Thursday, February 22, 2007

Yated's YCT Critique Critiqued

I had been troubled by R' Harry Maryles' seemingly uncritical acceptance of critiques of the Left by the Right; instead of subjecting the critiques to investigation, he accepted them, with some disclaimers, as a basis for criticizing the Left (or the non-Right, at any rate). I am glad to see that he has modified his post about the YCT article.

However, the original Yated critique of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah deserves its own direct critique, because many of its points are either distortions or fabrications. Now, since no silver pot comes without a tarnished lining, there are one or two items where I agree with the article, and would like to see a response from Chovevei. But overall, as a basis to dismiss YCT as "non-Orthodox", the article is not well-grounded.

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Ordinees of JTS and HUC (Conservative and Reform rabbis) working at YCT.

a) one is an administrator (Director of Wexner Fellows)

b) one teaches pastoral counseling (you need a musmach [Orthodox rabbi] for this?)

How does this break with the Rav's [Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt"l] klapei-pnim [internal]/ klapei-chutz [external] dichotomy [we may cooperate with the heterodox on antisemitism and other issues affecting Jews, but no theological dialogue - we are too far apart], how does it? These people are not teaching Conservative theology, they're teaching how to deal with congregants. I see nothing in hiring non-musmachim to teach psychology, that contradicts the extract from "Confrontation" [the Rav's article explaining his policy] they brought in the article.

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The Hillel rabbi who caters to homosexual students. He's a HILLEL RABBI. He's not the rabbi of an Orthodox congregation. He HAS to deal fairly with non-Orthodox students, counsel them, help them maximize their religious experience. And plenty of Orthodox rabbis are Hillel rabbis. Not to mention that the president of YU was hired on the strength of having revitalized Hillel.

The Reform rabbi administrator - she's not "teaching young, aspiring rabbis." Actually, she doesn't appear on YCT's website at all. And YCT is not mentioned in her bio at the Wexner Foundation website. So where they got this one is a mystery.

The JTS-affiliated rabbi who teaches Talmud criticism, R' Jonathan Milgram: Look him up, and surprise surprise, he's a YU musmach. [Update: as a commenter notes, lots of Orthodox people are employed at JTS]. Revel has had people teaching this for decades, such as the late R' M.S. Feldblum. "We will not consider what criticism of the Talmud means for fear that finding out might require rending our garments." Obscurantism! Not even a "da ma shetashiv", but simply spitting on it unexamined. If there's one thing the Rav, as portrayed by R' Rakeffet, despised, it was the obscurantism of the Right.

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R’ Maryles had characterized the quoted parsha piece by R’ Zev Farber as “disgusting”. I don't see anything "disgusting" in it, I don't see any of this psychologizing you criticize, I just see reading the text as given. I certainly don't see any of the "kefirah" [heresy, denial of basic principles] the article attributes to him. They're remarkably unspecific as to what Chazal say that R' Farber allegedly transgresses. And exactly how do they define "kefirah"? I thought it was defined as going against Rambam's 13 Principles. Not going against some anonymous article-writer's biases.

* * *

Kleinberg seems to be some kind of weirdo. There's dialogue, and there's giving in, which seems to be his path: teaching in a Reform-led interdenominational kollel, etc. I suppose. Their continuing enthusiastic endorsement of R' Kleinberg does seem a bit strange. They had a piece praising him and his new synagogue in the Fall 2006 newsletter. He seems politically blind/naive at the least, since he walked right into the wrong side of an argument between the Orthodox and Heterodox rabbis. The Phoenix rabbinic board had split, about 8 or 10 years ago, between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox rabbis, and he joined the non-Orthodox side. His sample parsha piece quoted in the article, about God's imperfection, that does seem a problem. While yes, the apparent lack of knowledge has to be there to teach us something (naaseh adam betzalmeinu, lo tov heyot adam levado, etz oseh pri), they can't actually be imperfections in God. To me, this does seem a valid critique.

