The open Orthodox revolution

I am a third-year student at what recently seems to be the most talked about rabbinical school on the planet. My rabbinic education is spent learning Talmud, halachah, and pastoral counseling. I intern at a local Orthodox synagogue and secular college campus, where I teach the weekly Torah portion and meet with undergraduate students. My wife and I host regular Shabbat gatherings at our home. Radical, no?

I wonder what is so revolutionary about those of us at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, who volunteer at a local assisted living facility singing Yiddish songs to the elderly during our lunch breaks. Is it our hashkafa, our ideological values?

In the fourth chapter of Pirkei Avot – Ethics of Our Fathers, the Mishna teaches: “Ben Zomeh would say: who is wise? One who learns from all. As it says in Psalm 119, ‘I have gained understanding from all my teachers.'” We at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah welcome new ideas. We come from a tradition that believes in Bamidbar Rabbah’s claim of the “70 faces of the Torah,” and in Eruvin, in the Gemara, which teaches “these and these are the words of the Living God.”

Love and fear of God, commitment to halachah, respect for our fellow human beings, the place of doubt within religion, creativity and open thinking, inclusiveness to women, to those in the LBGQT community, and to others marginalized by Orthodoxy and society all have a place in our community. If maintaining a welcoming tent, as our forefather Avraham Avinu did thousands of years ago, indeed is radical, then I guess that we are too.

Our Torah calls on us. “K’doshim tihiyu,” it tells us. “Be holy.” Our Talmud cries to us: “Kol yisrael arevin zeh la’zeh” – Jews are responsible for one another.” The Mishna declares, “Judge people favorably,” and in Baba Batra 60b the Gemara reminds us: “First make yourself presentable, then focus on others.”

Each of our communities has its strengths and areas of growth. As a collective Jewish people, we must support each other in our successes and failures. Together, we must feel outrage and horror and seek justice when we encounter sexual abuse within our communities. Together, we must mourn and grieve over the tragic suicide of the 33-year-old ostracized Deb Tambor, who took her own life after leaving the charedi community. And we must celebrate and learn together as well.

So join our revolution of open-mindedness, learning, and kindness. All are welcome to enter our beit midrash, our vibrant learning home, and hear our rebbeyim, sensitive and passionate scholars of Torah, and decide for yourself.

Come meet my fellow students and friends, who are committing their lives to Torah and serving our Jewish community in creative and dynamic ways. And let not the left or the right be afraid of a Yiddishkeit that promotes learning over dogma and partnership over power.

A couple of weeks ago, more than 500 people gathered to mark the installation of Rabbi Asher Lopatin as the new president of my school. Some of the most prominent leaders of our time from the Reconstructionist, Reform, Renewal, Conservative, and Orthodox communities were in attendance. When the Forward focuses more on Rabbi Asher Lopatin’s less-than-warm welcome in certain sectors than it does on the historic and hopeful gathering of our Jewish people, it paints a sad perspective on a most noteworthy picture. The president of our institution is trying to engage seriously and honestly with those to the left and the right.

Some call that naïve. I see it as brave.

There is no heavenly voice descending upon our world, as there is in the Gemara, to dictate the halachah or the will of God. L’havdil – to the contrary – we have the Pew study. If this contested and talked-about research analysis has anything to show us, it’s that we are a fractured bunch. We have plenty of work to do within each of our communities and countless bridges to build.

And so I pray: please, let us learn Torah together, disagree lovingly for the sake of Heaven, and serve God truthfully.