In his letter to the editor, “Too open to be Orthodox” (November 22), Israel Polak focuses on certain “leading individuals associated with” Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, who, he tells us, “turn their backs on … the fundamental beliefs that underlie and define Orthodoxy”. He then demands that YCT’s students “confront their leadership” to declare that these people’s espousal of what he terms neo-Conservative Judaism is a rejection of Orthodox Judaism.
Mr. Polak’s call for confrontation between YCT’s student body and its leadership is intriguing, particularly if its premise – that an Orthodox Jewish organization should be judged by those of its associates who espouse the views least congruent to the Orthodox view of the Torah – is applied to other Orthodox rabbinical schools and rabbinical organizations.
Here are three of many examples where Mr. Polak’s demands can be made:
1. Not long ago, a renowned rosh yeshiva of the famed Torah v’Daas Yeshiva in Brooklyn, who simultaneously serves as a leading halachic decisor for kashrut division of the Orthodox Union, issued a letter attacking a charedi family in Lakewood. That family had sought to bring criminal charges against a rabbi and teacher for sexually assaulting their 11-year-old son. In his public letter attacking the family, the rosh yeshiva wrote that he had investigated the matter and that the charges of sexual assault against the teacher were totally baseless. The family whom the rosh yeshiva attacked had to leave Lakewood because of the social ostracism they faced. The teacher recently pleaded guilty to sexual assault and was sentenced to over 12 years in prison, and the rosh yeshiva has never apologized for attacking the family of the victim and for his false assertion of the innocence of the teacher who molested his young student.
Is it imperative that the rabbinical students of Torah v’Daas and the rabbis who run the kashrut division of the Orthodox Union confront their leadership and demand that this rosh yeshiva, who is unrepentant in his defense of an admitted sexual predator, be removed from any position of leadership in Orthodoxy?
2. A rising star in the Orthodox rabbinate, a graduate of Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school who served ably as a pulpit rabbi in a Young Israel synagogue, declared himself to be openly gay and lives with his partner of the same sex. He has recently written a book in which he defends his lifestyle and his commitment to Orthodox Judaism.
Is it imperative that the students of Yeshiva University’s rabbinical seminary confront their leadership to issue a declaration that this student’s views are inimical to Orthodox Judaism? No such statement has been issued by the seminary.
3. A leading pulpit rabbi in the New York area, who was ordained at Yeshiva University, recently served in a key leadership role in the Rabbinical Council of America. The RCA is an organization of Orthodox rabbis whose purpose is, per its website, “to advance the cause and the voice of Torah and the rabbinic tradition by promoting the welfare, interests, and professionalism of Orthodox rabbis.” This rabbi formerly served as the spiritual leader of a synagogue that featured mixed seating and used a microphone on Shabbat. This same rabbi was involved in the rollout of the RCA’s recently issued geirus policies and standards, which were intended to vouchsafe that Orthodox standards are adhered to in conversions to Judaism by RCA-affiliated rabbis in this country.
Is it imperative that the rabbis who are members of the RCA confront their leadership to issue a declaration that it is incompatible for a rabbi who himself served a congregation with the mixed seating – a practice that defines Conservative Judaism for most Orthodox Jews – to be involved in efforts to protect Orthodox conversion standards or to serve in any leadership role in the RCA?
That Mr. Polak makes his demand of the students of YCT but not of the students of the rabbinical schools of Torah v’Daas and Yeshiva University or of the RCA’s rabbis is telling. The “bad apples” of Torah v’Daas and YU do not taint those institutions and their illustrious graduates. In fact, in today’s Orthodox world it seems that it is unacceptable to even hint that they should leave their leadership positions.
It would be better to let all the rabbinical students focus on their studies, so that they can leave their Torah institutions equipped with Jewish knowledge and the people skills that are so necessary to convey Torah learning and Torah values to the broader Jewish community.
(For full disclosure, I have close personal connections to YCT; however, I have in no way been authorized to speak for YCT and the views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of YCT.)