Yeshivat Chovevei Torah And The Bad Old Days Of Semi-Orthodoxy


chovevei-torahBy I. Schwartz

The Yated was the first publication in the Torah world to uncover the misdeeds of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, otherwise known as YCT, and its rabbis and affiliates. It is unfortunate that after so much negative publicity, YCT and its “Open Orthodox” partners have not learned their lesson and continue to drive headlong into the paths of the Reform and Conservative movements.

Over a year ago, the Yated engaged YCT president Rabbi Asher Lopatin in a heated debate, after it became clear to us that Rabbi Lopatin was not going to seriously redirect YCT away from the ruinous path on which Rabbi Avi Weiss, its founder, had placed it. Avi Weiss used YCT as a vehicle for religious pluralism, honoring Reform and Conservative clergy at YCT events and encouraging YCT students to engage with such clergy as peers. Under Avi Weiss’s leadership, a partner school to ordain female rabbis was created, and some well-known YCT students espoused kefirah, publicly denying Torah min haShomayim and other ikorei emunah. Many YCT rabbis publicly spoke in favor of to’eivah marriage rights, and they brought female cantors and non-Orthodox rabbis to the pulpits of their shuls. The path of YCT was anything but one of Torah.

Rabbi Lopatin failed to take YCT in a better direction. Although his manner is more academic and soft than Weiss’, Lopatin claimed that YCT wanted to include more of the “right wing” of Orthodoxy, while at the same time failing to distance the school and its partners from Weiss’ initiatives that contradict Torah.

Lopatin as of late began to sing a new tune, and a very disturbing one. After his Open Orthodox movement was recently challenged by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer in an article in Jewish Link of Bergen County, in which it was shown that the academic heads of YCT publicly embraced kefirah, denying the divine origin of certain mitzvos, Lopatin issued a very weak rebuttal in the same publication. Although the rebuttal failed to address any of the points made in Rabbi Gordimer’s article, it was very revealing, as it indicated that YCT sought a reversion to the very hashkofos that were rejected by all of Orthodoxy decades ago. Although other Torah publications have not highlighted Rabbi Lopatin’s exact message, Yated feels an obligation to do so.

Here are a few quotes from this Lopatin piece:

“We need to bring back the passion of a Modern Orthodoxy dedicat­ed to truth and our tradition. In the 1960s Rav Ahron Lichtenstein debat­ed Rav Yitz Greenberg in the pages of Yeshiva University’s Commenta­tor. In the 1970s Rav Eliezer Berko­vits published pieces of theology in Tradition, while the magazine print­ed a disclaimer that the views of Rav Berkovits did not necessarily reflect the views of Tradition or the Rabbini­cal Council of America. Decades ago Rav Emanuel Rackman suggested that there were changes in the real­ity of society and marriage from the time of Talmud, whereupon Rav So­loveitchik publicly berated him at an RCA conference.”

“At Yeshivat Chovevei Torah we continue to train our talmidim to re­discover and reclaim a Modern Or­thodoxy that values diverse, even contradictory, ideas and passions in the service of God and God’s divine Torah, and to take that Torah out into the world and connect with today’s Jews. Openness, inclusivity, dedication and fear of God and God’s Torah are the ways to bring back the luster of Modern Orthodoxy.”

For those not familiar with American Orthodox history, Yitz Greenberg, Eliezer Berkovits and Emanuel Rackman took very controversial and problematic positions about the binding nature of halachah, God’s relationship with Klal Yisroel, and the integrity of the halachic system. These three rabbis were shown the door by the leaders of Modern Orthodoxy, as their views threatened the integrity of Torah Judaism. Yet Rabbi Lopatin would like to turn the clock back and welcome the views of Greenberg, Berkovits and Rackman.

Lopatin then issued another article, in which he again endorsed the above views, and other problematic ones, to Orthodoxy:

“Important and controversial Orthodox thinkers, including Rabbis Yitz Greenberg and David Hartman, were being shunned by the so-called Modern Orthodox establishment…

“There was a sense of despair that the Modern Orthodoxy of the 1950s and 1960s- an era in which Rabbis Emanuel Rackman, Yitz Greenberg, and Eliezer Berkovits, and (in Israel) the philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz, were household names- had been lost. Even as Rabbi Saul Berman’s Edah initiative, noted by Wertheimer, succeeded in restoring a certain pride in the name Modern Orthodox, there was legitimate concern that the movement was coming to represent an ossified and unimaginative type of Judaism, always looking fearfully over its right shoulder. Hence ‘Open Orthodoxy.'”

