Ask your average British Jew what the most exciting development has been in their community in the last decade, and you'll almost certainly hear, "Limmud."
'Limmud' is an annual conference of Jewish learning, which began 20-odd years ago but only really took off in the mid-90s. Sessions are an eclectic mix of everything from Tanach and Jewish philosophy to Jewish literature, Jewish history, Jewish film and Jewish Yoga. It attracts Jewish speakers from all denominations from around the world, and last year, around 2000 participants. Many credit 'Limmud' with injecting British Jewry with a new energy, a new spirit of dialogue, and with attracting hundreds of Jews who otherwise are hardly affiliated.
'Limmud' is so successful it recently expanded to Jerusalem, and later this year, will go to Toronto and NY. This weekend, there's a mini-Limmud conference taking place in Britain -- one of the many offshoot events which have developed over the past few years.
What's really remarkable about 'Limmud,' however, is what it reveals about the skewed internal dynamics of the British community, and specifically, about the relations between the different Jewish streams. To this day, the Av Beth Din of the London Beth Din forbids rabbis under his auspices from attending Limmud, because participating in an event where reform and conservative leaders speak may confer legitimacy upon them. Unfortunately, his ban encompasses almost every mainstream Orthodox rabbi in the country, as they are all directly answerable to him. The Chief Rabbi has not taken a public position.
A FEW 'rebellious' Orthodox British rabbis do attend Limmud; they don't get into trouble but people do know who they are and do remember them for it. (There are plenty of well-known Orthodox speakers from overseas.) In the meanwhile, a number of Orthodox organizations have sponsored an Orthodox 'rival' to 'Limmud' called 'Encounter' -- a more 'kosher,' or truth be told, 'pareve' alternative, under Rabbinic supervision.
Clearly, this shows a fundamental difference between the way the US and the British Jewish communities are organized. In the US, individual Orthodox rabbis make their own decisions; in the UK, everything is centralized. Still, as a North-American (? -- kind of) in London, I must say I am shocked that there aren't more Orthodox rabbis in Britain willing to take a more courageous position -- and shocked that there aren't more Orthodox constituents urging them to do so.