Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
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Currently located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York, it professes to educate rabbis who are “open, non-judgmental, knowledgeable, empathetic, and eager to transform Orthodoxy into a movement that meaningfully and respectfully interacts with all Jews, regardless of affiliation, commitment, or background.” YCT claims in its mission a commitment to and observance of Halakha (Jewish law) alongside a focus on spirituality, openness and attention to contemporary issues and the broader Jewish community.
YCT's rabbinic education program combines a classic curriculum in Tanakh, Talmud, and the codes of Jewish law with a program in pastoral counseling, leadership retreats, and education in fund-raising and other realities of contemporary religious leadership.
YCT ordained its first graduating class of rabbis in June 2004 and has continued to do so every June since. Its current Rosh HaYeshiva (head of school) is Rabbi Dov Linzer. Its most recent president was Rabbi Asher Lopatin.
In addition to its rabbinical studies program, the yeshiva offers a public Jewish educational program, in association with the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, at its Riverdale campus in the Bronx, New York. YCT also runs a variety of events open to the entire Jewish community, including its annual yemei iyun ("study days") on Bible and Jewish Thought and a public lecture series.
Since its inception, YCT has struggled in gaining wide support from the Orthodox community. The Rabbinical Council of America does not accept YCT’s smicha for membership, and institutions such as the Agudath Israel of America have gone even further, declaring Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Yeshivat Maharat, Open Orthodoxy, and other affiliated entities to be similar to other dissident movements throughout Jewish history in having rejected basic tenets of Judaism.
The origins of Yeshiva Chovevei Torah go back to 1996, when Rabbis Avi Weiss and Saul Berman founded a program known as MeORoT (Modern Orthodox Rabbinic Training) which provided supplemental lectures on issues in Modern Orthodoxy to rabbinical students then enrolled in Yeshiva University. The fellowship at that time was co-sponsored by Yeshiva University, Edah and Weiss's synagogue, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. In the following year, 1997, Weiss added the Torat Miriam Fellowship to the MeORoT program, inviting women involved in Jewish Studies on the graduate level to participate in these lectures.
In September 1999, Weiss and Rabbi Dov Linzer launched Yeshivat Chovevei Torah as an undergraduate learning program primarily for students in Columbia University and Barnard College. The YCT University Program had Rabbi Linzer serving as its Rosh HaYeshiva and was housed at Congregation Ramath Orah, a Modern Orthodox congregation on 110th Street in Manhattan. The faculty consisted of three recent graduates of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) affiliated with Yeshiva University: Rabbi Dov Weiss, who also directed the program, Rabbi Barry Wimpfheimer, and Rabbi Ari Perl.
In January 2000, the leadership of the YCT university program, which consisted of Avi Weiss, Berman, Linzer and Dov Weiss decided to create a rabbinical school which would officially open in September 2000. In September 2000, the rabbinical school welcomed its first class of 7 students.
In January 2004, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah moved from its location in Ramath Orah to the Abraham Joshua Heschel High School on 60th Street and West End Avenue and then to the Kraft Center/Columbia Barnard Hillel on 115th Street in July 2005. After spending five full years at the Columbia Hillel, the school then left Manhattan in the summer of 2010, moving to the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, where it is at present.
Controversies over YCT came to a head when in 2006 YCT applied for membership in the Rabbinical Council of America, the rabbinical body affiliated with the Orthodox Union, the largest North American Modern and Centrist Orthodox body. YCT subsequently withdrew their application when it became apparent that the application would be denied.
Having reportedly ordained 27 rabbis as of June 2006, the count nearly doubled by June 2009 to 54, who, not being eligible for RCA membership, can join the International Rabbinic Fellowship, an organization co-founded in 2008 by Rabbis Avi Weiss and Marc Angel.
Since its inception, YCT has described itself as an Open Orthodox institution, and its mission statement made heavy use of the term that its founder Rabbi Avi Weiss had coined.
However, the term provoked harsh criticism. At a May 2014 gala, one member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, called Open Orthodoxy heretical. In the fall of 2015, the Agudath Israel of America, a Ultra Orthodox rabbinical group, called Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Yeshivat Maharat, Open Orthodoxy, and other affiliated entities to be similar to other dissident movements throughout Jewish history in having rejected basic tenets of Judaism. And in 2016, An op-ed in the Jewish Press strongly condemned the school, calling the philosophy "unorthodox" and suggesting its adherents "heretics".