Yitz Greenberg and David Hartman, whose theologies rejected the traditional relationship of Hashem and His People as well as the traditional stance toward Torah, are considered as important Orthodox hashkafic figures by Lopatin. (Greenberg also made publicly blasphemous statements, and he compared Avrohom Avinu to, l’havdil, the god of the Christains r”l). Boruch Hashem, Orthodoxy rejected Greenberg, Hartman and other deviants, yet YCT seeks to bring them back into the Orthodox fold as meaningful voices.

Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, chairman of the Talmud department of YCT, is no stranger to the pages of Yated. After writing that the Mishnayos of Maseches Sotah were basically man-made writings created to further a social cause and are not part of Torah MiSinai r”l, Katz served as scholar in residence for Shabbos at a Conservative temple, Conservative Synagogue of Fifth Avenue, where he lectured about his beliefs concerning the origins and agenda of Maseches Sotah. Katz has an encore performance in a few weeks at this Conservative temple, where he will spend another Shabbos as scholar in residence.

The Orthodox community, as all communities, has room for much improvement. Nonetheless, the hashkafic challenges of half a century ago, in which large segments of Orthodoxy were on the verge of becoming part of the Conservative movement, were successfully overcome, as lines were drawn and those who rejected the integrity of Torah were identified as chutz la’machaneh. Much of this was accomplished by the rabbinic leadership of Yeshiva University and the Rabbinical Council of America, who realized that allowing those who rejected major aspects of Torah to remain within the Modern Orthodox brand would mean the ruination of Orthodoxy for so many people, and would result in confusion and defection to non-Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy cleaned up shop and rid itself of the likes of Greenberg and Hartman. Rabbi Soloveitchik of YU held Rabbi Rackman’s approach to halachah to be so dangerous that he publicly castigated Rackman’s ideas and called them kefirah, in one of the most defining moments in American Orthodox history.

YCT wants to bring back the kefirah of those who were asked to exit the door of Orthodoxy, it is partnering with institutions of heresy, as the chairman of its Talmud department spends Shabbosim as scholar in residence at a Conservative temple. . Reintroducing hashkofic confusion and the threat of large segments of the Torah community abandoning Torah belief are part of the YCT agenda. YCT has shown that it is open to almost everything and has yet to declare that the kefirah published by some of its best-known graduates is not acceptable.

May Hashem save us from the hashkafic confusion brought about by this mosad, and may He protect us from the dilution of Torah ideology, despite YCT’s attempts to bring such dilution back into the machaneh.

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  1. YCT has completely corrupted the term “Orthodox” by connoting it as “Modern Orthodox”, etc.

    There is no “Semi-Orthodox”. YCT is not “Orthodox” in the purest sense. Frankly, YCT is arguably not even Frum.

  2. Please identify and add a link to Rav Soloveitchik’s castigation of Rackman— its would be an important article to publicize.

    Thanks Matzav an to R.Schwart for maintaining the fight against OO (aka the Zero Zero movement).

  3. There is always a satanic drug that seeks to decimate judaism. First reform, then conservative, reconstructionist, limited cultlike clubs that dominate the future and now the open orthodoxy madness. Terror never stops. Keep davening with truth and the future can improve. Terror is not forever.

  4. Why can’t the OU/YU/RCA and others publicly denounce them. I’ll help pay for the ad.
    There are many small cities around America who are hiring these people because they don’t know better.

  5. MORE OF THE Same:

    Dr. Saundra Sterling Epstein
    I have been working in the field of Jewish Education for thirty five years in many different capacities. My favorite things are to teach Jewish texts and interface them with all of the collected knowledge of the world as well as facilitate the building of understanding, inclusive communities. My favorite community members are my husband and four children and one son-in-law.

    Wednesday, June 3, 2009
    Al Tifrosh Min HaTzibur – Don’t separate yourself from the community
    Our beginning question is: So how do I define the Jewish community from which I do not separate myself?

    For those of us who are Modern Orthodox Jews, which more people now call Open Orthodox, we live with the challenge of simultaneously maintaining our own religious standards and practices while being part of the larger world. Admittedly, for me personally, inside the cocoon of my own mind, this is not only not a problem but makes perfect sense. However, the reality is that I live with and in the larger world and it is here that this balance becomes increasingly difficult and challenging given what I often call the “black and white world in which we live.” Years ago, I was at a lecture given by Rabbi Adin Steinhaltz, who looked at his American Jewish audience, and began with words along the line of the following: Mazel Tov, you have caught up. You have become as rigid and intransigent and as divided as Israel. People laughed, I began to cry internally. I thought of titling this entry “I stand in one place and they just keep changing what they call
    me,” but now that I have shared this, it is probably clear why I chose the indicated heading.

