Rabbijn Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo (1946) werd geboren in Amsterdam en woont sinds 1977 in Israël. Als kind van een Portugees-Joodse vader en een niet-Joodse moeder heeft hij een lange weg afgelegd. Op zijn 16e is hij ‘uitgekomen’ (Joods geworden) bij Chacham Salomon Rodrigues Pereira. Jaren later haalde hij zijn rabbijnentitel aan de orthodoxe Gateshead Yeshiva. In Jeruzalem richtte hij de David Cardozo Academy op. Rabbijn Lopes Cardozo publiceert regelmatig en neemt daarbij geen blad voor de mond.
Rabbi Azariah and Rabbi Acha said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: When, at Mount Sinai, the Israelites heard the word “Anochi” (“I” — the first word of “The Ten Words”), their souls left them, as it says: (1) “If we hear the voice of God any more, we will die.” It is also written: “My soul departed when He spoke.” Then the Word went back to the Holy One blessed be He and said: (2) “Lord of the Universe, You live eternally and Your Torah lives eternally, but You have sent me to the dead. They are all dead!” Thereupon, the Holy One blessed be He sweetened the Word for them… Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught: The Torah that God gave to Israel restored their souls to them, as it says: (3) “The Torah of the Lord is perfect, it restores the soul.” (4)
It may perhaps be argued that this Midrash, like no other text, encapsulates the essence of Judaism and its dialectic nature. The tension between Jewish Law and the near hopelessness of man to live by it, survive it and simultaneously obey it with great fervor is at the very core of Judaism’s complexity.
The Divine Word is deadly and causes paralysis. The Word, wrought by fire in the upper world, is unmanageable and wreaks havoc once it descends. Its demands are not of this world; they belong to the angels. The Word therefore comes to naught once it enters the human sphere, since there is no one to receive it. All have died before the Word is able to pronounce its second word. How then can it delight the living soul?
The answer is: sweetness. It has to have grace and therefore must be put to music. The problem with the Word is that it carries the possibility of literal-mindedness (5) and takes the word for what it is, robbing it of its inner spiritual meaning. The language of faith employs only a few words in its own spirit. Most of its terms are borrowed from the world in which the Word creates physical images in the mind of man. But the Divine Word needs to be heard, not seen. To hear is to perceive what is beyond the utterance of the mouth. To live with the Word is to discover the ineffable and act on it through the direction of the Law. The mitzvot are founded on the appreciation of the unimaginable, but they become poison when performed only for the sake of the deed.
Rabbi Shefatia said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: If one reads the Torah without a melody, or repeats the Mishnah without a tune, of him Scripture says: (6) “So, too, I gave them statutes that were not good and laws by which they could not live.” (7)
When one learns Torah without spiritual sweetness symbolized in a melody, which takes the words far beyond their literary meaning, the biblical text turns into a deadly poison. Similarly, to observe a commandment without sweetness is like consuming a medicine in which the healing components have gone bad. They are not only neutralized but have become mortally dangerous.
The function of music is to connect the Word with Heaven. It is not so much the music that man plays on an instrument or sings, but the music of his soul, which is externalized through the use of an instrument or song. It leads man to the edge of the infinite and allows him to gaze, just for a few moments, into the Other. Music is the art of word exegesis. While a word on its own is dead, it is resurrected when touched by music. Music is the refutation of human finality. As such, it is the sweetness that God added to His Word when the Word alone was wreaking havoc. It is able to revive man when he dies as he is confronted with the bare Word at Sinai. Life without music is death – poignantly bitter when one realizes that one has never really lived.
There is little meaning in living by Halacha if one does not hear its grace. It is not a life of Halachic observance that we need, but a life of experiencing Halacha as a daily living music recital. Observance alone does not propel man to a level of existence where he realizes that there is more to life than the mind can grasp.
Jewish education has often been founded on the Word before it turned to God to be sweetened. As a result, there are many casualties and a large part of our nation has been paralyzed.
