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

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.