Thursday, February 6, 2014

Gil Student on Limmud

Next week is Limmud NY, which I am attending. I will be moderating a discussion group on J-blogging on Monday, February 17th.

Gil Student has a thoughtful article in The Jewish Press today. In it, he expresses concern over whether Orthodox Jews should attend Limmud or not. He writes:

"I see three main issues with attending Limmud. The first is the legitimacy given to the non-Orthodox teachers... 
"Additionally, if Orthodox rabbis widely embrace Limmud, the Orthodox laity will follow in large numbers...
"Many, currently most [of those who will be teaching at Limmud] base their teachings on beliefs that Orthodox Jews consider heresy. They will speak about the human authors of the Torah, the bias of the Sages, the immorality of halacha and choosing whether to follow even basic biblical laws..."

Gil does throw a bone:

"I am not saying that non-Orthodox scholars have nothing to teach us. Quite the opposite. They offer a fresh perspective that will take us out of our comfort zones and force us to look anew at well-worn texts. It is precisely because they have much to teach us that we have to be very careful about the unconscious and insidious de-sanctification of sacred texts."

While my first reaction was to roll my eyes and comment about Gil's rightward drift, I think his article illustrates an important divide.

The assumption behind what he writes is that all Orthodox Jews believe that Orthodoxy is "true" Judaism, more or less, and that any other denomination is a lesser, or warped version.

If you are like me, and simply believe that Orthodox Judaism is one interpretation, with no monopoly on truth, then studying with other Jews is simply a personal choice, and probably a positive thing to do.

But if you believe that your denomination holds the truth, then of course the question of attendance hinges on whether anything is to be gained, and whether one's ideas might be tainted.

My gut feeling is that even for "Orthodoxy is truth" folks, Limmud would be a wonderful and positive experience, and that Gil is wrong in his hesitation. But in a sense I'm coming from outside the system (although I do affiliate mostly with Orthodoxy), and we are speaking different languages.

In any case, I will happily be attending Limmud NY next week, and hope to see many of you there.


  1. I'll be attending the Limmud NY Conference, too, and I hope we'll have an opportunity to meet.

    Regarding Rabbi Student's concern, I'm coming from the opposite perspective--I think that one of the advantages of Limmud Conferences as opposed to National Havurah Committee Institutes or weekends is that, as a group seeking inclusiveness, Limmud attracts a more diverse crowd than the egalitarian-on-principle Havurah Committee, which in plain English means that many more Orthodox Jews enrich Limmud Conferences with their presence.

  2. Okay, that link didn't work quite as planned. Let me take a more direct approach:

    Monday, February 17
    9:45amDo Blogs Still Matter? The Changing Landscape of the J-Blogosphere (Presenters: david staum)

    Cool! Minyan followed by breakfast followed by a J-blogging discussion--that's my early-Monday schedule. See you there!

  3. Looking forward to meeting you, Shira! if you look me up on Facebook, you can see my picture so if you see me, come say hello even earlier than Monday.