It is the great task of Jewish educators and thinkers to send the Word back to God and ask Him to teach them how to sweeten it.
(1) Devarim 5:22.
(2) Shir HaShirim 5:6.
(3) Tehillim 19:8.
(4) Shir HaShirim Rabbah, V, 16, iii.
(5) Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976) p. 179.
(6) Yechezkel 20:25.
(7) Megillah 32a.
In memory of a very good friend Cilly Eitje-Richheimer z.l. from Amsterdam, 1946-2019.
Halacha deals with human life on two levels, the intellectual and the emotional. Life is the constant interaction between the two. To deny one of them is to deny life itself. Halachic demands must therefore function in a dialectical setting. Sometimes they must respond to cold, intellectual human calculation, and other times they must provide guidance during emotional upheavals in life. Mostly, they attempt to bring some purpose into the emotional condition of man so as to return him to the ways of reason and religious thinking.
Only in one case does Halacha allow man’s emotions to have the upper hand with hardly any restraint demanded, or even suggested.
“One whose dead relative lies in front of him is exempt from the recital of the Shema and from prayer and from Tefillin and from all positive precepts laid down in the Torah.”
This is a remarkable and revolutionary ruling which runs contrary to conventional halachic thinking. Why would a person whose dead relative is not yet buried be exempt from all precepts? Were the mitzvoth not given to be observed at all times? Since when is one permitted to cancel the commandments?
Moreover, would the fulfillment of mitzvoth at this hour not be of tremendous religious and therapeutic meaning? Would it not be Judaism’s obligation to step in and offer man consolation by demanding his religious commitment and asking him to be even more particular in his devotion to God? Only in that way could he deal with his loss. Why relieve man of his religious obligations at the very time that he is most in need of it?
Even more astonishing is the fact that Halacha’s leniency does not merely allow the person to discontinue the mitzvoth but insists that the person does so. It forbids the Jew to observe the precepts.
By reflecting more deeply, one cannot but marvel at Halacha’s profound insight into human nature. By recognizing the full emotional implications of having lost a relative, Halacha allows and even demands a most unusual condition: momentary heresy.
During the time after death has occurred and burial has not yet taken place, i.e. “when the dead is (literally) still in front of us,” there is no way that man can be fully religious. At this hour, doubt in the justice of God often sets in, accompanied with questions about the very existence of God. How could God have done this to me? Why did He cause my loved one to die? Why should I continue to believe in Him? The mourner’s fright and confusion at this moment are too overwhelming for him to accept any rational argument that, after all, God does exist and knows what He is doing. Halacha tolerates these torturous thoughts and does not try to repress them. By doing so, it reflects great compassion for the suffering human being. “It permitted the mourner to have his way for a while and has ruled that the latter is relieved from all mitzvoth.” (1) Although Halacha is convinced of the eternal existence of the human soul as well as God’s absolute justice, it fully recognizes man’s emotional devastation at this hour and allows him to have heretical views and even act on them: a temporary exemption from the yoke of Heaven (2).
It may well be that Halacha alludes to something even deeper: By insisting that man stops observing the commandments, it warns him not to fall victim to constant religious certainty. It is impossible for even the most religious person not to have strong doubts about God’s justice, or even His existence, when confronted with death and suffering. Not having these doubts renders authentic religiosity impossible. When one has no doubts, one can neither have certitude. Doubt proves that one is serious about faith. The quest for certainty surely blocks the search for meaning. So, how can one ask the mourner to say a bracha or a tefilla when it is impossible for him to back up any of these words? Hypocrisy results in those who convince themselves always to be sure and never to doubt. (3)
Only after burial, when the dead is no longer before the mourner, can the spiritual healing process begin. From that moment onwards the mourner is again fully obligated to observe all precepts. Certainly his doubts are still there. But at this stage, by demanding full participation in all the commandments once again, Halacha applies its golden rule of “Na’aseh Venishma” (“we shall do” preceding “we shall hear,” as uttered by the Israelites at Sinai).
