Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Election Update #2: YCT?

Still on the campaign trail for the Vice President of the Rabbinical Council of America.
(Side note to Beth Israel members: Most of my campaign calling and blogging is late at night.  My days and evenings are still dedicated to being your Rabbi!)

Yesterday I promised that I would post my thoughts on Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) and my position as to whether they should be welcomed as members into the RCA.

I want top preface by saying that these are my initial thoughts.  I have heard from a number of people on this issue and there are passionate opinions on both sides.  I am still open to hearing the opinions of other people before I decide definitively.  This is still an ongoing discussion.

There are those who say that YCT as an institution has crossed the line and has left the camp of Orthodoxy.

One of the hot button issues that serves as an example is YCT's support and involvement in ordaining female orthodox rabbis.  At first blush, women orthodox rabbis seems to break completely with tradition.  But Rabbi Michael Broyde of Atlanta, an Orthodox Rabbi and an acknowledged expert in Jewish law, coauthored a long and thoughtful piece examining the issue.  On page 49 he quotes an interview with Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, past president of Yeshiva University.
[Based on earlier statements] people asked me, "Are you saying that according to Jewish law women are allowed to be rabbis?"  My response: I don't know - are you sure they are not allowed to?"
I encourage everyone to read the article in its entirety.  My point is that there is ambiguity in the mainstream Orthodox world.  Rabbi Lamm and Rabbi Broyde are respected members of the RCA.  We cannot hold Chovevei to a higher standard.

In the more chareidi world this is no problem.  The head Rabbis lay down the law and draw clear boundaries for the people.  But that doesn't work for the modern Orthodox world.  If the RCA wants to say that YCT crossed the line on these contraversial issues then they have to collectively draw that line.  Or it can be clearly demonstrated that YCT officially crossed well established lines -  like saying that driving is permitted on Shabbat.  Barring one of those two scenarios, I don't think that the RCA has a solid foundation to bar YCT from membership.

But there is another issue.

I went to Yeshiva University.  I was a fish in water there.  But YU is not for everyone.  Some people have problems fitting in.  Not because they are left wing or right wing.  They may have come from a different background.  They may not connect with the Rabbis or with the students.  YU is very big and perhaps they were looking for something smaller and more personalized.  YU requires a lot of independence and perhaps they were looking for more structure.

YCT is a very different experience from YU.  YU used to be the main choice for people who wanted to become modern Orthodox Rabbis.  YCT came and offered an alternative. 

YCT has definitely attracted students who have an outlook that is decidedly unorthodox.  That is a big problem for me.  While those students reflect poorly on the institution, I do not believe that they represent the views of the institution.  I think many RCA members would be more sympathetic to YCT if they were more selective of their students.  It is not unreasonable for an Orthodox rabbinic school to require that their students are Orthodox.  That aspect troubles me greatly. 

On the other hand, more often the YCT graduates I know are religious people who love Hashem, Torah, and the Jewish people.  Their agenda is not to move the Torah to the left or right, but rather to move Jews to Torah.  Many of the graduates are serving at shuls or on college campuses in position that YU graduates either would not take, or positions that would not take a YU graduate. 
They are faithfully serving the Jewish people as best as they can and I respect them for that and commend them.

So given the balance, I would be inclined to accept them into the RCA.  If a YCT member of the RCA did something publicly to deviate from Orthodox norms then he would be asked to withdraw his membership - the same way that a YU guy or anyone would be if he did the same. 

It is not an easy issue.  There are many who feel that YCT stands to jeopardize the integrity of Torah Judaism and break radically from tradition.  There are some that feel that YCT has already done that.  There are some who feel that allowing members from YCT will damage the RCA's credibility with its partners on the right. 

Those are all things to consider.  As I mentioned, my position on YCT is a work in progress.  In Omaha, Nebraska Orthodox is Orthodox.  These subtle nuances do not exist here and nobody would know the difference between a YU guy and a YCT guy. 

I am posting my initial thoughts on this issue even as the RCA election has begun and it may cost me votes.  But people have a right to know where I stand.  Nevertheless this is an issue that I need to learn more about before I come to a definitive decision. 

As I mentioned, my main issue is supporting Rabbis serving the Jewish people.


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