British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis Brings Message of Openness to Limmud

Decries 'Self-Imposed Ghetto' in Debut Appearance

flix'n'pix

By Jane Eisner

Published December 23, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

In the decades since a bunch of British Jews created Limmud, its model of volunteer experts offering a pluralistic smorgasbord of Jewish teachings, arts offerings and performances has turned into a worldwide movement. But through all these years, the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom has never attended Limmud in the country where it all started.

So just the mere presence today of Ephraim Mirvis, who has held the powerful position of chief rabbi for only a year, created a buzz here.

Observers were well aware that the previous chief rabbi avoided attending Limmud, even when his own son-in-law helped run the multi-day conference, which attracts thousands of Jews to a windswept university campus in the middle of England. Limmud’s core principles of egalitarian openness were evidently too much for the leader of British Jews to countenance.

The room in which Mirivs spoke was thus jammed with an eager audience and a phalanx of security. Many more listened in an overflow room.

What they heard on the surface was an engaging if conventional teaching about the Torah portion of the week – specifically, the second chapter of the book of Exodus, beginning with the birth of Moses.

But the subtext was, in my opinion, startling for its message: Mirvis used the figure of Moses not only to illuminate leadership qualities and to emphasize Jewish unity. He also forcefully spoke of the need for “universalistic ideals” and the imperative to be concerned about other people, to “not exist in a self-imposed ghetto away from the rest of the people in the world.”

WATCH: Limmud Britain on live-stream

“When we exist only for ourselves, when we disregard members of other communities…that might be a pious way of life but it is a treyf way of life.”

Mirvis may be new in his position, the only one dressed in a suit in this decidedly casual crowd, but my sense is that he knew exactly what he was doing by drawing that lesson in his maiden speech at Limmud, a movement that many say reflects his future constituency. This is a gray-haired conference, but also a hip and edgy one. (Last night I attended an SRO session run by four hilarious and occasionally profane young women who call themselves “The Misogynists Film Club.”)

He needs the allegiance of Limmudniks if he is going to be able to maintain the centrality of his office. British Jews are more moderate and affiliated than American Jews, but they are not immune to the opposing trends of fundamentalism and assimilation that are tearing away at the broad center among their co-religionists across the pond.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.