Israel is primarily, as in 95% Orthodox and even rightwing Torah oriented, so what are you talking about?… Many of Rav Shach’s zt”l prior statements have become dusty, check out the closer relationship between Lubavitch and the Litvish world the last 5 years is an excellent example. If you investigate the kehillos in Yehuda and Shomron (ex: Givat Zev, Ramat Shlomo, Beitar, Modiin Elite, Nvei Yakov, etc.)you will find talmidim of Rav Shach heading kollelim, yeshivot, batei medresh and Chinuch enterprises.

  17. Crazy Kanoiy says:


    “Many of Rav Shach’s zt”l prior statements have become dusty,…If you investigate the kehillos in Yehuda and Shomron you will find talmidim of Rav Shach heading kollelim, yeshivot, batei medresh and Chinuch enterprises”

    Exactly my point! Perhaps we would do well to brush the dust off of these “duty opinions” and see if perhaps we have ignored his wise council. Chareidi ideology is not and should not be synonymous with that of that Mizrachi regarding Yishuv Haaretz. It is unfortunate that this distinction has become lost in many quarters.

  18. cvmay says:


    Perhaps it is time for bans and statements to be re-evaluated, reassessed, modified and lifted as the time, culture and status has changed?

    Charedim living over the kav hayarok do not think of themselves as “Misnachalim” rather as smart consumers living in the Holy land. Since Rav Azriel Auvrebach declared in Lakewood (when he visited for Yad L’achim)that he must return to Eretz Yisroel so that he can fulfill the mitzvah of Yishuv Haeretz (which he is missing every second he is Chutz L’eretz–even in Lakewood) as his father and father in law were makpid on….the wise council (& silent mitzvah) has only been strengthened.

    Since a majority of the yishuvim over the kav hayarok are Charedi, the sentiments of the Chazon Ish regarding living on and over borders may be the

  19. cvmay says:

    please add to above comment…..

    Since a majority of the yishuvim over the kav hayarok are Charedi, the sentiments of the Chazon Ish regarding living on and over borders may be the winning card of present reality.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This