Judaism’s recognition of God is not the triumphant outcome of philosophical deduction. It results from the performance of mitzvoth. Through the observance of the commandments we perceive the Commander. In doing, one perceives. In carrying out the word of the Torah, man is ushered back into the everlasting covenant and into the belief of God’s presence. The divine sings in the mitzvoth. After burial, once the shock of what happened has lost some of its impact, Halacha asks man again to make use of his reason. It appeals to his neshama and reminds him that by definition he is a homo religious and therefore has no escape from God and His will (4). The healing process will surely take a long time, but it is set in motion the moment the dead has been buried. There is then a need to go back to life and recognize that one lives in the presence of the Almighty.
(1) See observations made in Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik’s Eulogy for the Talner Rebbe, Rabbi M.Z. Twersky z.l., Shiure Harav, by Joseph Epstein., page 67. (Ktav Publishing House, NJ, 1974.)
(2) See Tosafoth’s remarkable observation (Berachoth 17b, “Patur Me-kriath Shema”) that one can only observe mitzvoth when one is busy with life and not with death.
(3) The conventional reason for dispensation from precepts at this hour is the halachic ruling, “Osek be-mitzvoth patur mi-mitzvoth.” When one is fully occupied with a mitzvah, in our case the preparations for the burial, one is exempt from all other mitzvoth since one cannot perform two mitzvoth at the same time. This however does not explain why, according to most authorities, other relatives who are not fully occupied with the burial are also forbidden to pray etc. Our interpretation fully explains why this is so.
(4) It should be noted that the mourner is only forbidden to observe the positive precepts. The prohibitions continue to apply at all times since dispensation from them would create havoc in the person and destroy the fabric of Jewish society. One may also argue that observance of the prohibitions are not so much to fill the need to recognize God, but more to prevent negative conditions which make this recognition much harder. Obviously the mourner, who is already shaken in his beliefs, should not have his doubts reinforced.
In honor of the Chupah of Our Grandson Rafael Tzvi Walkin to Elisheva Appelbaum, Tamuz 13 5779 – July 16th, 2019.
The great Chassidic leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, complaining about the Jews’ detachment from Judaism, once said that when a bridegroom stands under the chupah (bridal canopy) he can say “You are betrothed” hundreds of times to his future bride, but these words are meaningless until he adds one more Hebrew word – Li (to me). Only then is there a marriage.
All the family and friends may be present, the rabbi officiating, the music playing, the food served and the new home ready; but nothing has happened until the word Li has been uttered.
The crucial word in life is Li – to me. Only when things stand in relation to the sum total of man himself is there meaning. A commitment like that is not partial but total: “Till death do us part.”
When a Jewish couple gets married, they don’t only marry each other. They also marry Judaism as the foundation of their relationship. They make a mutual pledge to build a Jewish home, imbued with Jewish values, ceremonies and mitzvot. And just as there is a need to continuously grow in a marriage, so it is with Judaism. One needs to work on one’s commitment. Both the spouse and Judaism need to become the ultimate priority in our lives.
“Till death do us part…”
This is perhaps the most crucial message for Jews around the world today. The Jewish community may be involved in many issues of Jewish concern, and may struggle with problems of survival, but as long as it does not inspire Jews to say Li, to feel a personal and total commitment to authentic Jewishness, it will not create favorable conditions for continuity and renewal. Just as a marriage can’t be sustained when the commitment of both parties is lukewarm and academic, so there cannot be real loyalty to a living Judaism when it is partial and halfhearted. What is required is sacrifice, grace and willingness to walk the fiery trails of life and come out unscathed.
