Friday, August 07, 2015

Unity in Orthodoxy

YCT ordainee, Rabbi Nissan Antine
I regret the way things have worked out for Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT). Even though they were to my left Hashkafically, I believed there was a place for them. I believed that they served a purpose. The purpose being bringing a certain type Modern Jew closer to Judaism. Kiruv of sorts.

There are many Jews that are influenced by the spirit of the times and wish to retain those values – and yet seek a spirituality that might be missing in their lives. YCT could have filled that void if they hadn’t gone to such extremes. (I am not going to go into specifics here. I have done so in the past and it is beyond the scope of this post.)

These extremes have placed them into new denominational territory. Something Rabbi Avi Weiss, their founder has admitted the Open Orthodoxy (OO) he founded to be. And something the Yeshiva he founded adheres to.  

Not only was there a place for them, YCT actually had a marvelous program that trained its ordainees in practical rabbinics. The kinds of things that most rabbinic ordainees from mainstream Yeshivos are not taught directly - and often learn on the fly after they have taken their first pulpit. While Yeshiva University does have an excellent Semicha program that included practical rabbinics they modeled some of their newer courses after YCT (if I recall correctly). So I mourn the loss of this Yeshiva to a new denomination. One that should probably be seen as Neoconservative rather then Orthodox, despite the use of that word in their name.

I say this with a heavy heart. I have met some of their graduates and know one of them personally. They are exactly the kind of idealists the rabbinate should seek. They are hard working, kind, and caring – and truly try and do the right thing as they have been taught to see it. In many cases, that right thing is much the same as it is in Mainstream Orthodoxy.They not only study practical rabbinics, they study the same Shulchan Aruch ordainees from mainstream Yeshivos do. So I lament their loss as Orthodox servants of the Jewish people. They would be great assets, if not for the problems I referred to.

There is an article in the official blog of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF) written by Rabbi Nissan Antine, one of its members and a YCT ordainee. He laments the fact that there is so much animosity between his denomination and the the Orthodox mainstream. He talks about spending time recently in his two alma maters, YCT and the Lakewood oriented Yeshiva high school in Philadelphia known as ‘Philly’.  Here is what he says: 
While I was in Philly, I had a thought which seems so basic but yet in reality is so difficult. “Why can’t we all just get along?” This was not a naive perception that we are exactly the same. Believe me when I say that I know that there are differences and it is precisely some of those differences that motivated me to leave the world of Philly and find YCT. But on that Tuesday morning, when I saw Talmidim of Philly and YCT within 24 hours learning the same Talmud with such intensity, reverence and commitment; I wondered why can’t we all see what unites us? While there are differences on the margins, both communities share a commitment to have Torah impact their lives in the deepest possible ways. Both communities have a strong desire, even if we have different styles, to help make Torah more meaningful to countless Jews who are disengaged. 
He then goes on to suggest that each side stop badmouthing each other and learn to get along despite our differences.  If only it were that simple.

I am the biggest proponent of Achdus. But it isn’t just that we are not the same. You cannot have Achdus (in a religious sense) with a group of people that have departed so strongly from tradition. A departure that is very similar to the one Conservative Judaism had from Orthodoxy at its founding.

What YCT and OO are doing now – is almost exactly what the Conservative movement did a hundred years ago when it was founded. And for similar reasons. They wished to follow the spirit of that time in order to appeal to masses of Jews who felt they had to work on Shabbos and felt uncomfortable in Orthodox Shuls where Orhtodox Jews made great sacrifices to not work on Shabbos. OO and YCT are following the spirit of our time - trying to appeal to a type of modern Jew they see as uncomfortable in mainstream Orthodoxy.  This ‘openness’ has led to questionable extremes that have been thoroughly rejected by the mainstream rabbinate in the Charedi world in America (Agudah), the Israeli rabbinate, and Modern Orthodoxy (RCA).

Yes, there has to be Achdus in Klal Yisroel. We are all Jews. And we should love our fellow Jews unconditionally. Denominations don’t matter. Hashkafos don’t matter. We are family.

When it comes to understanding what Judaism is all about from an Orthodox perspective, yes, there are legitimate differences that can live under the same tent. Elu V’Elu. But there are differences that are not legitimate. Which are legitimate and which aren’t are beyond the scope of this post. But if we are going to be true to our ideals, we have to acknowledge that. We cannot pretend they don’t exist for the sake of Achdus.