Man, this Yeshivat Chovevei Torah – Yated Ne’eman stuff (YCT-Yated from now on – I’m just trying to help the friendly search engine spiders!) just doesn’t get old. Here’s a quick roundup:
- The original Yated article, as posted on Yeshiva World
- My(not-as-brief-as-advertised) response
- Rabbi Helfgot’s response, sent as a letter to Gil Student and republished on this one-post blog
- Mark Einhorn’s rebuttal, Defending the Indefensible, over at Open Orthodoxy
I’ll take on Mark Einhorn below. I feel that it suffers from many of the same flaws as the original article, but I find that somewhat more egregious in a blog that takes the name Open Orthodoxy – the same name by which YCT trumpets its own hashkafic spot on the sundial.
To summarize, Mark has a few problems with Rabbi Helfgot’s response:
- Rabbi Linzer is not airing struggles over mitzvot for the purpose of strengthening people’s emuna, but for the purpose of liberalizing Orthodoxy, and thereby weakening emuna.
- Rabbi Helfgot says that YCT does not follow the teachings of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (Reb Yoshe Ber to some, RYBS to yet others) exclusively. Einhorn claims that this must mean that YCT “follows whichever Gadol for which it can find support for a practice or custom-despite the absence of any evidence that the Gedolim cited had any knowledge or familiarity with the American Jewish community after WW2.”(Steve Brizel actually said this while commenting on Hirhurim)
- Though Rabbi Helfgot believes that “non-Orthodox rabbis and professionals in areas […] can contribute positively to the education of our students”, Mark Einhorn believes that “[t]eachers are not teaching mathematics and English, but how to relate to congregants, hopefully from an Orthodox Torah viewpoint. Shouldn’t the entire YCT faculty be Orthodox?”
- A repeated theme is Einhorn’s keen observation that YCT faculty are not Chazal (perhaps because YCT faculty still live?). Here are some quotes:
- Rabbi Linzer is not one of the “Gedolei olam”. Rabbi Linzer is the Rosh Yeshiva of a liberal institution whose clear agenda is the liberalization of Orthodox Judaism.
- Rabbi Helfgot seems to imply that it is acceptable for YCT students to engage in broad psychoanalytical drash because it is in the tradition of Chazal to assess “the humanity, struggles, failings, emotions of the greatest of the great.” Are YCT musmachim the modern manifestation of Chazal? I think not.
- Einhorn is particularly critical of Rabbi Helfgot for equivocating on certain divrei torah, rallies, and practices that YCT musmachim have delivered or participated in since graduating.
I think Mr. Einhorn missed the boat here. It’s clear that for some people, hearing that a rabbi grapples with doubts about a mitzvah causes terrible internal doubts and is greatly troubling to their emunah. It’s just as obvious that there are many Jews for whom NOT hearing that is precisely what makes them doubt the religion. There is no evidence that Rabbi Linzer shares these struggles and doubts for the purpose of making Orthodox Judaism more liberal – unless of course you define a more liberal Orthodoxy as one which is willing to struggle aloud with difficult mitzvot. It’s really just a matter of your prejudices going in – if you don’t like the school, then Rabbi Linzer is trying to spread doubts in order to liberalize Orthodoxy (I assume Einhorn meant that negatively, with all the irony inherent in my making presumptions as I complain about his). If you do like the school, Rabbi Linzer is reaching out to a community that is not well-served by traditional Orthodoxy, and in doing so is resurrecting a dormant liberal strain in Judaism that Orthodoxy mistakenly left behind.
Some of his other complaints fall into the same camp. If you presuppose that YCT is doing the wrong thing, then when they are not following the Rav, they must be heter-shopping. Chovevei actually operates much like any other yeshiva – Rabbi Linzer is both the Rosh Yeshiva and the Posek of the Yeshiva, and he decides what psak to follow. If you think that YCT is pasul, then it’s easy to say that they aren’t chazal or that they’re overreaching. There’s really no way to argue against that perspective, but there’s very little reason to subscribe to it either. Let’s just remember that infallibility is an as-yet unmet standard in Jewish history. Demanding is foolish, and indicating its absence by comparison to chazal is just plain ignorant.
In other complaints, Einhorn is simply making a statement of opposing beliefs. Einhorn’s entire comment regarding non-Orthodox or non-Jewish faculty is just a bunch of yelling, with no actual content. About the only argument he makes is “YCT’s curriculum is not academic, it’s theological” – itself not reflective of YCT’s curriculum, which includes gemara, halacha, hashkafah, chassidut, pastoral counseling, and a great deal of history. Einhorn is certainly entitled to believe what he will, but he has not made a compelling argument that non-Orthodox professionals have nothing to teach to a class of aspiring Orthodox rabbis.
So on to the last point. Should Rabbi Helfgot have taken a position on some of the controversial practices or teachings of his former students? I think not – at least not in a letter to Gil Student about an article in the Yated. After all, these students are people, with families, with jobs, who have spent four years in a yeshiva to gain semicha, and who have now moved their families and their lives to distant cities and communities in order to serve the Jewish people. Condemning them could have serious consequences for their young careers. I’m glad that Rabbi Helfgot was circumspect, and that he acknowledged that it is not his role within the Chovevei to make decisions on this topic.
Of course, I think that the yeshiva itself hasn’t condemned these graduates because it is not opposed to what they’ve taught or practiced. YCT is largely pro-gay, is in favor of cross-denominational contact, and encourages novel, interdisciplinary torah. There are precise halachic issues that arise in these contexts, and YCT deals with those narrow halachic questions as they arise in the course of this work. What makes YCT different is not in its obedience to halacha on a micro level, but rather, its unwillingness to apply halachic categories and methodology (to engage in halachics, if you will) to every aspect of human life and behavior.