Monday, December 06, 2010

Next-chief-rabbi Watch: Rabbi Schochet goes to Limmud

Mill Hill's Rabbi Schochet - whose name is often raised as a potential next chief rabbi - is talking about going to Limmud this year, although the London Beth Din has consistently frowned upon United Synagogue rabbis joining the conference, and the very few who have are mostly those on the left of the US. In a blog post on his shul website, Rabbi Schochet explains that around 15 years ago, when he was first invited to speak, he wasn't intrinsically opposed - as a North American, he realised that in other contexts, for an Orthodox rabbi to share an event with non-Orthodox rabbis (he carefully uses the word "clergy") was non-controversial. But it was in the UK, and he bowed to the Beth Din's ruling, later developing his own reasons to avoid the conference:
Mostly because Limmud was being directed by either staunch members of the reform movement who had their own agenda or even US members who were more pro-pluralism than anything else. Limmud, to my mind anyway, had been hijacked to serve ulterior motives.
So what has changed now? Rabbi Schochet seems to have grasped the inconvenient truth that the Beth Din-led "boycott" and its campaign of intimidation effectively handed Limmud on a plate to the non-Orthodox movements - and must be counted as one of the worst "own goals" of the United Synagogue, on a par with the JFS case. He was swayed, he says, by the fact that so many members of the US - including many of his own shul - attend, while so few Orthodox rabbis speak (there are some from the US and Israel, as well as many other non-rabbinic Orthodox speakers). And he now felt more comfortable with Limmud, becoming convinced that those heading it "are committed solely to the ideal of education".

Whatever the motive, I applaud Rabbi Schochet for taking this step, which - if followed by other US rabbis - can potentially do much to improve our community dynamics and relations, by showing that we can, indeed, all share one venue (perhaps even platform) without lightening striking, even if we don't all agree with each other. I only hope that he, and any other US rabbis, will "come in peace", as it were, and not out of a sense that they need to "fix" or "change" the conference - which can only end badly, for them as well as for Limmud. They need to be "committed solely to the ideal of education" as well, without any of the politics, in order for this to be the right forum for them.

If that is the case, the crucial paragraph in Rabbi Schochet's piece is this:
Even as the Beth Din might employ tactics of trying to marginalise me, whether as having gone soft or labelling me a left-winger, it occurs to me that with my “right-wing credentials” and being as the first ever chairman of the Rabbinical Council to attend they’re going to have more than a palpitation or two.
In other words, he can afford to go to Limmud because he knows he will retain his credibility on the right. Allow me to suggest, though, that this move - if he does it right - will also shore up his credibility on the left. After so many years of right-wing US rabbis boycotting Limmud; and with Rabbi Schochet often dismissed in the community as a candidate for chief rabbi because he is "too right-wing", he is now going to appear far more open-minded and brave than most people ever allowed for, more open to the other parts of the community than any other pulpit rabbi on the Orthodox right. He might be Nixon - it will be said - but only he can go to China.

Can't do any harm as the race for next chief rabbi gears up.......

RELATED: here and here.

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