Limmud SA and the Orthodox rabbinate: What are they afraid of?

by Maskil on 7 Aug 2008

kippah and tallit with siddur

A reminder to my readers in SA that Limmud South Africa takes place in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg over the period 29 August to 3 September 2008. Check the Limmud SA website for exact details for your city. If you’re planning to boycott Limmud in line with the call from the Orthodox chief rabbi and rabbinate (SARA), boy, are you ever on the wrong blog!

From the little that I’ve been able to find on the web regarding the boycott, this appears to be the best explanation (from It’s Almost Supernatural):

The rumours I have heard seem to indicate that SARA is uncomfortable with the fact that Reform Rabbis and secular scholars will be giving talks on the Jewish religion. The logic as I was explained it, is that the Orthodox Rabbinate sees itself as the only legitimate vehicle for Jewish religious instruction in South Africa. Limmud with a mix of talks by representatives of all Jewish streams clearly presents a threat to this monopoly. Moreover they can not accept the premises of Limmud that all subjects of Jewish interest (from Torah to food) should be given equal space.

Fortunately the Orthodox rabbinate no longer has the coercive power of the Kehilla, so the boycott is limited to the rabbinate itself and to anyone over whom they have some form of influence (not to be underestimated). Limmud will miss out on the participation of those who heed the boycott, but at the same time those who heed it are unlikely to have benefited from Limmud anyway. Limmud, I guess, will benefit from all the free publicity surrounding the boycott. Win some, lose some.

To me it almost appears as if Orthodoxy in SA is still fighting the war against Emancipation and the Enlightenment. I see this as the tragedy of Judaism in the centuries since then; that “mainstream” Judaism (what has now come to be identified with Orthodoxy) failed to meet the challenge of these critical events and ideologies, and instead chose to turn inward.

In my understanding, this was the first time ever that Judaism had withdrawn from competing in the marketplace of ideas, and the repercussions can be felt to this day.

While various movements within Judaism (Reform, Conservative, even Zionism) went on to try and meet the challenges of the secular age, the blessing of Rabbinic Judaism was withheld from these attempts. The flight from Judaism into assimilation, the delegitimisation of the ABO (Anything But Orthodox) streams of Judaism, the Haredisation and contraction of Orthodoxy can all be traced back to this turning point.

Emancipation and Enlightenment did not represent a greater challenge than previous ones (consider Paganism, Hellenism, Christianity, Islam, etc.), but because the challenge was not met head on, it proved to be the crucial one. The failure to respond cohesively left much of the Jewish world asking fundamental questions about Judaism and being Jewish; questions that remain without a consensus answer to this day.

End of amateur sociological lecture.

Head on over to the Limmud SA website and book (please). Booking in advance will assist the organizers (all volunteers) in their planning. In addition, if you book before 10 August (Johannesburg only), conference fees are discounted. Fees vary from venue to venue and are discounted for children, students and pensioners.

Previous post:

Next post: