By I. Schwartz
We have published numerous articles over the past few years documenting and warning about the danger presented by Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) and its related institutions, International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF) and Yeshivat Maharat. Regrettably, most of the time, the Yated has been a lonely voice expressing concern, while most others wondered about the fuss.
It was clear from the start of our investigation into YCT and its related institutions that things were not acceptable and that they were going to get worse. Unfortunately, we were right, and we felt a need to alert the public to the danger.
In what can be described as nothing short of unbelievable, a YCT-trained dayan and a leader in the YCT movement publicly denied Torah MiSinai. YCT Yoreh Yoreh/Yadin Yadin musmach Rabbi Dr. Zev Farber – whom the Yated reported previously as having advocated for omitting parts of Birchos Hashachar, introducing feminist innovations into tefillah, promulgating “partnership minyanim” (where men and women take turns leading parts of the davening, something very popular among the YCT crowd) and being melamed zechus for to’eivah activities – posted a series of articles in which he denies the total divinity of Torah.
Rabbi Farber is not only trained as a dayan. He coordinates the IRF’s geirus division and is on the boards of IRF and Yeshivat Maharat. He writes many articles (tracked by the Yated and found to usually contain material that contradicts halachah or traditional hashkafah) and is a rising star and influential example for young YCT rabbis.
Farber presented his kefirah in three separate recent articles, all dealing with the Chumash and Bible criticism. Farber, having been swayed by Bible critics, decided that the truth of their discipline overrides or can push aside the truth of Torah. (Farber’s bio indicates that he was trained in Bible Studies by Hebrew University.)
There have been cases throughout history of yeshiva graduates leaving the fold. When this occurs and such a graduate is a musmach, it is common for the yeshiva that gave him semichah to revoke his semichah or at least to publicly state that the rabbi does not represent the yeshiva in any way.
Let’s see how YCT has responded to the shocking revelation that Farber embraced kefirah and posted this kefirah on the internet.
YCT’s first move was silence. This persisted for well over a week. In fact, there is good reason to believe that YCT knew about Farber’s heretical views all along (Farber writes that his doubts about Torah began during his pre-YCT days, while he was a student at Hebrew University), but chose to ignore them, even as it admitted him to its semichah program and granted him two semichos.
After a series of articles by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer on the Cross-Currents website that revealed Farber’s views and took YCT and IRF to task for not censuring Farber, YCT began to react. Let’s see how:
Rabbi Nati Helfgot, head of YCT’s Bible Department, posted an article on the Open Orthodox Morethodoxy website on July 22, trying to explain that there exist different opinions as to what one must believe about the authorship of the Torah. Although Rabbi Helfgot did not specifically claim in his article that Farber actually fell into an acceptable category of belief, this was the message of the article. That evening, Cross-Currents posted an article by Rabbi Gordimer that showed without question that Farber was not within the bounds of acceptable belief described by Rabbi Helfgot. (It appears from a subsequent July 25 Morethodoxy article by Rabbi Helfgot, not about Farber, that Rabbi Helfgot later fully agreed with this conclusion.)
The next move occurred on July 24, when Morethodoxy featured an article by YCT’s Talmud Department head, Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, who describes himself as a former Satmar chossid and talmid of Brisk. Rabbi Katz does not condemn Farber. Instead, he explains that YCT purposefully exposes its students to all types of fringe ideas and guides and challenges them, with the expectation that these students will find their way and use their familiarity with these ideas in the rabbinate to deal with others who likewise are grappling with beliefs. (Why it is okay to expose yeshiva students to ideas that are antithetical to Torah, and not at least totally disprove the ideas to the students, but instead expect that the students, on their own, with whatever guidance may be provided, will wade through these terrible ideas is itself terrible.) Rabbi Katz then states in a matter-of-fact way that there will be casualties (“scars”) as a result of this approach, but that all talmidim will ultimately find their way to Torah belief: “In this endeavor, we recognize the possibility that, on occasion, a graduate might entertain a non-conventional answer, not in keeping with our shared Orthodox beliefs. We believe that ultimately they will end up in the right place, embracing a modernity that is deeply steeped in the Tradition.”
And that is it for Rabbi Katz’s response, besides a snide comment: “For several years now, the chareidi newspaper Yated Ne’eman has attacked our yeshivah, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, on average once every couple of months. This time the attack came from another quarter. R. Avrohom Gordimer…”
An honest evaluation of Rabbi Katz’s words shows not only that he does not seem to care that his yeshiva‘s dayan musmach is a kofer; it also shows Rabbi Katz’s utter complacency. That someone who claims to be trained by Satmar and Brisk can basically overlook kefirah by one of his star talmidim is beyond logical comprehension. This is a glaring sign of the complacency of someone who is not really so bothered by kefirah. For shame!
That same day, Farber himself posted a Morethodoxy article that, we guess, was an effort to explain himself and clear his name, but it failed miserably, if that was its intent.
Farber starts out his article with his personal background as a frum Jew and a Bible scholar (in the secular sense of the word), describing his embrace of Torah and secular Bible scholarship, but that his immersion in the latter compromised his belief in the former and made him rethink how to reconcile the Torah with Bible criticism. In an essay at TheTorah.com about the history of the Torah, in a subsection titled “The Wave Theory,” Farber relates that even though he believes that the Torah was man-made and subject to the educational and experiential limitations of its human authors, these human authors were part of a “divine wave” that infused kedushah into the Torah and the Talmudic law that they concocted, making the Torah holy (in a very strange way – sounds like something straight out of Hebrew Union College). Farber claims that this ideology allows him to be a “believing Jew” and an honest student of Bible (criticism).