When observing the state of Jewish commitment today, we see a great amount of scholarship within the world of academia. Comparative studies between Judaism and other religions, archeological studies to investigate Jewish history, and philological studies keep tens of thousands of Jewish students busy at the best universities in the world. Text books and magazines publish important studies on questions such as: Are the Jews a race, a cultural entity or a religious group? But all such studies are of limited value if the student does not add the word Li. It’s like studying man as a collection of protoplasm, a complex robot or a social mechanism. It’s forgetting that man is an inner being of spiritual wholeness in which all of his dimensions become one.
Studies like these do not touch on the most important aspect of human existence: What does it mean to be a human being … to be a Jew? What is the purpose of our existence, what is our task and mission, and in what way can we contribute to human dignity? Such questions involve our whole being; no component is left out. They are the ultimate Li in our lives. They should haunt us, and there must be no escape.
Indeed, how much value is there in all of this scholarship if it doesn’t lead to becoming personally connected to one’s inner soul? It is spiritual relevance that is of the utmost importance. Crucial to that is Li.
To understand what it means to be a Jew, one must move beyond these important studies. To be a Jew is to be a messenger; to be God-intoxicated; to teach mankind the art of spiritual transformation; to be dissatisfied with just being cultured. And so it is with marriage; it will not succeed by the parties just being polite.
Judaism is about stirring emotions that we have never experienced before. It is about allowing our souls to surprise us, instead of being bored. Just like great works of art, Judaism does not produce but rather inspires unanticipated visions and the deepest forms of authentic self-expression.
The tragedy of Jewish life today is that many lack the courage to confront their inner being as Jews. They observe the Jewish people and Judaism as a sociological phenomenon to be studied from without. It is for this reason that they do not hear the music of Judaism and then complain that such music is absent. Like the student who takes a musical instrument, dismantles it and then complains that he cannot find the music, so it must be faulty. It seems that in certain academic circles people consider it their duty to keep their studies artificial. While these studies, in and of themselves, have tremendous value, they are often used as an escape mechanism enabling some students to ignore what they most need to discover.
Li also symbolizes the recognition that one’s own group has a singular and distinctive contribution to make to the world. If this is not developed and cultivated, it is not only the group itself that loses out but the whole world suffers as a result.
The late British philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin, at the end of his famous essay “Two Concepts of Liberty”, tries to convince us – quoting the words of Joseph A. Schumpeter – “to realize the relative validity of one’s convictions and yet stand for them unflinchingly.”(1) There is, however, a lot of truth in political philosopher Michael Sandel’s bitter critique: “If one’s convictions are only relatively valid, why stand for them unflinchingly?”(2) Indeed this kind of liberalism, with all its beauty, keeps the Li out of our lives and turns us into outsiders looking in.
Albert Camus once stated: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” (3) Great Jewish thinker Abraham Joshua Heschel disagreed: “May I differ and suggest that there is only one really serious problem: … Is there anything worth dying for?”(4)
This is indeed the ultimate question for Jews today. Only when we will once again realize that our Jewishness is worth dying for (without trying to become a religious martyr by killing or hurting others!) will we be able to actually live it. Similarly, with a Jewish marriage, only when we are prepared to die for it can we live it.
(1) Isaiah Berlin, Liberty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) p. 217.
(2) Michael Sandel, Liberalism and Its Critics (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984) p. 8.
(3) Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays (New York: Vintage Books, 1991) p. 3.
(4) Abraham Joshua Heschel, Who Is Man? (Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press, 1965) p. 92.
