Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The kids are Actually Rabbis

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend Yeshivat Chovevei Torah's ( fourth annual dinner. The food by Main Event ( was delicious and there were over 400 people there. One of the striking things was the apparent age of this year's smicha class, which appeared to be about 14 or 15. They were honored as part of the celebration last night. My wife kept referring to them as the "kids." However, ignoring the fact that they do not look old enough to shave, (and the fact that as we get older, the Rabbis get younger) when some of them got up to speak, it was awesome. And, according again to my wife, somewhat sad. I will get to that later.
As a yeshiva high school grad who neither went to Israel after high school nor continued my formal Jewish studies, I have a lot of respect for those who choose to go on to ultimately join the Rabbinate. There are, of course, many different paths that one can pursue to achieve that end, and the older I get, the more those paths seem to increase or diverge. Not only for the Rabbinate, but for Judaism as well. Chovevei Torah represents one of those wonderful divergent paths.
Founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss from the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale,NY, ( Chovevei is attempting to create a generation of "open Orthodox" rabbis and leaders. Not everyone is: a) accepting of them and their ideas; and b) tolerant of their existence. I provided a link in an earlier post that referenced a recent article about how Chovevei is evil and dangerous. ( This was an article that was referenced over and over again last night as the "kids" spoke. What is true, by all accounts, that these newly minted Rabbis are traveling everywhere, and making some tremendous impacts on the lives they touch, not only in the orthodox community, but in others as well. Take a look at this post ( by someone who identifies closely with the Reform movement. The rabbi that he is referencing here was a panelist at a presentation at the dinner last night, and is the Hilel Rabbi in St. Louis. That's right, as in Missouri. There ARE Jews there. And they are graduates of Chovevei. Ok, I am sure you can find a Chabad Rabbi there too, but they are not the point of this post. What it is all about is finding a way, a real way, to reach out to everyone without compromising your own standards. And this is what Chovevei is trying to do.
One of the panelists last night was asked about the role of Women in the synagogue. The response, waffled at best, was that there needs to be a place for women in the synagogue, and it will be up to the individual Rabbi to figure out how to do that. Ok, so they did not answer the question. And i don't see chovevei admitting women to the Smicha program. However, Rabbi Weiss DOES have a woman on the Rabbinical staff at HIR, Sara Hurvits, who is the Madricha Ruchanit. ( Some of you might feel this does not go far enough, but it is a start.
Where Chovevei falls short, again, according to my wife, who has been very involved in this conversation is where they lay claim to advancing the Orthodox agenda with the non-orthodox, as though this is something that Chovevei has invented. The question of who are we, and what have we become is the one that needs to be asked when a newly appointed rabbi gets up and implies that he has created the notion that talking with conservative and reform rabbis is something new that he just thought of. It is not a reflection on chovevei....... but on the jewish people. Chovevei is attempting to set it right. The rest of us have it wrong. There was a post I read yesterday, about a religious woman riding an Egged bus to the Kotel for sunrise services. Without a long winded explanation, she refused to move to the back of the bus, (which is where women are supposed to sit apparently, according to a recent halachic ruling) and was beaten severely by a group of Charedim. She did not go quietly, and attempted to have the perpetrator arrested, and scolded those on the bus for allowing a religious woman on her way to davening to be beaten.
And this is why we need Chovevei. So thatwomen like the one mentioned above will not be beaten because they want to daven. And so they will not be invisible.


David Singer said...

"A Reform Jew no less!"

Now if that wasn't backhanded... I'll try not to be too offended.

Mottel said...

You are right, David, and I apologize. I guess the surprise to me, as an observant Jew is to see an Orthodox Rabbi get respect and have a discussion that involves ritual, observence and open dialogue with reform Jews. I can't begin to tell you how great that is. Often, what i see is a lack of tolerance of observant Jews by the non-observant, not the other way around. To have had that dialogue, that I now realize was actually with you, was terrific. I love what you wrote, and have the utmost respect for your position.

Mottel said...

And thank you for not being TOO offended.

Pam said...

Being the wife, i would like to clarify what i blurted out at 6:44 a.m. this morning. I would like to point out that what is so sad is not that Chovevei is acting like they invented interfaith dialougue, or inter-stream dialogue. What is sad is that 450 people were at a dinner last night celebrating that idea--which means that there is something VERY wrong with the state of the Jewish people if this is not part of the fabric of who we are already. IT's sad that Chovevei is criticized for its positions. And don't get me started on women and orthodox Judaism. I'll have to start my own blog.

Phoenix Purim said...

mottel, sadly yu are an outsider to these issues all over the coutry there are hundreds of prthodox rabbis who have found ways to reach out to the jewish community and make a kiddush hashem without resorting to what is from a practical persective condemned by the entire spectrum of orthodoxy from Yu on the left off to the extrerme right of course. There is no need to make statements on the edge off the edge of torah and participate in all of thethings they do in order to do good and for decades orthodox rabbis all over the us have been doing that. In NY its not as evident because its less relevent. However there's no way I am going to get excited about Avi Weiss having the baptisi choir singing in his shul on the Aron Kodesh on Martin Luther King Day GIMME A Break

Charlie Hall said...

'condemned by the entire spectrum of orthodoxy from Yu on the left off to the extrerme right of course'

This is not true. I've studied one on one with two charedi rabbis, each for over a year, and neither ever critcized Rabbi Weiss. And many people at YU admire Rabbi Weiss, especially for the phenomenal success of his kiruv, even if they might disagree with some of his innovations. I know because I've heard them firsthand! There just aren't many shuls of any type that have hundreds of families who have been brought to Torah by a single rabbi. Also remember that Rabbi Weiss was a YU professor himself for about three decades -- and remained so even after he started YCT.

Full disclosure: I am a member of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (and other shuls as well).