    Some years ago, there was a lead article in The Baltimore Jewish Times about successful members of the Conservative movement of the 1960’s who were now within the folds of the Orthodox community. I read the article with particular interest as the story told by the people interviewed was my story. Yes, I am identified by all who know me as Modern Orthodox but the reality is, to rephrase Robert Fulrrum’s book title, “Everything I know and am, I learned in USY.” Growing up in a Conservative synagogue with a Rabbi whose Semicha was from Yeshiva University (and there were many such communities in those days!), and as an active member in USY, I was schooled in a way of life that was that of being a shomer mitzvot. As a USY officer, we all had to sign a contract indicating that we were shomer Shabbat, shomer Kashrut, and engaged in full time Jewish learning. The same was required in the home in which I grew up. I learned texts in my classes at Baltimore
    Hebrew College with Orthodox identified teachers and with classmates who were members of Orthodox as well as Conservative communities. Occasionally USYers and NCSYers would join together for activities. One of the Conservative affiliated synagogues in our region actually had a mechitza.

    Now granted, I was one of the more observant members of my group, but those of us in this group now meet occasionally in Israel or in any number of communal Orthodox settings. We were so successful at continuing to live the way that we learned, the Conservative movement eventually had no use for us. In fact, I was actually fired from my position as Educational Director of a region of United Synagogue of America in the mid-eighties for “being too religious, and therefore not a good role model for the community.” The two things that were cited as my misdeeds were that I would not eat in a non-kosher restaurant and that I did not use forms of transportation on Shabbat and Yom Tov. On the other hand, I am not accepted by many elements of the Orthodox world, and in years of consulting with schools and communities throughout the Jewish spectrum, much of my work has been rejected in the Orthodox community because I am “too controversial,” so I find
    myself trying to figure out to which community I actually belong.

    I do not separate myself but am put into a type of pariah status too often. I have suffered personally and professionally through the years as a result of this. Nonetheless, I subscribe to the notion that “G-d understands, it’s the neighbors who don’t quite get it.” The right side of the larger spectrum of the Jewish community considers me “too open” because we embrace all Jews of Klal Yisrael and figure that if Ribbonu shel Olam has Ahavat Yisrael for all B’nai Yisrael, who am I to set parameters for a more exclusive club??? The people in the identified “non-observant” (ritually speaking) corridors do not completely trust me because I am “one of them, you know the HaShemites…” So, I continue to consider myself part of the larger Jewish community and have taught my children and students to do the same, even though as one person in our Orthodox community said to me years ago, “Sunnie, you do 99% of everything correct, why don’t
    you just give up the other 1% and then you can be one of us?” I really don’t think that any explanation is needed, regarding my reaction internally.

    I have often used the phrase, “Its hard to be an Or LaGoyim from the corner of Meah Shaarim,” meaning that we are the ones who are “out and about” both within the larger Jewish community and within the even larger world community. I am definitely a Judaism/Torah junkie… I do think that contained within the wisdom, practices, and thinking of this system, is all one needs to live a fulfilled and meaningful life. I am awed daily by our four children who have taken up this charge as well and maintain their balance on the same tricky beam on which I have teetered and tottered all these years, though have never fallen off of it. I really do believe that G-d wants us to live with and inside of this balance. In the Vidui, we find the following phrase: For the misdeed we have committed by judgment (b’fililim). I have always found this so meaningful. There is so much in Jewish texts and practices that tell us to not embarrass each other, to not judge
    another person until one is in their place, and of course…. to not separate from the general masses. Yet, in the real lane in which we live, this happens all of the time. There are people who are so meticulous about Kashrut, what goes into their mouths, for example, yet are rather cavalier about Shmirat HaLashon, what comes out of their mouths. Within the community that observes Taharat HaMishpacha, one would like to think that there is no sexual, physical or emotional abuse in trying to attain a true sense of Shalom Bayit. To be sure, this desired consistency is clearly not the case for all members of any group. It’s just that it seems to me that when one is identified by others and self-identifies as a Shomer Mitzvot, all of the above count.

    I guess this is the community to which I ideologically belong – the one that is composed of those of us who are committed to those actions of ritual and religious deeds and are equally committed to those dictated actions that are clear about honesty, not cheating, being kind and caring, giving the other the benefit of the doubt and acknowledging at the end of the day that what is between a person and G-d is not for another to glibly judge in too many instances. This is the community in my head to which I belong. In terms of the community of which I am physically a member, this is not as easy.