Since then, YCT has distanced itself from the term. The school has removed all references to Open Orthodoxy on its website, replacing "open" with "modern." In an interview with The Jewish Week in August 2017, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, the school's president said: “When they say, ‘Open Orthodox,’ I say, ‘We are Modern Orthodox. We are a full part of Modern Orthodoxy.’”
Curriculum and pastoral counseling program
Like classical Orthodox Rabbinic ordination programs, YCT’s curriculum has a strong focus on Talmud and Halakha... According to[specify], it has particular emphasis on the areas of Sabbath observance, dietary laws, laws of family life, and mourning. YCT’s curriculum is also supplemented by a strong focus in Bible and Jewish thought. YCT states that the classical approaches to subject matters are complemented with academic and innovative methodologies. Their stated goal is to create knowledgeable, broadminded and critical-thinking Torah scholars, halakhic decisors and spiritual leaders.
One of the more innovative areas of YCT’s curriculum is an unprecedented emphasis on pastoral care and professional development. Whereas it is common in other rabbinical schools to offer a semester or a year of pastoral counseling courses, YCT’s program spans the entire four year curriculum. The pastoral counseling program is taught by leading psychiatric professionals, and includes formal classroom instruction, role-playing, clinical experience and mentored field work. The program places particular emphasis on topics that rabbis regularly encounter: religious doubt and personal change; rites of passage; adolescence; substance abuse; marital and family problems; sexual function and dysfunction; homosexuality; domestic violence; loss, tragedy and bereavement; and response to catastrophe.
The first-year courses are organized around basic principles of counseling. The second-year courses follow the life cycle, giving an overview of normal development as well as addressing potential difficulties. In their third and fourth years, students take seminars in chaplaincy, marital and family therapy, and psychology and religion. Fieldwork with direct clinical supervision is an essential part of the curriculum. In their third and fourth years, students rotate through an intensive chaplaincy program and meet regularly with senior clinicians to discuss pastoral issues that arise during their internships.
One of the other hallmarks of the YCT pastoral counseling program is the introduction of the process group. A common feature of graduate psychology programs, a process group consists of the students from a given class year who meet weekly with a mental health professional throughout the full four years of the program. In this completely confidential setting, students are free to explore issues of faith, authority, training, personal situation, etc.
Faculty and administration
Rabbi Asher Lopatin has served as YCT's President from July 2013 – July 2018, having succeeded Rav Weiss. YCT’s faculty is headed by Rabbi Dov Linzer, the Rosh HaYeshiva. Other faculty members include Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, Rabbi Chaim Marder, Miriam Schacter, Rabbanit Devorah Zlochower and Dr. Michelle Friedman. On 21 October 2007, Linzer was installed as the new dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, taking over from Weiss. Rabbi Jon Kelsen is the current dean, while Linzer serves as Rosh Yeshiva.
Student body and alumni
When the rabbinical school was founded, its first class had only 7 members.
However, after what Yeshiva University's student newspaper, The Commentator, called in 2002 an "aggressive marketing campaign,” many young men who previously would have considered YU's rabbinical school are now attending YCT. A 2007 YU Commentator article reported YCT's enrollment to be 43 full-time students.
According to its website, YCT has ordained over 100 rabbis serving throughout the US and around the world, who serve in synagogues, on college campus, as teachers and administrators, chaplains, religious entrepreneurs; leaders of Jewish institutions, and more.
Absorption of EDAH functions
In July 2006, YCT officials announced that they would absorb some of the personnel and functions of the Modern Orthodox advocacy organization EDAH, which had announced its closure and became defunct. YCT assumed EDAH's journal, website, and audio-visual library. The school also took on EDAH's founding director, Rabbi Saul Berman, for a position as Director of Continuing Rabbinic Education.
Role of women in Judaism
Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, (Yeshivat Maharat notwithstanding), accepts only male candidates for ordination. However, YCT, unlike a number of rabbis and institutions within Orthodox Judaism, has expressed an openness to the possibility of expanded roles for women in ritual life. Founder Avi Weiss explained:
"Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, as an Orthodox institution, requires that its students daven only in synagogues with mechitzot [partitions for the separation of men and women]. The phenomenon of women receiving aliyot in a mechitza minyan is currently being debated on both a halachic and communal level within the Modern Orthodox community. YCT Rabbinical School does not currently take a position on this issue."
