Yeshiva Chovevei Torah has been spearheaded by its controversial founder, Rabbi Avi Weiss, and has now graduated 65 rabbis in its 10 years. Opening in 1999 as an undergraduate program at Columbia University, it has evolved since 2001 into its own institution, moving from the Upper West Side last year to Rabbi Weiss’ Riverdale enclave in the Bronx.
This fall’s incoming class of 16 candidates is the largest ever, up from seven last year. The four-year program – less for some students with comparable accredited yeshiva experience – is tuition-free and has attracted candidates from as close as Riverdale and as far as Europe, Israel and Sweden.
Rabbi Weiss’ movement, which he calls “Open Orthodox” as distinct from Modern Orthodox, emphasizes feminism as well as interaction and cooperation with other denominations. Those stances have widened a gulf with the RCA’s members, who see the issue as a complex philosophical divide and not just a personal issue with Rabbi Weiss.
Chovevei Torah withdrew its application for inclusion in the RCA early on when it became apparent that it wouldn’t be approved, and the National Council of Young Israel later set up a screening committee for its branch congregations widely seen as intended to keep out the yeshiva’s graduates, who are ordained by Rabbi Weiss, Rabbi Dov Linzer (YCT’s dean) and Rabbi Yaakov Love, who is chair of the department of halacha.
But this week the incoming president of the RCA, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Congregation Ahavas Torah in Engelwood, N.J., in a carefully worded statement, said that while the council’s stance on Chovevei as an institution wasn’t likely to change anytime soon, the leadership was in the process of examining its guidelines for individual membership.
“The possibility has been discussed for a while that opportunities for membership may be found based on performance and other criteria, which might affect those who have semicha [rabbinic ordination] from an unrecognized institution, or private semichot,” said the rabbi, who took office last week.
“These possibilities are in the drawing stage and would have to be reviewed by the RCA executives and if presented would have to be approved.”
“We’re getting ready for our second decade,” said Rabbi Linzer. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Rabbi Weiss has stirred up major controversy by pushing Orthodox feminism to the limits with the escalation of a Torah scholar, Sara Hurwitz, to the newly minted title of rabba, a female halachic authority that is comparable to a rabbi. Orthodoxy rejects spiritual leadership for women, and last spring the RCA reportedly threatened to expel Rabbi Weiss over the rabba title. Ultimately, a compromise was reached: Hurwitz got to keep her title, but Rabbi Weiss promised not to give the title to any other women.
The above are excerpts from an article in The Jewish Week. Read the full article here.