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Yeshivat Chovevei Torah rabbinical graduates speak out

Recent Chovevei Torah graduates uphold traditional viewpoints about divine authorship and partnership minyanim

The following statement has been drafted and agreed upon by the graduates of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School indicated at the bottom. We wish to bring together parts of the Orthodox community that are becoming estranged from each other, and we hope it will be accepted in that spirit.

We want to bring both nuance and fellowship back into our communal discussions, and we hope that this will be a helpful contribution to that effort.

To facilitate the writing process, we kept this project very small and we take full responsibility for the views expressed below, knowing that many of our fellow graduates agree with our sentiment regarding issues of traditional forms of prayer. We are also certain that the traditional belief in Torah miSinai (divine authorship of Torah) is held almost unanimously by our fellow musmachim (rabbinic graduates). Please see below.

* * *

We, the undersigned musmachim of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah became rabbis because we felt and still feel a passionate love for Judaism, Torah and the Jewish people. We love the beauty and vibrancy of Modern Orthodoxy and have no desire to start a new denomination or break away from our Orthodox community.

We were attracted to a small yeshiva that emphasized strong learning alongside pastoral counseling and professional development as integral to a successful rabbinate. Our yeshiva was filled with rabbis who taught us to love learning, to engage deeply with Torah and the profound questions we receive from searching Jews, and who made the yeshiva feel like a family. We are grateful for the learning, education, and training that we received, all of which have enriched our lives and our rabbinates.

Feeling like a family, however, does not mean that we all agree all of the time. We have therefore felt it necessary to clarify our stance on two critical issues: Torah miSinai (the divine authorship of the Torah) and Partnership Minyanim. We should add that we believe that many in the YCT community share our values and the positions we express below.

We are committed to the principles of faith as understood by the Rishonim and Achronim (medieval and modern authorities), and as accepted by the Orthodox community. We believe the Torah is Divine. We believe that the Written and Oral Torah were given by God to Moses and that that is the same Torah that we have in our midst. This is a sine qua non of Orthodoxy. Nothing different has ever been taught or suggested by our rabbeim (rabbis/teachers). The Torah connects us to previous generations, to our ancestors who experienced the Revelation at Mount Sinai. This ultimate transformational moment is inextricably linked to our practice of Halacha (Jewish Law) and engaging with God’s Will in this world. It is the foundation of our values and morals, our rituals and traditions. It touches our very souls when we hear the words of the Ribbono shel Olam (Creator of the world) speaking to us through the Torah.

The question of Partnership Minyanim is more complex. We do not believe that holding a minority halachic position arrived at with yirat Shamayim (fear of Heaven), intellectual honesty, and rigor should place a person outside Orthodoxy. Further, we wish to affirm and uplift the motivation of men and women who are searching for an increased connection with our Creator. Their desire to enhance their relationship with God resonates with us deeply. However, we do not and would not attend a Partnership Minyan, nor would we sanction them within institutions where we are each respectively the legal authority. We do not believe that a consensus of poskim (halachic authorities) currently exists to allow a departure from existing norms.

Some rabbis and scholars have written important opinions arguing that, from a halachic perspective, such practices may be technically permitted. While we cherish the authors of some of those opinions personally, as well as valuing them in the spirit of eilu ve-eilu divrei Elokim chaim, (“these and these are the words of the living God”), we follow the serious concerns that were voiced by HaRav Gedalia Dov Schwartz shlita and HaRav Yehuda Herzl Henkin shlita on this matter, and we, together with many of our colleagues, musmachim of YCT, RIETS, and other rabbinical schools, are deeply uncomfortable with Partnership Minyanim and their place within the Orthodox community.

When considering anything that might change the fabric of our community, it is important to be as consensus-building and collaborative as possible. Just because something can be argued to be halachically justified, doesn’t mean it should be done. We believe it is essential that, when encountering the challenges that modernity presents, we ensure that our actions strengthen and support our Orthodox community and the Jewish people, and not, chas ve-shalom, divide or weaken us.

As a community, we must work harder to collaborate and find ways that can quench the holy thirst of men and women seeking a deeper connection with God that support and strengthen our Orthodox community.

We are writing this now because we are saddened to witness a growing divide tearing apart our Orthodox community and we believe that the problems facing the Jewish people in general and the Orthodox community in particular are too important to be fighting each other. We call on all sides to listen, respect, and understand one another and to attempt as much as possible to engage in dialogue rather than division. Klal Yisrael needs us working together.

We pray that Hashem Yitbarach (God, may He be blessed) will bless us with the ability to bring Jews closer to Torah and mitzvot and to sanctify God’s Name among all humanity.

Rabbi Maurice Appelbaum
Rabbi Joel Dinin
Rabbi Benjamin Elton
Rabbi David Fried
Rabbi Mordechai Harris
Rabbi Noah Leavitt
Rabbi Dan Milner
Rabbi Chai Posner
Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro
Rabbi Jason Weiner
Rabbi Eytan Yammer

About the Author
Rabbi Chai Posner is Associate Rabbi of Beth Tfiloh Congregation in Baltimore Maryland, where he has served since receiving his Semicha from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in 2010.
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