There is probably no game as difficult and captivating as chess. Millions of people break their heads over strategies to win this game and spend years learning its ins and outs. It holds them captive as nothing else does. They dream about it and discuss the move of one single pawn as if their lives depend on it. They will follow the most famous chess tournaments and discuss every move of a world champion for days and even years. They replay famous, mind-boggling games of the past, even those that took place as far back as seventy years ago. These chess aficionados try to improve on those games of the distant past, often getting into heated arguments about a brilliant or foolish move that took place fifty years earlier. Thousands of books and tens of thousands of essays have been published on how to improve at playing the game. The rules are set up in the World Chess Federation's FIDE Handbook. Strategies are developed and tactics suggested; countless combinations have been tried to the point that some typical patterns have their own names, such as "Boden's Mate" and "Lasker's Combination". Mikhail Botvinnik revolutionized the opening theory, which was considered nothing less than a Copernican breakthrough. Famous chess studies, such as the one published by Richard Reti (1921), are revelations of tremendous depth. (He depicted a situation in which it seems impossible for the white king to catch the advanced black pawn while the white pawn can be easily stopped by the black king.)
The rules are ruthless. There are no compromises, no flexibility. Zero rachmanut (mercy). It is all about midat hadin (harsh rendering). The terrifying, rigid rules can make players mad to the point of possibly considering suicide.
But is chess rigid?
The rules seem easy until you start playing. The entire game takes place on a chessboard smaller than the size of a side table, but the game is larger than life. Each player has sixteen pieces, which are played on 64 squares, but they become so large in one's psyche that they dazzle the eyes of the spectator. Some of the pieces can move in any direction; others can move any number of squares along any rank or file but may not leap over other pieces. There are those that can only move diagonally and others that are allowed to move two squares horizontally and one square vertically, or two squares vertically and one square horizontally, thus making the complete move look like the letter 'L.'
It may sound very easy, but what any player soon realizes is that these basic rules allow for thousands of combinations, maneuvers and sub-rules, depending on the position of a pawn, a rook, or a knight. These rules can become so complicated and can cause such major obstacles that one may prefer to take on higher mathematics, which looks easy in comparison. (It is not!) There is good reason why the most famous chess players are considered not only brilliant people but geniuses with advanced mathematical minds.
But is chess rigid? Does it constrain? Is it "fundamentalist," or perhaps "dogmatic"? Does it deny the players their freedom of thought or action? In one sense, it does. Players cannot move the pieces as they would like to. There are rules that make the game incredibly difficult. But that fact is exactly what makes this game so exciting. It leads to an unprecedented outburst of creativity. In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister. Und das Gesetz nur kann uns Freiheit geben, said Goethe (1).
The chessboard becomes the world; the pieces are the phenomena of the universe; the rules of the game are the laws of nature; and players roam freely on this board once they apply the rules in a way that will deepen their impact to such an extent that a whole new world is revealed.
But let us never forget: One who knows all the rules is not necessarily a great player. What makes players formidable opponents is their ability to use these rules to unleash an outburst of creativity, which resides deep within them and emerges only because of the "unbearable" limitations. They then strike! One small move forces a major shift, creating total upheaval and causing the opponent to panic as never before. And all this without ever violating one chess rule. It's mental torture. But it's the height of beauty as well. It is poetry to the game, as melody is to music. Like one gentle brushstroke of Rembrandt on a colorful canvas, making everything look radically different; or like the genius musician playing her Stradivarius, re-creating the whole of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5. It transports the chess player to heaven. Their bodies must be in top form, because their playing ability deteriorates when their bodies do. They are inseparable. An entire world of feelings, images, ideas, emotions and passions come to the forefront.
There are hundreds of opening moves and end games. And all of them are authentic.
And that is why Talmudic scholars, religious Jews and secular Jews love this game and are often very good at it (2). Chess reminds them, consciously or subconsciously, of the world of Talmudic halachic debate with all its intrigues, its severe obstacles, and its seemingly deliberate tendency to make life more difficult and sometimes nearly impossible. The truly religious Jew loves it because it is these challenges that make life exciting and irresistible. For the true posek (halachic expert and decisor), the tension, challenge and delight involved in discovering an unprecedented, mindboggling solution is the ultimate simcha (joy). Skipping through a maze of obstacles, circumventing what seems impossible in the eyes of his halachic opponents, and backing them into a corner like a pawn on the chessboard, thereby solving a serious halachic problem, is the peak of divine satisfaction that a halachic authority can experience.