Farber, in his new article, claims that he was misunderstood and was not stating his beliefs about Torah authorship in his other articles as a final statement, but that he is in process as he struggles with his beliefs. While we would perhaps expect something like this from a private person going through a faith crisis, it is not acceptable for a dayan and a rabbinic leader to publicly write such things, much less think them, as he continues to handle a geirus program and present himself in a rabbinic position.
Most importantly, Farber has not taken down his explicit kefirah from the internet, and he states nothing about disavowing the kefirah. Shomu shomayim.
On July 25, we finally hear from YCT president Rabbi Asher Lopatin, two weeks after Farber’s views were for sure known to YCT leadership. Instead of declaring that Farber is outside of Orthodoxy and calling to remove him from his geirus position and his board membership at Yeshivat Maharat at IRF, Lopatin issues a brief and soft statement that YCT teaches the traditional concept of Torah Min Hashomayim and Farber does not represent YCT in this respect, but Lopatin at the same time praises Farber and fails to declare his views as unacceptable:
“Rav Zev is a big enough talmid chacham to defend his Orthodoxy from all his critics. We support his honesty and speaking his mind, but he speaks for himself, not YCT. His beliefs on this matter are his own and far from the broad classical views of Torah Min Hashamayim that we at the yeshiva believe in.”
Where is the condemnation? Where is the statement that Farber’s views are not acceptable? That they are not Orthodox? That Farber is being removed from his geirus role and from leadership status, as he has embraced blatantly heretical stances and is not acceptable for the rabbinate?
By failing to assert the truth and take action, YCT is committing rabbinical malpractice, giving Farber a free pass and continued recognition by his institution.
There are no signs that YCT will censure Farber or do anything further.
And let us not forget that whatever ultimately happens with Farber does not solve the problems foisted upon Orthodoxy by YCT and its related institutions. The numerous areas of religious innovation are still there. More Maharat women rabbis are being trained, as the first set of them has been hired at shuls and is undertaking rabbinical duties there. Nothing is set to change as YCT/IRF rabbis seek to foist more reform upon Torah Judaism.
Yes, we have a tragic story here, and YCT presents a truly grave danger for Klal Yisroel. But let us try to see the root of some of this (aside from lack of proper commitment to Torah and the mesorah).
When a child goes off the derech, r”l, the child’s parents and rabbeim experience unparalleled agony. The agmas nefesh that ensues when someone whom a person raised or trained and for whom he took achrayus abandons Yiddishkeit in whole or in part is immense.
Yet, there is a highly-perceptible, total lack of agmas nefesh on the part of YCT concerning Farber. Instead, there is an alarming sense of complacency. The most we hear from some YCT leadership is that Farber does not represent YCT in terms of his views on Torah authorship. There is no expression of emotional pain and no angst, and it takes two weeks to even get a peep out of YCT about Farber, only after immense public pressure had built up. Complacency, and not feelings of the tragedy that a rabbinic personality has embraced kefirah, is the controlling mood of YCT with this episode.
Unfortunately, complacency is an ill that has affected other parts of Am Yisroel lately. MK Naftali Bennett, in his role of Minister of Religion, addressed the Conservative “Rabbinical Assembly” and offered an olive branch, and was not taken to task by large numbers of his Religious Zionist constituents.
Rabbi David Stav issued rulings that permitted women to read lewd books and permitted people to watch inappropriate films, so long as they would close their minds during the improper parts. He also stated to the Israel Center for Democracy that geirus does not require full kabbolas mitzvos, although he later stated that he was not presenting his own opinion but was referring to another one, yet many supported him nonetheless for the Chief Rabbinate, overlooking his serious failings.
We read that 50% of the graduates of Modern Orthodox high schools abandon Shabbos and kashrus observance within two years of graduation, and that a quarter of Modern Orthodox high school graduates who attend non-Jewish universities completely drop all observance while in college. These statistics are presented by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, rabbi of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, NJ, and a leading light and voice of realism in the Modern Orthodox rabbinate (http://rabbipruzansky.com/2012/10/12/the-three-ply-cord/). These statistics should shake up Modern Orthodox parents and fortify their mitzvah observance and zeal to keep their children in the fold, yet, on the contrary, the most prestigious Modern Orthodox high schools continue to advertise how they successfully place graduates at Harvard, Yale, Penn and elsewhere for college, as they send these kids on the path of potential and likely assimilation and even at times intermarriage. Any reader of The Jewish Week can see dozens of ads every June from the most prestigious Modern Orthodox high schools congratulating the graduating classes and listing the twenty or so secular universities that these schools have proudly helped these graduates enter in the coming fall. Complacency in the extreme.
Let us learn a lesson from the current YCT saga and take a stand for what is right. Let us be active and never passive in bolstering our commitment to Torah and mitzvos. Let us remember that complacency enables heresy and the abandonment of mitzvah observance, and let us always daven for siyata diShmaya in our proactive efforts to remain true to Hashem and His Torah.
This article originally appeared in Yated Ne’eman.