    I often explain that I spend half of my time explaining and correcting the inaccurate caricatures people hold on to about the Orthodox community in the non-Orthodox world and the other half of my time doing the same in the Orthodox community regarding the caricatures people have regarding those who are non-Orthodox. In the meantime, because I daven with a mechitzah, dress a certain way, am identified as a Shomeret Mitzvot and live inside of my Orthodox community, clearly I am identified as Orthodox. Yet, because I have friends, colleagues and relatives who run the gamut of the continuum of Jewish ideological and practice options, as well as those who are outside of the pale of Judaism altogether, I am the one who is not quite “normal” in the community in which I reside. Whereas in my formative years of the late 60s and 70s, this composite picture was consistent with my identity as an observant Halachic Conservative Jew, my children grapple with what
    they should say when they explain themselves to others. The phrase I have adopted is “Halachic, accepting, pluralistic Torah observant Jew.” I guess that about covers it…. that is the name of my community of choice.

    The problem that remains is: None of the established movements in today’s American Jewish community truly reflect their roots and the thinking of their founders. Even more so, these labels are not as meaningful in the rest of world Jewry. Given that, aren’t we all left with the task of figuring out what our own Jewish identity is, no longer relying on the default position of this or that title


    As a Modern Orthodox Jew, I often find myself standing too far to the right or too far to the left or without much of a standing at all in a world that is defined too often by extreme positions. How sad! When I remember the Orthodoxy of my childhood, it was gentle, open, and caring. People did not ask what went on in the bedroom or your kitchen or your home and then judge you on it – that was between YOU and G-D. Unfortunately, today in our world in which there is EXTREMELY too much EXTREMISM, the intended quality of life and support of community that Orthodoxy meant and means to so many is getting lost in the details which occupy too many conversations and force people too often into categories of “accepted” or “not accepted.” Years ago, a friend of mine schlepped (such an appropriate word here, thanks MG) me to a meeting at which women were trying to make matches (shidduchim) between young men and women they know. The wonderful Rebbetzin (who
    is quite religious and observant by every measure you can come up with) got frustrated with questions about white tablecloths and whether or not and how the mother of the girl covers her hair and just lost it – she basically said this was shtuyot (craziness) and NOT what being an Observant Jew is about. She and her husband remain one of my favorite Orthodox Rabbinic couples until today.

    Those of you who know me could sit together and we could get frustrated, angry, share many laughs and/or cry a bit about this phenomenon. That being said, I want to share a wonderful personal story about TWO ORTHODOX SHULS of which I am very proud. We are members of both!

    Several months ago, one of our daughters became engaged to the love of her life – and now I will have a new daughter-in-law. Needless to say, living in the Orthodox world with a gay child has its challenges. It has recently brought us untold joy. One of our shuls, Mekor HaBeracha, is ALWAYS amazing regarding every possible issue of human needs and comfort and this is due to the able and menschlach leadership of its Rav, Rabbi Eliezer Hirsch, who is no less observant than other Orthodox Rabbis – he just observes BOTH the Mitzvot between him and G-d as well as those between people, also dictated by Ribbonu shel Olam and teaches about them equally. From the moment we announced Rachie and Liz’s engagement, there were Mazel Tovs, hugs and just a wonderful celebratory feeling. We all felt blessed and grateful that the shul community could be part of and add to our simcha.

    Additionally, we belong to Young Israel..where I, to be honest, do not always feel so comfortable, given my knowledge, profession, life view and politics. That being said, I respect the standards that are maintained and continue to be part of this Kehilah along with our many wonderful friends. My husband and I spoke long and carefully crafted how we would present this news to the people in our more centrist/leaning to the right Orthodox shul community. We were having a big engagement party and we wanted to invite our friends but knew that not all would be comfortable. We carefully indicated this to people and received one of four responses. Either they said they would come, needed to check in with their spouse, would have to think about it or did not think they could come. That being said, everyone WITHOUT EXCEPTION was kind, caring and respectful and wished us Mazel Tov. When the party did come, there were over 90 celebrants present to
    rejoice with our family and our daughter and her fiancée. Not only that, but we were able to sponsor a Kiddush in BOTH shuls in honor of the many semachot in our family, including the engagement of Rachie and Liz. And in BOTH shuls, everyone wished them Mazel Tov, including our “black hat” Rabbi and his wife. Honestly, we have received nothing but validating and wonderful feedback and caring reactions from all we know with only two sad exceptions – who are not part of either of these communities, but rather within extended family connections.

    I want to be very clear. We have been respectful, advocated for our children and acknowledged that this may be a problem for some – all simultaneously. The reaction we have received has been respectful of us in turn, loving for our children and acknowledging of our position in our communities.

    In a sadly explosive climate where we hear too many stories of intolerance, I want to state how extremely proud I am of both of our synagogue communities and that with respectful approaches, shared knowledge, and understanding of our most foundational Jewish principles of protecting and celebrating life, we CAN all live together in a meaningful and validating way, just as is intended for our Jewish community.

    I know there are other communities out there like ours, so please consider sharing wonderful stories of acceptance and validation with all you know so that our voice is not eclipsed by others who would attempt to shout us down


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