Letter and Response on Non-Orthodoxy
As the new president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, I want to thank the Yated for bringing to the frum community important issues that need to be discussed and taken seriously. Torah MiSinai, yearning for Moshiach, yiras Shomayim and commitment to halacha as transmitted to us by the masters of the mesoret are all fundamentals of Yiddishkeit which our yeshiva not only believes in be’emunah shleimah, but also teaches to our students and works hard to promote in the Jewish community.
We find our home in the Orthodox world of gedolim and simple Jews who have kept Yiddishkeit alive and growing over the millennia. People of any persuasion and any denomination can consider us whatever they want, and I respect their right to form their own attitudes and understandings of who we are. I personally try to leave judging up to Hakadosh Boruch Hu, but perhaps even people who are harsh on us - as the Yated sometimes is - hopefully mean only to help us come closer to Hashem’s Torah and to give us healthy mussar. In any case, our yeshiva and all the Open and Modern Orthodox Jews we represent are committed - with humility and yiras Hashem - to remaining an active and vocal part of the Orthodox movement no matter who tries to push us out. Chassidim always respected the Gaon MiVilna even though he put them in cheirem. We also respect gedolim and rabbonim who may make declarations regarding who we are. We know that our talmidim need to learn the Torah of Rav Elyashiv zt”l and Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l and all the living and past gedolim. We look to the Torah-true mesoret of p’sak for determining how to live our lives and how to grow as bnei Torah.
I realize that many of the innovative ideas and practices of Open and Modern Orthodoxy might make people uneasy. In the past, Chassidus made the Gaon MiVilna extremely uneasy, as I mentioned above, and the kiruv movement, the Zionist movement, even the movement to formally educate women all have made people uneasy. All these movements appeared to many of our gedolim to be a break from the past. Yet, as they stayed loyal to the world of Torah and mitzvot and proved to Anshei Shlomeinu they were arguably a true embodiment of our mesorah, even if many still disputed the validity of their ideas and practices, they were accepted as part of the Orthodox world.
While the ideas and practices of Open and Modern Orthodoxy are already integral to many in the Orthodox world, I hope they become accepted by the entire breadth of the Orthodox world over time. In the meantime, we welcome vigorous debate - as the Netziv says, “pilpul” - and the rough and tumble of kinas sofrim to challenge us and make us think as well about how we are part of the mesoret we cherish and cling to with passion.
I welcome more articles about Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and hope more and more people can be brought into the conversation. Push us hard! We are ready with Torah, we are ready to listen and always “hafoch bah vahafoch bah” to reexamine every action we take and every idea we promulgate. Together, the world of those who love Torah - Chovevei Torah - will, with Hashem’s help, be a kiddush Hashem and a model of ehrlichkeit and mentchlichkeit to Jews everywhere who are thirsting for Toras Emes. That’s what we are here to do. That’s YCT.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin
President, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
The Editor responds:
Rabbi Lopatin preaches a nice game, but the movement he heads fails to practice the path he writes of.
He says, “We look to the Torah-true mesoret of p’sak for determining how to live our lives and how to grow as bnei Torah.” However, the fact is that the movement consistently rejects this “mesoret of p’sak,” as it sanctions and promotes that which halacha forbids, such as toeivah relationships, tampering with and feminizing the halachic seder hatefillah, learning from heretics and granting them legitimacy, ordaining women as rabbis, etc.
He writes, “Torah MiSinai, yearning for Moshiach, yiras Shomayim and commitment to halacha as transmitted to us by the masters of the mesoret are all fundamentals of Yiddishkeit which our yeshiva not only believes in be’emunah shleimah, but also teaches to our students and works hard to promote in the Jewish community.”
If this is so, why does this movement’s star Yodin Yodin YCT musmach/posek/board member and head of its Vaad Ha-Giyur, Rabbi Zev Farber, publicly write that he does not believe that Avrohom and Sarah existed, that he does not believe that G-d ever communicated with man, and that he does not believe that the Torah was actually given to Moshe? And how is it that the movement continues to retain him in his many influential positions?
Why does their rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Dov Linzer, repeatedly write about the harshness of G-d’s decrees that man tempered through its own interpretation and “hearing the softer voices” that allowed us to not accept the Torah as G-d gave it?
