Forward Thinking

Agudath Israel Is Wrong About Yeshivat Chovevei Torah

By Jordan Soffer

  • Print
  • Share Share

Courtesy of Agudath Israel

As I concluded a yearlong course that I have been teaching at a local day school, a student approached me with a concerned look on his face.

“What if I don’t know what my Jewish identity is?” I pushed him to say more. “Well, my parents had the Holocaust, but — I don’t know. I just don’t know what my Jewish identity is.”

Forced to think on my feet, I told him that this is part of the journey. Uncertainly is a prerequisite for growth; through this struggle a clear, focused Jewish identity will emerge. He thanked me and we parted ways.

In the hours since, his question has been replaying in my head. I heard its echo as I listened to the words of Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the rabbinical head of Agudath Israel. Rabbi Perlow bemoaned a Judaism void of meaning; divorced from its core values. He lamented a disintegrating Yiddishkeit. A new generation, he grieved, was coming — one that does not know its roots. We need, Rabbi Perlow claimed, “a Judaism that has a future.”

These words ring true. We must present a Judaism that sings in the hearts of our Jewish brethren. We need, as I told my beloved student, a Torah that embraces all and that speaks to the masses. We need a loving Torah to overflow in this world.

Rabbi Perlow, however, found a false target for his trepidations. He described “a new danger [that] has appeared on the horizon. [One that] seeks to subvert the sacred meaning of Yiddishkeit.” Indeed, he warned, it is “a sakana (danger) to klal yisroel (the Jewish community).”

He was talking about my yeshiva, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School.

And, though his initial concerns spoke to me, by the end of his speech, I had no idea what he was talking about.

Though I can appreciate how an approach of greater openness to the contemporary world is deeply threatening for his Hasidic community, precisely this approach is reaching out to all of the Jewish community. It is providing a cogent response to the challenges that Rabbi Perlow raised. These are the ideals for which YCT stands.

Closing ourselves off and building higher walls will only serve to further alienate scores of Jews. If we want to productively engage with the challenges that Rabbi Perlow raises, we must first put such petty attacks and heresy-hunting behind us, and work cooperatively to celebrate a flourishing Judaism. Working together with our brothers and sisters in Conservative and Reform congregations, we can realize this dream.

The future of Yiddishkeit is not rooted in infighting and condemnation. The future of Yiddishkeit is rooted in living a life of meaning and commitment. Judaism in America will continue to grow and prosper only once we can transcend our disagreements and glorify our common goals. To be certain, there is great value in the persistent, passionate debating of our core values. But this must blossom out of a root of mutual respect and camaraderie.

Judaism is not only relevant; it is immensely compelling. It presents a way of life rooted in a consistent commitment towards growth. This is the Judaism that I will continue to teach, and I hope and pray Rabbi Perlow will join me.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: heresy, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, Open Orthodoxy, Agudath Israel

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.