Chess reminds one of the Talmudic concept of eilu ve-eilu divrei elokim Chayim (these and those are the words of the living God, Eruvin, 13b). There are rishonim (early authorities) and acharonim (later authorities). There are commentaries, sub-commentaries, major differences of opinion, fiery clashes, and even mistakes that carry dimensions of truth.
Halachic discussion is like chess. It is a clash of the minds. Sometimes, "the passed pawn is a criminal, who should be kept under lock and key. Mild measures, such as police surveillance, are not sufficient" (3). Its position is treif (non-kosher) by all standards. Other times, maneuvers are possible in the opinions of some, while still others have their doubts. But above all, "chess is so inspiring that I do not believe a good player is capable of having an evil thought during the game" (4).
And so it is with Halacha. Who would have a bad thought while studying the Avnei Miluim (5) and Ketzot HaChoshen (6), two of the most sophisticated halachic works ever to appear on earth?
Halacha is the greatest chess game on earth. It is the Jewish game par excellence. For people who want to live a life of great meaning and depth, nothing is more demanding and torturous while simultaneously uplifting and mind-broadening. They love the rules because they are the way to freedom. All the real chess player wants is to play chess. Players recognize that others prefer dominoes or rummikub. And that's fine. But the chess player smiles, for those games can't hold a candle to chess. They are child's play. The serious chess players embrace this greatest game of all, because the impossible rules give them the thrill of life as nothing else does. They make players divinely insane. On top of that, they have to choose from among many options of genius chess players. This reminds us of the famous halachic positions of Rambam (Maimonides, 1138-1204), the Ravad (Rabbi Avraham ben David, 1125-1198), Maran (Rabbi Yosef Karo author of the Shulchan Aruch, 1488-1575) and the unparalleled Rogatchover (Rabbi Yosef Rozin, 1858-1936).
Certainly chess is just a game, while Halacha, if properly understood and lived, deals with real life, deep religiosity, moral dilemmas, emotions, and intuitions far more significant in a person's life than a chess game.
Those who play chess in real life will realize that if they "play" well they're on the right track to drawing closer and closer to the King, until they are checkmated and, unlike in a chess game, fall into the arms of the King.
(1) "It is in limitation that the master proves himself. And law alone brings us freedom." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's sonnet ‘Natur und Kunst, sie scheinen sich zu fliehen’ (‘Nature and Art, they go their separate ways’) in Was wir bringen (1802).
(2) Jews make up 0.2 percent of the world population, but 54 percent of the world chess champions. (David Brooks, ‘The Tel Aviv Cluster’, The New York Times, January 11, 2010). The Israeli city Beersheba has the most chess grand masters per capita in the world. (Gavin Rabinowitz, ‘Beersheba Masters Kings, Knights, Pawns’, LA Times, January 30, 2005). A typical example of a great Jewish chess player is David ben Gurion, first prime minister of Israel, who used to secretly play chess behind the Knesset plenum, when he was bored with the superfluous debates in the Israeli government!
(3) Aron Nimzowitsch, My System (Dallas, TX: Hays Publishing, 1991) p. 32.
(4) This quote is attributed to Austrian and later American chess Master player Wilhelm Steinitz, the first undisputed world chess champion from 1886 to 1894.
(5) A halachic work by Rabbi Aryeh Leib HaKohen Heller (1745-1813), which explains difficult passages in the Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, which deals mainly with marital issues.
(6) A halachic work by Rabbi Heller, which explains difficult passages in the Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, which deals mainly with business and financial laws.
To the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, and His Rabbinical Court.
I hope you and your families are all well.
A short while ago, I was informed that you banned all your (Orthodox) rabbis from teaching at this year's Limmud conferences in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town, which will take place in August.
