Thursday, April 23, 2009

Something is [Maha]rotten in the state of Denmark

Over at JewSchool, there is a summary of an excellent rant-style article on the recent pseudo-ordination (or MaHaRa"T-Madricha Hilchatit Ruchanit Toranit, if you are keeping score at home) of a woman, Sara Hurwitz, by Rabbi Avi Weiss, of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, written by Jonathan Mark.

Though I loathe the tendency in religious/political debates to ignore cogent criticisms strictly because they may come from a "different camp", Mark is a columnist for the Jewish week and a congregant of R' Weiss', so this hardly can be dismissed as some right-wing and/or ultra-orthodox hatchet-job.

In his own words:

The irony is that YCT was founded to be the avante-garde of “Open Orthodoxy.” (”Open Orthodox” is their idea of a clever Maharat-type name for Very Modern Orthodox.) But after the YCT Guy Maharats graduate, several of them say they want jobs not in the avante-garde but in mainstream OU-YU congregations, the kind that give out lifetime contracts and a house.

Trouble is, mainstream OU-YU shuls want mainstream rabbis with mainstream training. YCT students get excellent, even brilliant pastoral training. Rabbi Dov Linzer, YCT’s dean, has a profound appreciation of Jewish education, and not just for the elite. Some at YCT can teach Torah beautifully, particularly Davidi Jonas, whom I’ve heard the most and whose shiurs I try not to miss. Nevertheless, not all but too many YCT Maharats lack gravitas; not all but too many are concerned with leftist politics rather than Jewish education and Jewish concerns; not all but too many offer sermons that are anecdotally and intellectually shallow; not all but too many are self-indulgent when leading services. (Self-indulgent? One YCT Maharat, when leading a Kol Nidre davening, decided on his own to chage the time-honored melody of Kol Nidre to a tune that only he knew, leading to an almost tangible disappointment among many congregants. Imagine going to shul on Kol Nidre night and hearing, instead of the inspirational classic, a YCT whim, as if Kol Nidre night was a summer camp where a YCT counselor might decide to lead Shabbos davening to “Puff the Magic Dragon.”)

OU-YU shuls have a right, and I respect their right, to choose rabbis with whom they are simpatico, rabbis who are traditional about everything from Kol Nidre to women’s ordination. So hey, YCT, I’m going to give you a clue: If some of you aren’t getting hired by OU shuls, or not getting admitted to the RCA, it’s not because of Sara Hurwitz. So you might as well call her rabbi, if that’s what you really believe. You’re already known for being a left-wing yeshiva. Be radical and proud. Some people might admire your guts. Calling her Alta Maharat won’t fool anyone. You’re already in a street fight with OU-YU. Why get cute?

Read the rest here.


  1. so this hardly can be dismissed as some right-wing and/or ultra-orthodox hatchet-job.Really?>

    "...but too many are concerned with leftist politics..."

    "You’re already known for being a left-wing yeshiva..."

    I'm suuure the author would feel the exact same way if a right-wing yeshiva did the same thing.

    His complaints seem to stem from conservative feelings towards religion (which he attributes to "OU/YU congregations" and "almost tangible disappointment among many congregants.")

    Nothing that YCT did is actually (halakhically/ethically/whatever) wrong, but it makes him (and yes, many congregations) uncomfortable, so he writes this rant.

    LOL, it reminds me of George Will's recent screed against blue jeans. Did you see that one?

  2. Nothing that YCT did is actually (halakhically/ethically/whatever) wrongYCT didn't do anything

  3. Steg:

    Oh, my mistake then. I assumed YCT was behind it, not Rabbi Weiss acting on his own. This article was the first I'd heard of the story. I'm not quite up-to-date on the goings-on in the Orthodox world these days. :-)