Wednesday, February 21, 2007

YCT: Time to Take a Stand

As many people who have read my blog know, I am not a fan of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT). And I have criticized it several times here in the past. But I have never written the kind of lengthy but fairly comprehensive article that I just read in the recent print edition of the Yated Ne’eman. It was a scathing attack on the institution, its founders, faculty, Rosh HaYeshiva, and graduate rabbis. And though I am not a fan of this newspaper, I must tell you that I found myself in agreement with much of what they said. I don’t know if I would go so far as accusing them of violating clearly stated Halacha. Nor would I characterize their ideals in the same tones as the Yated did. But I definitely agree with the assessment that YCT is outside the pale of normative Orthodoxy.

And I further agree that the Torah world has been far too silent on this Yeshiva. It seems to be that all Torah based institutions whether ultra Orthodox or Centrist have chosen not to comment on them. YCT is guilty of no less than an assault on the theological integrity of a Torah based Hashkafa as defined by its own claimed mentor, HaRav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik (the Rav).

In brief the article describes actions and statements by this group that are anathematic to even the most liberal interpretation of the Rav. And even though they “explain” or rationalize some of those statements or activities as being acceptable to the Rav, one would be hard pressed to believe that the Rav would in any way have approved of anything even resembling YCT.

It is clear that they have violated both the spirit and letter of the Rav’s statement with respect to inter-religious dialogue. Inviting a group of Catholic Bishops to come and learn Mesehces Brachos in their Beis Hamedrash clearly is not a matter of joining forces with them on non theological societal issues, which the Rav did permit.

Rabbi Darren Kleinberg, one of their brightest graduates, as described by YCT founder and dean Rabbi Avi Weiss, is another example of one whose words and actions have clearly violated of the words of the Rav. Not only has he participated in religious activities with heretical denominations within Judaism, he has included Christian denominations as well. It would have hardly pleased the Rav to hear the words of sheer praise uttered about them by Rabbi Kleinberg in this foray into ecumenism. It is clearly a violation of the Rav’s words.

Nor does it help YCT’s cause to host on their faculty members of the Conservative and Reform rabbinate who are still affiliated with their flagship schools of JTS and HUC. Their claim that these faculty members are not teaching religious subjects but merely teaching practical rabbinics or pastoral counseling, is hardly the kind of separation the Rav meant when he permitted participation with them on matters of mutual public concern, such as attending rallies with them supporting the State of Israel.

These are just some of the outrageous things happening on the YCT scene.

But some of the criticisms by the Yated were a bit over the top and unfair. While I might not agree with YCT on those issues either, I would not be bothered by thme in the same way the Yated was. But The Yated put those things in the same category as the above. Had this been all, I would probably just “leave them alone”.

One such example is their penchant for psychoanalyzing the Avos (the patriarchs). While I disagree with the practice and consider it ignorant and even abhorrent to do so, I do not think that this puts them outside the pale of Orthodoxy.

The Yated does not go into details of their problem with him. But they imply that one such YCT rabbi supposedly “psychoanalyzed” Yaakov Avinu and thereby put his actions in a negative light. While it is disgusting to do so, it does not make him a heretic any more than Rabbi Shlomo Riskin who has made similar comments about biblical figures. I don’t agree with him. But in no way does he qualify as a heretic.

Rabbi Michael Broyde is currently studying with this young YCT graduate with the goal of granting him Smicha in Dayanus. The Yated feels that it is an outrage for Rabbi Broyde to be studying with this fellow. But I know Rabbi Broyde to be a man of tremendous integrity and Torah knowledge and he would never take a student for Dayanus if he felt that he was violating the Rav’s ideals. Not every student at YCT does that.

As for the Yated’s accusation that YCT has a positive view of the homosexual lifestyle, I don’t see that. The proof they bring is that one of their Musmachim spoke positively about homosexuals as human beings urging them to come out of the “closet” and be proud Jews. While I think that goes a bit too far, I don’t see YCT’s position, if this rabbi reflects it accurately, to be anti Torah at all. Nowhere do they say they think homosexual practice is permitted.

They are simply conceding the fact that many Jews are like that and we should treat them no differently than other Jews who may be guilty of other impermissible acts. I think that’s right. But I would stop short of saying that they should be proud of themselves. As I have said before, “Hate the sin not the sinner.” I know the Christians used that phrase first but that doesn’t make it untrue. That is all I believe that young YCT graduate meant.

So the bottom line is, YCT has a lot to answer for. They have truly crossed some serious lines. I do believe they are acting L’Shma. But I also believe they have a strange definition of it.

The Yated is not that far off by accusing them of not being Orthodox. I don’t think they crossed that line yet. But I think they are as close to it as possible. And they have moved further to the left than any Orthodox institution ever has and have crossed the Hashkafic lines drawn by their claimed mentor, the Rav, protestations to the contrary not withstanding.

I think it behooves the bastion of Centrist Orthodoxy, Yeshiva University to distance themselves clearly and unequivocally from YCT’s Hashkafos . And it is time for the Rabbinical Council of America to take a stand, too. A good first step would be to not automatically accept every YCT Musmach for membership. It’s the right thing to do.

modified: 2/22/07 at 10:45 AM CST