Since I have the greatest respect for all that you have done for South African Jewry, and for the outstanding programs that you've built, which have been adopted in many other countries, I am, as an Orthodox rabbi, greatly saddened by your decision. In fact, I am utterly incapable of understanding what your motives for this far-reaching resolution could possibly be.
I cannot believe that the reason is that other denominations, such as the Reform and Conservative movements, will be present as well. This sounds small-minded and doesn't reflect the great people that you are.
If it is the reason, then I believe it's a huge mistake. Although I suspect that I won't be able to change your minds, I would like to explain to you and my many readers why I have been teaching at Limmud for years, in many countries, and why I believe it is an obligation for every Orthodox rabbinate to participate.
As far as I know, only England's and South Africa's batei din have taken this radical step of forbidding their rabbis to teach. In all other countries, the Orthodox Rabbinates fully participate, including Chabad. It is also bizarre that those Orthodox batei din that forbid their rabbis to teach in Limmud give their rabbinical kashrut certificates for the food that is served at these conferences!
Although I have explained my position to you in earlier writings, let me repeat some of the points I've made and add a few more.
What I love most about authentic Orthodox Judaism is its enormous courage. It dares. It avoids neither obstacle nor critique. It enjoys a good fight in order to enrich itself. It loves to confront and provoke. It is a protest movement against all sorts of "isms"; but, above all, against small-mindedness. Its task is to disturb; to fight complacency and spiritual conceit. Judaism teaches that one cannot inherit religion. One needs to fight for it and earn it. To be religious is to live in a state of warfare: to be constantly wary of clichés while struggling for insight; to avoid obstinacy and remain flexible; and, perhaps most important, to refuse to let practice become mere habit, and to strive to maintain spiritual and moral alertness.
I am a child of a mixed marriage and was raised in a completely secular environment. My discovery of Judaism has been an ongoing revelation over many decades. I studied in the ultra-Orthodox Yeshivat Beit Yosef in Gateshead, England, for eight years and then continued learning in other yeshivot in Israel. For many years I have studied secular philosophy, and the more I learn, the more I realize that while these yeshivot gave me a solid foundation of Talmudic knowledge, for which I am most thankful, there is much more to Judaism than these studies alone. I believe that real Orthodox Judaism still has scaffolding, which should remain while the building continues, never to end.
And so I love to go to Limmud, to listen and to teach. Limmud is a place where I am challenged; where I hear new things (including some utter nonsense); where I can fall in love with my fellow Jews, laugh and cry with them, and share my commitment to and struggles with Judaism.
What I believe Limmud must insist upon, however, is not inviting anti-Semitic journalists (as happened many years ago in London) and self-hating Jews (as apparently happened in Sydney). Nor should they allow for BDS speakers to spread their lies about Israel. Pluralism does not mean that anything goes. "The peak of tolerance is most readily achieved by those who are not burdened with convictions", said Alexander Chase (1). Those who stand for nothing will fall for anything!
I hope that I do not need to explain to you that Reform and other denominations, however much we may disagree with them, have nothing in common with these anti-Semitic factions.
I enjoy hearing lecturers at Limmud, specifically when I know I am likely to disagree with their conclusions. These lectures challenge me to re-examine my beliefs, and occasionally they offer many profound critiques of Judaism. Sometimes I agree with these critiques; sometimes not.
But one thing is surely true: Orthodox Judaism today is far too dedicated to defensive self-preservation – to propping up sacred cows, which need to be slaughtered before it is able to re-discover itself and once again be authentic. If we don't admit this, we are just misleading ourselves. And Limmud is a great facilitator, prompting me to help make Judaism once again the primary love of many of my fellow Jews.
Limmud offers me the entire Jewish world in a microcosm. As one who has been teaching Judaism for more than fifty years, I need to know what is happening in the larger Jewish world – all the struggles, the differences of opinion, the paradoxes, and the pain of many of my fellow Jews who don't fit into an easily definable box but still love being part of our great endeavor. I am confronted daily with the accusation that Judaism has stagnated; that it is terribly dogmatic; that it no longer advances bold ideas; and that it offers little to the many young Jews who are looking for more spiritual lives. Sadly, I agree.