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Dancing with the leaders of the heterdox seminaries at your Chag haSmicha is not giving them a platform from which to preach.

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R' Berman disagreeing with R' Kotler etc., so what else is new? So did his rav, RYBS. Disagreeing with RYBS? I don't actually see that in the comments they quoted, which seemed pointedly to address klapei chutz, brit goral involvement, and explicitly citing irreconcilable theological differences.

* * *

Participating in the interseminary seminar: this I find problematic as well. However, the EDAH rabbis used to make one point very clear: the Rav taught his talmidim to think for themselves, to pasken for themselves. He did not generally insist that his opinion be universally followed, except for certain instances such as R' Rackman's agunah proposal. R' Yosef Adler, rosh yeshiva at Torah Academy of Bergen County and rav in Teaneck, described how someone had asked him about using the hot water tap on Shabbos. There was something special about it, I forget what, but he brought it to the Rav. The Rav told him to think for himself, and to see the second Reb Chaim on the Rambam, who does provide a justification for using the hot-water tap on Shabbos. I'm sure the Rav wouldn't have done so himself, but he ratified R' Adler paskening that way for someone else. Similarly on women's tefillah groups: lechatchilah [ab initio] don't do it, but bedieved [ex post facto], R' Riskin, here's how it should be done.

* * *

The attack on R' Linzer seems entirely unwarranted. There are mitzvos that are hard to deal with. Facing the fact that they are hard to understand, hard to deal with in terms of our understanding of God's goodness, is not "second-guessing" them. It is the only honest approach to many things. Sweeping problems under the rug with "you are not allowed to ask questions" is so often cited as "the reason I went off the derech - I asked questions in yeshiva, and was dismissed and told not to ask such questions." I've heard it time and time again.

Note that R' Linzer is not saying these mitzvos should be ignored, or erased, but that they are hard to live with. There is a famous story of the Rav, when someone came to him about a wedding, and it turned out that he was a kohen and she a gerushah, he thought about it all night, paced up & down, cried a long time, and eventually had to tell them "no". That is surrender to the halacha. But that is also confronting the very real human problems we face in following the halacha.

In fact, I went to their supposed “source” in Rashi for this “principle”, and found something completely different. But that deserves its own post.


Anonymous said...

For what its worth, the "conservative" rabbi who teaches Academic Talmud at YCT is not a conservative rabbi but actually quite orthodox. Prior to entering academics he served an Orthodox shul in Manhattan. He has semicha from RIETS and belongs to an Orthodox shul in Teaneck, NJ.

There are MANY Orthodox rabbis/scholars who teach at JTS. To believe where one teaches indicates their denominational affiliation is naive.

Anonymous said...

Also in regards to INTRAfaith activity there is much precedent for engaging in activities with Jews from other denominations. State of Israel, Board of Rabbis, UJF and many more come to mind.

And even if one wants to be very scrupulous in their understanding of Rabbi Soloveitchik's guidelines in "Confrontation" and personally views his public polcy considerations as binding; Rav Soloveitchik only forbid actual theological discourse. For example, issues of eschatology, theodicy, etc. Learning Torah together as Jews (or even as groups of Jews and non-Jews) certainly does not violate his public policy pronouncement.

However, no one has ever made the claim that YCT views itself under the psak of Rav Soloveitchik. It is true many of the rabbeim were students of the Rav but many of the rabbeim were also students of other Rabbonim. To try and create a box, claim YCT is in that box and then assert YCT has violated the norms of that box is a weak arguement. It would be wise to only stick to the self-definitions that YCT gives itself, not ones one might want to put on it.

Anonymous said...

"R' Yosef Adler, rosh yeshiva at RIETS and rav in Teaneck"

Just to clarify-- Rabbi Yosef Adler of Teaneck, is not the same person as Rabbi Elchonon Adler, Rosh Yeshiva at YU, who lives in Pasaic, I believe.

Anonymous said...

nicely, rationally written.

Noam S.