Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Returning YU’s Leadership to its Former Glory

YU's choice for its new president, Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman (Arutz 7)
I have never been a student at Yeshiva University (YU). But as an adherent of a Torah U’Mada my Hashkafos resemble those of YU. Which places a high value on a good secular studies education. Even now that my alma mater, HTC (Skokie Yeshiva), has become a part of Touro, I am still more at home with the Hashkafa of YU. HTC has morphed into a Torah U’Parnassa Yeshiva. Nothing wrong with that. But the YU Hashkafa is where my sympathies now lie.

It is because of its serious approach to both Limudei Kodesh (religious studies) and Limudei Chol (secular studies) that YU has been called the flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy (MO). I still believe that is the case. Perhaps now more than ever because of competition for that title from the left. YCT is now claiming to represent Modern Orthodoxy saying that YU has moved significantly to the right and has abandoned its right to be called that.

As most people know, I strongly dispute that YCT represents Modern Orthodoxy. It in fact represents an entirely new faction called Open Orthodoxy (or Liberal Orthodoxy if you prefer). They may be modern. They may be liberal. But that does not make them representative of the mainstream Modern Orthodoxy that is YU.

They are in fact anything but mainstream. They are at best highly controversial and at worst, not accepted as Orthodox at all by other mainstream segments of Orthodoxy. While there are some people that agree with YCT’s Hashkafa and agree with them about YU, I am not one of them. And neither are my fellow Centrists. Or any other segments of Orthodoxy to their right. (There is no one calling themselves Orthodox to their left.)

Which brings me to Rabbi Ari Berman, the heir apparent to Richard Joel, president of YU. Mr. Joel is about to retire and YU has been searching for a candidate to replace him. They have apparently decided Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman. I had never heard of him before this. And had no knowledge about what he would bring to the table. A brief description in the Forward helped. I see that he is well versed in both religious and secular studies having earned Semicha from YU and a PhD from Hebrew University in Israel. But it still left me wanting. Would he pull the Yeshiva to the right or left? What is his Hashkafa? Will he be the next  Norman Lamm? Or the next Richard Joel?

My guess is he will be the next Ari Berman. But based on what I read of him in the Forward and in a Cross Currents post, I believe he will be following more in the footsteps of Dr. Lamm. This is not to disparage Richerd Joel. I believe he has been unfairly accused of mismanaging YU’s finances - turning the surplus left by Dr. Lamm into a huge deficit under his tenure. 

While I agree that he shares some of the responsibility for that, you can’t blame it all on him. He did, however (by his own admission) lack the intellectual heft of his predecessors, Drs. Lamm, Belkin, and Revel.  Both in Limudei Kodesh and in Limudei Chol. What Richard Joel did have and what attracted him to YU’s board was the fund-raising abilities.

Many people questioned the wisdom of that at the time (including me). The response was that the most important thing was funding the school. The intellectualism of the president was secondary and not as important. So much for putting all your faith into one facet of his job!

It seems that this time they have changed course and sought someone more along Dr. Lamm’s lines. Although Rabbi Berman has no fundraising experience, the YU board feels that his connections will help him there.

I for one am happy to see this. After reading Rabbi Addlerstein’s excerpts from a 1998 Jewish Action article Rabbi Berman authored, I am even more pleased. Because it tells me that he has the same goals I have… of uniting the right wing Charedi world with the left wing Modern Orthodox world (Centrists are the new left since Open Orthodoxy has claimed those further to my left for themselves.). This is something I have been preaching as far back as I can remember. In that vein here is what Rabbi Berman said: 
I had the opportunity to meet privately with one of the leading American roshei yeshivah in the Chareidi world. In the course of our conversation, I said to him that it would be wonderful if we could arrange a small learning program during the summer which would bring together the best talmidim from his yeshivah with those from Yeshiva University. This would give the next generation of Orthodox leaders and roshei yeshivah a chance to meet with one another, to talk to one another, and to learn Torah with and from one another. 
If that sounds familiar, I have expressed thoughts like this many times in the past. What unites us far surpasses what divides us. But how that Rosh Yeshiva responded disappointed me – although it didn’t surprise me: 
 After hearing my proposal, this rosh yeshivah shook his head and said: “This is very difficult, this is very difficult….” 
Why?! Why is it difficult? Do we not learn the same Torah and observe the same Mitzvos? Do we not share the same basic Mesorah? What is the right afraid of? Well it turns out that not all Charedi Roshei Yeshiva think the way this Rosh Yeshiva did: 
Twenty years ago, (in the 70s) Rabbi Shlomo Berman, the son-in-law of the Steipler and then a rosh yeshivah in the Ponevez Yeshivah, suggested to Julius Berman (then the president of the Orthodox Union) that if the Union wanted to do something significant for Orthodoxy, it should arrange a Yom Iyun with shiurim delivered by roshei yeshivah identified with different groups within Orthodoxy, such as Agudas Yisrael and Mizrachi, lead by Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik.
When asked what would be the purpose of such a program, Rav Berman responded, “Tzu lernen der ‘olam az Torah iz umparteyish; es balangt nit nor tzu di Mizrachi uder di Agudah, nit nor tzu Chassidim uder Misnagdim; es balangt tzu Klal Yisrael.” (“To teach the community that Torah is non-partisan; it belongs not only to Mizrachi or to Agudah, not only to Chassidim or to Misnagdim; it belongs to Klal Yisrael.” 
(What are the odds of a conversation like this happening where everyone involved is named Berman but not related? But I digress.) Why can’t there be more thinking along these lines in the Charedi like that of Rabbi Sholom Berman in the Charedi world ? There is so much we could learn form each other. What a wonderful and uniting thing that would be!

This is a President that I can really relate to. Someone that has his Hashkafos straight. Someone who has some heft in both Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol. Someone that hearkens back to the days of Drs. Lamm, Belkin, and Revel. And someone with the same vision I have. I look forward to bigger and better things from MO’s flagship Yeshiva, YU, in the future.