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!
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • 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.