As a rabbi, I spend most of my time reading writing, talking, discussing and arguing about Jewish things. There is a lot to argue about, a lot to talk about. From our perspective, these issues can seem not just important, but overwhelming, more important than anything else could possibly be. The divisions and politics of the Orthodox, the Modern Orthodox world are important – but only to a point. The question of the differences between Yeshiva University, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, between this group and that group, this rabbi’s statement and that rabbi’s counter statement – these are all important issues. But, for too many of us, for me, personally, they are given far more prominence than could possibly be justified.
Rabbi Shaul Robinson, “Priorities: Inside the Tent and Outside“, Lincoln Square Synagogue Blog (11 November 2013).
It may be that Open Orthodoxy’s niche, and the important role of the hundreds of future ordainees of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the Modern and Open Orthodox yeshiva in Riverdale, New York, will be not only to open the tents of Orthodoxy to anyone interested—and in a sense of mutuality, learning from each other—but to go beyond welcoming to actually making the journey to where our fellow Jews are. Both Hareidi and Chabad outreach welcome all Jews to come to Orthodox homes, Orthodox Shabbat tables and Orthodox places of prayer—and that is admirable connecting. A confident, self-assured Orthodox community will be able to go even further and connect with students, young adults and families where they are. This means learning together with Reform, Reconstructionist, and renewal teachers and students; it means being willing to be on panels even with other rabbis or leaders who will be saying things that are not consistent with Orthodoxy; it means being willing to have Orthodox students spend time with non-Orthodox students, and then Orthodox families find ways of going to the non-Orthodox homes for Shabbat. All without compromising the beliefs or the practices of Orthodoxy!
Rabbi Asher Lopatin, “Challenges and Opportunities for a Robust Orthodox Judaism”, Conversations, Issue 17 (Autumn 2013/5774), 57-58.
Just like the idea of Chovevei has grown out of a specific need, the mission of YCT struck a cord with a unique set of students. The students applying to our rabbinical school feel a calling to serve. They are caring and learned, each a leader in his own way. They are our centerpiece, wishing to change the very face of the Jewish community and world. So refreshing is YCT’s approach that many of our trainees would not be in any rabbinical school were it not for Chovevei.
Rabbi Avi Weiss, “A Message from Our Founder and President,” Fourth Annual Gala (New York: Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, 2007), 13.
YCT has, to date, consistently and, perhaps, fanatically adhered to the Maimonidean rule forbidding responding negatively toward others. YCT’s curriculum is not only a course of professional study; the quality, quantity, subject selection, and orientations of its instructors provide the discerning reader with a quantifiable and unified ideological self-definition of the kind of Orthodox Judaism that it fosters and offers. As a self-consciously modern (YCT prefers the adjective “Open”) Orthodox Yeshiva, it requires commitment to Jewish law in both theory and practice as a pre-condition for acceptance as a student. But, as an Open Orthodox institution, YCT is open to the insights of non-Orthodox rabbis who can make what it believes to be serious contributions. Academic Talmud is taught by an observant Orthodox rabbi who happens also to teach at the Jewish Theological Seminary, revealing an openness that violates no rule in the classical canon but does deviate from the insular political discipline demanded by Haredi religion. Critical methodology actually empowers the student with the tools to make an autonomous reading of the canon. Since, in Haredi religion, the communal rabbi is authorized only to echo the views of the official “rabbonim and poskim” but not to render an autonomous opinion, however reasoned or defensible within the canons of talmudic hermeneutics, the democratization of independent learning is fraught with danger and is, therefore, off-limits to all but the Haredi gedolim elite. For this reason, academic Talmud undermines “the sanctity of Torah,” precisely because it affords its practitioners the power to render defensible readings and judgments – the original sense of “criticism” – of the canon with unfettered autonomy. Furthermore, Haredi rabbis are, by habit, conditioning, and education, disinclined to speak to the concerns of Conservative synagogues. By founding an institution that trains virtuosi who do not regard the Haredi elite as the ultimate source of rabbinic authority, YCT cannot be deemed to be legitimate to the Haredi elite.
Rabbi Alan J. Yuter, “The Two Contemporary Varieties of Orthodox Judaism,” in Mishpetei Shalom: A Jubilee Volume In Honor of Rabbi Saul (Shalom) Berman, ed. Rabbi Yamin Levy (New York: Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, 2010), 583-585.