Friday, October 24, 2008

A Note to YCT

How many lines need to be crossed before Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) re-evaluates it philosophy of ‘Open Orthodoxy’. As I understand it this philosophy is a departure from the strict guidelines set up by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik who was a mentor of YCT founder Rabbi Avi Weiss. Rav Soloveitchik was strongly opposed to inter-denominational participation in matters theological or religious.

YCT apparently believes that the time has come to join together with these movements and fully dialogue with them on all matters. But can there be any better illustration of the folly of such a philosophy than what Rabbi Darren Kleinberg is doing in its name?

According to an article in Chosen Magazine, he participated in a conversion bais din with a Conservative woman rabbi and Conservative male rabbi. Chosen magazine states:

[The girl] was immersed in the mikvah at [Reform] Congregation Beth Israel in a traditional conversion ceremony. A beit din of three rabbis, Robin Damsky of Congregation Or Chadash of the Northeast Valley, where the [family] are members; Mark Bisman, of Har Zion Congregation and Darren Kleinberg of KiDMa-The Southwest Community, officiated.

This is beyond outrageous and in no way can it be considered a valid conversion. That an Orthodox rabbi participates in any way violates basic tenets of Judaism. It mocks the very definition of who is a Jew. And yet a supposedly Orthodox rabbi has not only given his imprimatur, he was a willing participant in it!

To its credit YCT has repudiated this event. I received a communication from Rabbi Naftali Helfgot of YCT that clearly stated so. The following is public statement by its founder; and its Rosh HaYeshiva:

Rabbi Darren Kleinberg was ordained as a rabbi by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, an Orthodox rabbinical school, in June 2004. Since then, he has been engaged in many positive endeavors as a rabbi on behalf of the Jewish people.

However, recently, Rabbi Kleinberg has participated on a non-halakhic beit din for conversion. This violates the standards and principals of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and YCT categorically rejects this action.

Rabbi Kleinberg's statements and actions should not be assumed to be representative of YCT's positions and principals.

Rabbi Avi Weiss Rabbi Dov Linzer Founder and President Rosh HaYeshiva and Dean

Well and good. Nonetheless it should seem obvious to all the slippery slope YCT is on.

I believe they have good intentions in seeking discourse with heterodox movements. I would think they believe their mission to be one of Arvus, the responsibility each Jew has toward his or her fellow Jew. They probably believe that influencing these movements in any way is worthwhile. By being more ‘open’ and tolerant we demonstrate our brotherhood as Jews.

They probably feel that by using this approach, it will get them a lot farther than the more rejectionist approach of right wing in Orthodoxy. That may be true. In fact I am a big supporter of tolerance.

I’m sure that the Rav was very tolerant too, as was his younger brother Rav Ahron. If I recall correctly, Rav Ahron even gave a weekly Shiur to Conservative Rabbis at Yeshivas Brisk.

But he was diametrically opposed to participating with them at any level. One has to know where to draw the line. The Rav gave us those lines. As did many other great rabbinic figures who were even stricter than the Rav. YCT seems to have chosen to ignore them. And the result can be seen here where one of their graduates seems to not draw any lines at all!

YCT must re-evaluate their policy of 'Open Orthodoxy'. I also call upon the rabbinic leadership at YCT to rescind their Semicha from Darren Kleinberg. He may have meant well but that does not allow him to violate Halacha. Esecially in a matters as serious as this. Such actions hurt all of us. There are lines that cannot be crossed - or excused. No amount of good he has done in other areas can compensate for what he did here. If he wants to continue along this path Darren Klienberg should not have the cover of any rabbinic ordination that calls itself Orthodox.

Allowing him to retain his ordination will taint all of YCT’s ordinations. If they want to have any chance at credibility within Orthodoxy, this is the least they need to do.