Reviving the Torah Conversation

Throughout the past few weeks, the Orthodox Jewish press has been filled with articles screaming with horror about Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. Even a casual follower would notice a new headline everyday articulating the Orthodox Right’s refusal to accept YCT, and a new statement enumerates the failures of the institution that has “plunged ahead, again and again, across the border that divides Orthodoxy from neo-Conservatism.” It is imperative, it seems, that we invest our energies affixing labels and drawing red lines.

I know I am not alone in feeling exhausted by this ongoing, futile rhetoric. I am troubled not only by a sense of personal affront (I am a YCT student), but by a fear that this utterly unproductive vituperation is hijacking platforms that could, and should, be incubators of actual, fruitful conversations. I certainly appreciate that the categories of kofer and apikorus traditionally referring to those who violate or mock religious law are real in Judaism. The applicability and scope of such terms in the 21st century is a crucial conversation; however, this forum is simply not conducive for such a serious discussion.

Like so many others, I am enervated by the frivolity of these superficial attacks, which appear more motivated by politics than by Torah. This “conversation” is not enhancing Yiddishkeit in the world, and it is not leshem shamoyim. It is pettiness foreign to the Judaism I love.

A well-known Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (25: 5) teaches: “Ben Bag-Bag would say: Study and review it (Torah), for everything is within it.  See with it, and grow old over it. Do not stray from it, for you can have no better rule than it.” Rabeynu Yonah expounded on this notion, suggesting that all wisdom (kol khokhmat haolam) is found within it. The Torah is our ultimate teaching; the eternal cornerstone of Jewish life.

The Torah, the holiest kernel of our tradition, is the inheritance of each and every Jew. Far too many Jews do not appreciate the beauty of G-d’s ultimate wisdom, so it is evermore ironic that those who do, seem to swim in a sea of discord. The tendency towards apathy in American Jewry is disconcerting. Cultivating a love of G-d and Torah is the charge of contemporary Jewry; nurturing literate and passionate Jews must remain our ultimate task.

And yet, within the committed Jewish world, we are diverting ourselves from the challenge of increasing Torah in the world. We choose to fight against each other, rather than alongside each other, embracing all our differences, to fight for the eternal message of Torah.

Rashi, commenting on our Mishnah, notes that we can find all we need in Torah. We will consistently find new interpretations, and new paths towards G-dliness. This is our task. We must work together to show everyone a path to avodat Hashem, and to invite the world into the beauty of a Torah life.

Disagreement can be powerful and productive; divergent opinions, even when expressed passionately, are crucial. But when trivial-mindedness blinds us from our greater goals we are wasting precious moments in the Jewish existence. We do not have time to waste on name-calling and bridge burning. Each moment we have on this earth is a moment to work towards the ultimate redemption. This is our opportunity.

For the love of G-d and the love of Torah, can we please return to the love of G-d and the love of Torah?

About the Author
Rabbi Jordan David Soffer is the Head of School at Striar Hebrew Academy. He received smicha from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and a Master’s Degree in education from Yeshiva University, where he is currently an EdD candidate. Rabbi Soffer was awarded the 2020 Pomegranate Prize and is a Wexner Field Fellow. He is currently the Rabbinic Mentor for the Day School Leadership Training Institute. Rabbi Soffer lives in Sharon with his wife, Dr. Marti Soffer, and their four children Maayan, Reiut Shoshana, and Roey.
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