The Power of Limmud

by Natan Roy

Every generation brings its own power with it. And the generation of Limmud brings new power of its own.

In the third century CE, there was a Limmud gathering in Tiberias which, at its close, led to the codification of the Mishna, under the imprimatur of R. Yehuda Hanassi. In the fifth century the Babylon Talmud was compiled in more than 2711 pages in 20 volumes, printed many years later in Vilna.

In the tenth century, pupils of Rashi, R. Shlomo Yitzhaki, compiled the Tosefta, a body of additional texts. In the 16th and 17th centuries, a progressive school was founded wherein learned men sat together with rabbis who gave the world some of the greatest cultural treasures of history. Rabbi Yaakov Ma’amdan of Germany wrote in his work, Megilat Sefer about these cultural encounters, and how to understand the nature of Limmud.

Yaakov Klatchkin, Professor Albert Einstein’s teacher of Hebrew, relates than when Einstein arranged to meet some of his students on the Charles Bridge in Prague, one of his pupils asked him “and will we be able to think about mathematical problems there?” Einstein replied, “I think and learn where ever I might be.” Einstein’s vision of Limmud is ours too – here in Limmud Jerusalem 2010.

In this spirit, this year’s Limmud in Jerusalem is centered on Jewish Nobel prizewinners. Ours is a revolutionary approach which no other institution has attempted before. Jews and their descendents have won 176 Nobel prizes (up to 2010) out of a total of 804 (excluding institutions) which account for 21.9 percent of all Nobel prizewinners. This is about 100 times greater than the proportion of Jews in the world’s population. Limmud Jerusalem has embraced this fact in the encounter of more than 1000 participants, including leading Israeli cultural figures, government ministers and members of the Knesset.

Here in Limmud Nobel Jerusalem 2010, we are returning the crown to its forebears. We are renewing the thousands of years of Limmud tradition but are breathing into it a new, contemporary yet traditional, flavor. And the message, which will pass from generation to generation, is that among the Jewish people, a part of the wider family of nations, Limmud is an incalculable asset and a tradition which will continue to emphasize the “Jewish genius,” here in Jerusalem and in August in New York.

Limmud has a power which can never be broken – but as it continues, will only gather new impetus!

Natan Roy is a volunteer at Limmud Nobel FSU in Jerusalem.