Monday, November 11, 2013

My 2 shekels' worth on the Rabbi Kimche Letter

I was originally going to write this as a response on the facebook wall of Andrew Gilbert, but obviously it got a bit long for a response...

I am referencing Rabbi Alan Kimche's Open Letter about Limmud which you can find here: and also Dr Harris Bor's response which you can find here:

I thought Harris Bor's response on Jacqueline Nicholls blog was exceptional, spot on, humourous and incredibly insightful. But I was not in any way offended by the original letter from Rabbi Kimche. I may have found it to be inaccurate (nothing new when talking about Orthodox rabbis characterisations of non-Orthodox Judaism - have we forgotten that the former Chief Rabbi of the US called Reform Jews, "those who destroy the faith" and a "false grouping"). I thought that what he said about LGBTQ Jews was offensive, but I was not offended, since I would expect nothing else - mainstream Orthodox Judaism is homophobic. So I think that Rabbi Kimche's main point needs to be understood - let's be honest.

Rabbi Kimche, from what I know of his reputation (and I might be wrong), is a good representation of mainstream orthodoxy's rabbinate. What we need to be honest about is the fact that the vast majority of UK Jewry doesn't believe in the type of Judaism these people espouse, and yet for the past couple of centuries, they have been propping up this necrotic institution of the United Synagogues and their affiliates.

I think that we should have an open honest conversation, and we don't need to take offence too easily when people disagree with our viewpoints, our understanding of the world or our values. I disagree with Rabbi Kimche, but we can disagree and respect each other's right to do as we wish, and he has every right to use his office to convince people why they should reject the wonderful beit midrash which is Limmud. He has every right to reject my understanding of Jewish history and Jewish identity.

If there is one place where Dr Bor's characterisation of narrow-minded Orthodoxy fell down, I believe, it is in the idea that he believed that somehow this type of Orthodoxy will cease to be vibrant. Dr Bor recognises that in fact, intolerance breeds itself very well and that the anti-modern forms of Jewish community are the only ones genuinely thriving numerically in the UK and around the world. We, on the liberal side of this debate also need to be honest - and admit that Rabbi Kimche has some good points to make (isn't that the point of the Limmud ethos - that we can learn from those people with whom we fundamentally disagree). When he accuses non-Orthodoxy of encouraging assimilation, he is obviously talking from ignorance, but nevertheless, it encourages us to ask genuine questions about what assimilation does mean to us today and where we stand on such an issue. How do we anticipate and react to the growing numbers of Jews who find non-Jewish partners and how do we help them to create meaningful lives within these partnerships?

Most of all, I think that the Progressive reaction to Rabbi Kimche's letter misses the main point - which is that it is not talking about us at all (though of course we are pawns used by him to make his point). But Rabbi Kimche is not talking about us and he is not talking to us, but rather to those members and leaders of "modern" or "open" orthodoxy, and he is asking them to be honest. He is asking people who use the moniker of Orthodoxy to be honest about that usage. In what way are "Orthodox" leaders who reject his fundamentalism, reject his obscurantism, reject his intolerance, reject his homophobia, reject his xenophobia really Orthodox? That is the question he is asking, and the honesty he is seeking. In the end it has nothing to do with Progressive Judaism - we just look on from the sidelines, wondering whether the leaders of "Modern" or "Open" Orthodoxy still want to share a camp with Rabbi Kimche and the other Orthodox rabbis who oppose dialogue and debate, or whether they want to share a camp with those who support it.

I am not trying to deny the leaders of Open or Modern Orthodoxy the right to define themselves as they wish, or to re-define Orthodoxy, but I would ask, together with Rabbi Kimche, for some honesty. I think that the leaders who Rabbi Kimche wants to reach, people like the incredible (Hopefully chief-rabbi-to-be), Rabbi Rafi Zarum, could probably give a fascinating response to Rabbi Kimche and to me, about the radical honesty which underpins Open Orthodoxy. I would love to hear it.

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