Why does Rabbi Linzer compare contemporary Orthodox leaders to the meraglim and suggest that we should bend the Torah in order to conform to prevailing liberal humanist ideas?
How does YCT’s embrace of “rabbis” who defy Torah and the toeivah marriage agenda fit with the platitudes contained in Rabbi Lopatin’s letter?
Rabbi Lopatin, you yourself lobbied with a female Reform rabbi to help pass recognition of toeivah unions in Illinois. Many of your movement’s rabbis are pushing that same agenda. If you and your movement’s members who engage in this conduct have no respect for a posuk in the Torah, which leaves no wiggle room, and lobby the government as an Orthodox rabbi for something that the Torah unequivocally condemns as an abomination, how can you claim fidelity to Torah MiSinai and commitment to halacha? How can you claim to be following the mesorah? Which mesorah? Whose mesorah are you following?
The movement’s rabbis have denied publically and vocally other ikrei emunah, and some of them are pushing for radical changes in gittin which all gedolim and poskim have deemed invalid. How is that consistent with what you write here?
By your standards, how are Reform and Conservative different from Open Orthodoxy? They also claim fidelity to G-d and Torah and mesorah, albeit with a very different approach. Like Open Orthodoxy, they have openly allowed for rejection of ikrei emunah and halachic authority.
You write, “We know that our talmidim need to learn the Torah of Rav Elyashiv zt”l and Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l and all the living and past gedolim. We look to the Torah-true mesoret of p’sak for determining how to live our lives and how to grow as bnei Torah.”
What you don’t write is that at the same time as you learn their holy words, you study the works and teachings of apikorsim. Your school mocks the life-missions of Rav Elyashiv and Rav Yosef, and the halachic positions that they took throughout their lives, which are in direct contradiction to all of the interesting halachic rationales that emanate from Open Orthodoxy. It is easy to say that you learn the Torah of Rav Elyashiv and look to the mesorah of his p’sokim and then not follow it. We can only judge by actions, and they are clearly wrong.
Were those rabbis alive, they would condemn your school and reject its deviations from halacha and mesorah. They would not recognize its semichah or geirus. You cleave to a philosophy that finds merit in discredited movements and their teachings. It is disingenuous for you to claim to be following the paths of Rav Elyashiv and Rav Yosef when nothing could be further from the truth.
You write about yiras Shomayim, yet the first and most elementary step in yiras Shomayim is to realize that Torah and halacha are not things that can be shaped to fit with contemporary mores. Yiras Shomayim also includes fearing talmidei chachomim and not having the audacity to implement halachic innovations without the approval of widely accepted, acknowledged poskim who are links in the chain of Torah and mesorah.
“[Looking] to the Torah-true mesoret of p’sak for determining how to live our lives and how to grow as bnei Torah” does not mean making up your own interpretations of halacha and changing halachic norms that have been observed for centuries.
You yourself wrote previously, “It is the responsibility of those in the outreach community and the pluralistic Orthodox community, who are comfortable counting Conservative, Reform or Renewal rabbis as mentors and teachers, to find a way to show other Orthodox Jews that pluralism is only going to strengthen an already strong Orthodoxy, not destroy it.”
Wrong again. Our duty is to follow Jewish law as codified in the Shulchan Aruch and by the great accepted poskim throughout the generations. Observant Jews have always lived their lives that way and always will.
One who reads your letter here without reading my article which you are responding to could imagine you as a modern-day Baal Shem Tov reaching out to the masses in an innovative historic manner, facing the scorn of sad Litvaks. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I suspect that you know that.
You mock us, writing previously that there “is not true pluralism in the Hareidi world; the families [who invite in irreligious people for Shabbos meals] don’t necessarily want to learn about Kant or feminism from their [non-religious] guests, but they do want to connect with them, and it is an encouraging first step towards the openness of Abraham and Sarah’s tent.”
Do you think the Baal Shem Tov, or any Chassidic leaders since the founding of that movement until this very day, would agree with that statement, or with having women lead services, or with studying Gemara with maharat candidates, or with maharats officiating in any capacity?
On a personal level, Rabbi Lopatin, you may be a nice man, but you are seriously misguided. We reach out our hand in friendship and welcome you back to the fold.