Monday, May 25, 2009

Skokie - Back to the Future?

Today something wonderful happened at my alma mater that has not happened in a great many years. It is something that I did not expect to ever happen. Yeshiva University (YU) was invited onto the Hebrew Theological College (HTC) campus in the person of Rabbi Reuven Brand, Rosh Kollel of the YU Kollel.

He gave a public Shiur in the HTC Beis Hamedrash followed by Rabbi Yaakov Sussman an HTC Rosh Yeshiva who is a senior Rebbe there. Two brilliant minds talking Torah to the same people - both Baalei Batim and students. Each bringing with them their own perspective. Rabbi Sussman came to Chicago via the Lakewood’s Chicago Community Kollel and has Lakewood Hashkafos. Rabbi Brand is a YU product and has strong Centrist Hashkafos.

Unfortunately I did not attend. Frankly - it just plain slipped my mind. My grandchildren are here and I was totally preoccupied with them. No excuse, I know - but fact nevertheless.

In my view this was a landmark event of major significance. It shows a tremendous degree of tolerance and acceptance by a Yeshiva that has taken a huge ‘right turn’ over the last couple of decades. The thrust of the Yeshiva in those years was decidedly in a Charedi direction. To that end, the YU Hashkafa was unofficially looked upon as unacceptable. This is ironic considering its roots as a Religious Zionist Yeshiva and the makeup of the board. But so it was until today.

I believe it was in part for this reason that a YU Kollel was invited to be established in Chicago. And it was given strong financial support.

I was happy about their arrival here but a bit disappointed that we even needed it. And we did need it because of a void created by a Yeshiva that - though successful for many years - abandoned its roots. It should have been my alma mater that created this Kollel. But it didn’t. YU had to create it and send it here.

Perhaps this signals a change of direction. Not so much away from a Charedi perspective but towards a direction of more inclusiveness. Perhaps this is a harbinger for the much needed change that I believe the Yeshiva needs to have if it is to grow to fulfill its potential for greatness.

It would be very helpful, in my view if the YU Kollel were to merge with the Yeshiva. This would send a loud and clear message that HTC is not going to be a monolithicly Charedi yeshiva.

It will instead be an inclusive Yeshiva wherein both Charedi and Centrist Hashkafos can be found and promoted freely. The truth is that the seeds are already in place to begin fulfilling that potential. There is a wonderful and growing fully accredited college program there under the Centrist leadership of its Dean - Rabbi Michael Myers – a true Talmid Chacham, a strong religious Zionist, a brilliant thinker, and an expert in Navi who studied at the feet of Nechama Leibowitz,. The Rebbeim there fully represent moderate Charedi Hashkafos.

A YU type Kollel there will create a renewed image of Centrism - going back to roots it long ago abandoned. And it will do so without sacrificing the moderate Charedi Hashkafos represented by its Rebbeim.

It is a win/win for everyone. Will it happen? Can it happen? I don’t know. But it should.