The irony is that the teachings and practices that comprise Judaism were designed to avoid just such a scenario. So I ask myself together with my Orthodox colleagues: Can we reformulate or, more accurately, help to revitalize Orthodox Judaism so that it will once again represent a vibrant way of living, without letting go of what I believe are its fundamentals? I think we can, but we need Limmud to help us hear the voices of all these searching souls.
In truth, I believe that most religious Jews – whether Orthodox, Conservative or Reform – including myself, don't even know how much more Judaism has to offer. It contains multitudes; it encompasses a world of sublime ideas, which we have not even begun to grapple with.
I myself have been asked by several Orthodox rabbis not to participate in Limmud, because by so doing I lend legitimacy to other denominations. With all due respect, I consider this utter nonsense.
Just like the Internet, Limmud is a marketplace for many ideas that now circulate throughout the larger Jewish world. Should I not make use of the Internet at all because within its vastness exist opinions with which I partially or completely disagree and which I sometimes find a bit repulsive or silly?
Why should I deny the many hundreds of Limmud participants the opportunity to hear a (hopefully) intelligent Orthodox idea on what Judaism is or what I believe it should be?
Why should I offer Limmud on a silver platter to schools of thought I respectfully disagree with, although I do believe that some are intriguing?
By telling its rabbis not to participate, doesn't Orthodoxy give the impression that it fears the other denominations? Nothing could be worse than that. It's a sign of utter defeat. Is this what you want to accomplish? Shouldn't these denominations be fearful of the Orthodox, if you, as I do, believe that Orthodoxy holds the "truth", whatever that may mean?
I love to sit on panels where representatives of other Jewish religious movements will argue with me. It is a marvelous opportunity to learn, as well as to showcase the Orthodox position. I have a lot to learn from them, and they from me.
In fact, I think all these denominations should realize that the time has come to see where they agree. While it is true that there are differences of opinion, some of them very serious, it is also true that over the last few years important changes have taken place in all these branches – including the Orthodox – which I believe lay the foundation for new opportunities where cooperation is possible, even on an ideological and halachic level. Each denomination must leave its own comfort zone and learn to take risks.
Though reluctance to do so is often seen as a sign of weakness, one should not make the mistake of believing this to be the full story. The stubbornness to compromise is indeed often related to weakness. But it is also related to the fact that one cannot put reconciliation before one's conscience. Judaism is much more than politics, economics, science, or even philosophy.
It is an entirely different category, and not even unity for the sake of unity can be its final goal. Its aim is to achieve kedusha (holiness), promulgate a great religious moral mission, and live accordingly. Why not show and explain this at Limmud?
I want Judaism to be what it really always used to be: a tradition where ideas can be tested, discussed, thought through, reformulated, and even rejected, with the understanding that no final conclusions have ever been reached, can be reached or should be reached.
Matters of faith should remain fluid, not static. I want my fellow Jews to fall in love with traditional Halacha – not defensive, but prophetic Halacha, about which famous Orthodox rabbis, foremost Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook – one of the greatest Orthodox thinkers of our day – and many others, have written. After all, Halacha is the practical upshot of living by unfinalized beliefs while remaining in theological suspense. Only thus can Judaism avoid becoming paralyzed by its awe of a rigid tradition or, conversely, evaporating into a utopian reverie.
For all these reasons, we Orthodox rabbis should participate in Limmud. Not to do so is a terrible dereliction of our religious duty.
Although I suspect that I won't be able to persuade you to change your minds, I hope you realize that your decision does more harm than good. Let us hope that next year you will decide differently.
With respect, and wishing you Shabbat Shalom from Yerushalayim,
Nathan Lopes Cardozo
1. Perspectives, 1966.