COVENTRY, England (JTA) — Ephraim Mirvis became the first sitting British chief rabbi to address the annual Limmud conference, defying the opposition of prominent haredi Orthodox rabbis in England.
Mirvis, who received a standing ovation Monday upon entering the packed auditorium at the University of Warwick, did not directly address the controversy in his session on this week’s Torah portion.
Referring to Moses’ talent in drawing together the Jewish people, he suggested that single strands are easier to break than a rope.
“We need to concentrate seriously on binding the Jewish people, rope-like, together,” Mirvis said.
The chief rabbi is to give a second session on Tuesday titled “A Torah guide to conflict resolution.”
The critics had said the conference, which draws thousands of participants from all walks of Jewish life, represented a danger to British Jewry because of its inclusion of non-Orthodox religious perspectives.
Mirvis told the audience of several hundred that he was moved by the acts of voluntarism he had witnessed.
“Here at Limmud, you can’t escape the fact that it’s great to be Jewish, and I’m delighted to be a part of this,” he said, smiling broadly.
In keeping with its principle of not elevating any one speaker over another, Limmud organizers did not introduce Mirvis as he took the podium.
This year’s event has drawn more than 2,500 participants from the United Kingdom and around the world for 4 1/2 days of lectures, workshops, performances and discussions on Jewish issues ranging from Torah study to art, archaeology, history and politics. The event is more than 30 years old.
Mirvis’ predecessor, Jonathan Sacks, reportedly had supported Limmud early on but bowed to pressure from his haredi colleagues and never attended as chief rabbi.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this brief misstated the objections of some haredi rabbis to the Limmud conference. They objected to the program’s presentation of non-Orthodox religious perspectives, not to associating with non-Orthodox Jews, as the brief originally stated. The brief also mistakenly stated that Rabbi Jonathan Sacks had never attended Limmud. He had attended before he was chief rabbi, just not after he assumed the post.