The Spectrum of Our Persuasions

Below are the remarks I shared moments before I was ordained as a rabbi at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s chag hasemichah

Birhshut Rosh HaYeshiva v’kol harabbanim. With the permission, too, of my parents, family, friends, classmates and my loving wife.

Is our priority as rabbis to the Orthodox community, or to all of klal yisrael? Should women be ordained as rabbis?
Should same-sex couples be permitted to have an aufruf in our synagogues? Should Israel be actively working towards withdrawing settlements from the West Bank? Should a rabbi discuss politics from the pulpit? Is Judaism the sole arbiter of Truth?

These were just some of the challenges that confronted us from our very first day of Yeshivah. No, but literally. On our first day of Yeshivah, the entire school participated in a “Vote with Your Feet” activity. A moderator, Rabbi Dan Milner, would read a prompt, and we would distribute ourselves around the room according to our reaction. “If you agree, head to one side; if you disagree, head to the other.” Everything in between conveyed the spectrum of our persuasions.

Each of us came with our opinions and personal convictions. We were passionate, we were eager. We were convinced that the answers to these questions would guide our rabbinical careers. For many of us, these were the questions with which we had been grappling for years; for others, these were new, uncharted waters. The activity was exciting and intimidating, comforting and overwhelming, reassuring and perhaps even frightening.

From our very first day in Yeshivah, we were invited into this conversation. And we quickly realized that it was the questions, not the answers, which defined our mission. While answers are personal and transient, questions are universal and eternal.

There is a saying that great minds think alike. This aphorism is antithetical to the mission of YCT: Great minds, the Yeshivah contends, think critically, creatively, and constructively. Great minds think uniquely. But lest one believe they think for themselves; great minds think for the whole world. Great minds think towards justice and righteousness. Great minds disdain acrimony, and demand openness. Great minds are sustained through respectful dialogue.

Great minds understand that truth is not limited to their own inclinations, and appreciate that every Jew has a unique voice to contribute to the chorus of peoplehood; every human being has a unique hue in the artwork of human thought.

Ever since this first activity we have had the tremendous zchus of learning Torah from amazing rebbeim, faculty and staff. We have been given the gift of a world-class rabbinic education, and we have inherited a tradition where G-d, Halakha, and human realities are all nonnegotiable. We have had the cherished honor to be students of Torah giants, built in the image of our founder Rabbi Avi Weiss and nurtured through the leadership of Rabbi Asher Lopatin, who champion a vision for Judaism sufficiently modest so as to respect diversity, whilst sufficiently courageous so as to refuse injustice in the name of moral relativism.

As we transition from student to teacher, we are prepared for our next step in this journey. We express our deepest admiration and sincerest gratitude to all those who have sustained the conversation before us, and humbly accept the responsibility of continuing their holy duties. Equipped with the light of Torah and faith in Hakadosh Baruch Hu, we continue our journey of carrying this conversation with us, larba kanfot haaretz, to all the places where life may take us.

About the Author
Jordan David Soffer is a fourth year rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and is pursuing a masters in elementary education at Yeshiva University's Azrieli Graduate School of Education. Since graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 2010, Jordan has spent the past years studying at various yeshivot in Jerusalem, Maaleh Gilboa, and New York. Next year, Jordan will serve as the Rabbi-in-Residence at Carmel Academy; a vibrant Jewish day school in Greenwhich, Ct..