Intellectual outreach

Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh’s words, delivered on Sunday 19 May at LBC:

Since its inception in 1956, the Leo Baeck College has ordained 212 rabbis and 52 Jewish education M.A. graduates. They have gone on to serve congregations throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as in Canada, The US, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Hungary Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Ukraine, the FSU and the Czech Republic.

The rabbinic alumni have, together, served and supported hundreds of thousands of Jews worldwide, helping them celebrate and mourn, negotiating with them the twists and turns of life. These rabbis have, in addition, contributed to the intellectual enrichment of their communities, initially with their sermons but also with their published writing.

Today we celebrate the extraordinary output of LBC graduates, and the commitment they have shown to life long learning. Our alumni are encouraged during their studies to think the unthinkable and to look at new and creative approaches, inspired by those who teach them and train them for their working lives. Out of the 212 alumni around 30 have doctorates, and one of our education graduates, my colleague Dr Jo-Ann Myers went on to do a defining PhD on Hebrew pedagogy and if I were to list exhaustively the rabbinic names and their publications it would hijack my allotted time. Let me, therefore, share with you an abbreviated list of some of the most noteworthy and influential contributions made by these alumni.

The liturgists, Jonathan Magonet and Lionel Blue, Paul Freedman and Mark Goldsmith; Andrew Goldstein, David Goldberg, Alexandra Wright and Pete Tobias. Between them they have produced eight siddurim and machzorim used by the UK’s Progressive Communities, and imitated by many congregations in other countries. The impact of this alone is incalculable.

The writings of Lionel Blue, both his books and the transcripts of his Radio 4 broadcasts, the history of Reform Judaism and collections of essays on various subjects of Jonathan Romain, the psychological insights of Howard Cooper, the definitive history of Bar Mitzvah by Michael Hilton and the writings on Jewish mysticism of Larry Tabick, the challenging Trouble-Making Judaism of Elli Tikvah Sarah, the innovative Jewish education books of Michael Shire, the writings on Judaism and antisemitism of Julia Neuberger, the anthology of women rabbis’ writing of Sybil Sheridan and Sylvia Rothschild, the life cycle and exegetical writings of Jonathan Wittenberg and the sermons, theology and radical feminism of Sheila Shulman. To name but a very few.

And I must add that over the last few years I have seen the scholarly future of a number of rabbinic students, who have written ground-breaking and creative Masters’ dissertations of the highest quality. Reading these theses, working with their creators as supervisor or marker, it is hard not to be struck by the excellence of their writing and the range of their ideas. You will be able to engage with some of them later and you can also join us for the Class of 2024’s Viva Day here in early July.

Today, however, it is my pleasure to praise the latest contribution to bible scholarship of the Principal of LBC, Rabbi Dr Deborah Kahn-Harris. Deborah is an inspirational teacher and her first book, entitled Polyamory and Reading the Book of Ruth, develops themes she shares with her students in her 4th year Megillot class. Deborah encourages her students to develop their engagement with biblical texts in a practical, creative and intellectual way, and as her second examiner I have seen year after year how she helps her students to fly.

I now invite our distinguished alumna, Charley Baginsky, to talk to Deborah about her book.

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