In June 2009, Weiss created the title MaHaRaT for Sara Hurwitz. He wished he could have called her a rabbi, stating "She can do 95 percent of what other rabbis do". She was later titled "Rabba", a feminine version of the word "rabbi", despite female rabbis in other movements being called "rabbi". This led to complaints from the RCA, which led to Weiss stating he would not name future graduates as "rabba". Weiss subsequently resigned from the RCA. However, in 2015 Yaffa Epstein was ordained as Rabba by the Yeshivat Maharat, which Weiss founded. Also in 2015, Lila Kagedan was ordained as Rabbi by that same organization, making her their first graduate to take the title Rabbi.
Many other Orthodox groups have criticized YCT for theological positions they believe are inconsistent with traditional values. The Modern Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America does not accept the school's ordination as valid for membership. In the fall of 2015, the Agudath Israel of America denounced moves to ordain women, and went even further, declaring Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, Yeshivat Maharat, Open Orthodoxy, and other affiliated entities to be similar to other dissident movements throughout Jewish history in having rejected basic tenets of Judaism.
Books and journals
- Halakhic Realities: Collected Essays on Brain Death, ed. Zev Farber, Maggid Books, 2015. ISBN 978-1592644063
- Halakhic Realities: Collected Essays on Organ Donation, ed. Zev Farber, Maggid Books, 2016. ISBN 978-1592644070
- Helfgot, Nathaniel, ed., The Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Tanakh Companion to the Book of Samuel, Ben Yehuda Press, October 2006 ISBN 0-9769862-4-8
- Milin Havivin/Beloved Words – The Torah Journal of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School http://www.yctorah.org/content/blogsection/8/53/
- "About". www.yctorah.org. Retrieved 2017-08-30.
- "Mission & Major Achievements". www.yctorah.org. Retrieved 2017-08-30.
- "Opening Up Orthodox Judaism" The Jewish Week, December 12, 2007
- "Orthodox Rabbis Eye Liberal Seminary" The Forward April 7, 2006
- "Moetzes: 'Open Orthodoxy' Not a Form of Torah Judaism". Hamodia.
- "Breach in US Orthodox Judaism grows as haredi body rejects 'Open Orthodoxy' institutions". The Jerusalem Post - JPost.com.
- Josh Nathan-Kazis (3 November 2015). "Avi Weiss Defends 'Open Orthodoxy' as Agudah Rabbis Declare War". The Forward.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 27, 2009. Retrieved September 15, 2014.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- "Closing A Chapter On 'Open Orthodoxy'". Jewish Week. Retrieved 2017-08-30.
- "Avi Weiss Defends 'Open Orthodoxy' as Agudah Rabbis Declare War". The Forward. 3 November 2015.
- "Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School". yctorah.org.
- Robinson, Avi (December 31, 2002). "Students Choose Between RIETS and Chovevei Torah" (PDF). The Commentator. Retrieved August 30, 2017.
- Jan. 22, by Zev Eleff
- "Upstart Rabbinical School Set To Fight for Pulpit Jobs". The Forward. 13 June 2003.
- "Orthodox Rabbis Eye Liberal Seminary". The Forward. Retrieved 2017-08-30.
- "Mission & Major Achievements". www.yctorah.org. Retrieved 2017-08-30.
- "Modern Orthodox Think Tank to Fold, The Jewish Week, June 30, 2006
- R. Saul Berman, "The Emergence, Role, and Closing of Edah." The Jewish Week, July 12, 2006.
- YCT Web Site Administrator. "Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School - Admissions Guidelines and Application". yctorah.org.
- "Gender Taboos Fall at New Orthodox Prayer Services", Forward, September 20, 2002
- "Between A Rav And A Hard Place" Archived June 27, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, The Jewish Week, June 24, 2009.
- "The Jewish Week - Connecting the World to Jewish News, Culture, and Opinion". The Jewish Week.
- "Class of 2015". Yeshivat Maharat.
- Rabbi Lila Kagedan (25 November 2015). "Why Orthodox Judaism needs female rabbis". The Canadian Jewish News.
- Lichter, Yisroel (February 21, 2007), "Yeshivat Chovevei Torah: Is It Orthodox? An Exposé on a Threat to Halachic Judaism", Yated Ne'eman, Monsey, NY, pp. 53–66, retrieved August 18, 2011