Rabbi Zev Farber, Yeshiva Chovevei Torah
and the Orthodox Community
A Brief Statement
Michael J. Broyde
A number of people have asked me about the Yated Neeman article criticizing Yeshiva Chovevei Torah generally and Rabbi Zev Farber, the director of the Atlanta Torah Mitzion Kollel. The criticism of Rabbi Farber focused on a dvar torah he wrote which can be found at http://www.yctorah.org/content/view/176/56/. (For the sake of full disclosure, I note that I am among the founders of the Atlanta Torah Mitzion Kollel, and that it learns every day in the Young Israel of Toco Hills, where I am the rabbi.)
I write this brief note to share my views.
- It is clear to me that Rabbi Farber’s dvar torah is far from heretical and certainly does not make him a kofer. Even if one disagrees with the way he formulated the ideas he presented (and I do in a detail, as I explain below), it is a sad reflection on our Orthodox society that these disagreements are manifest in allegations of heresy. Anyone with a basic knowledge of Jewish tradition ought to know that the ideas Rabbi Farber presented were not heretical at all. Indeed, each of them has echo in the remarks of commentators from previous generations. There is no heresy in his writing.
- Having said that, I think that Rabbi Farber did not present his dvar torah in the proper form or format and the absence of sources within Chazal documenting his insights was an error of style. In general, claims of moral imperfection of the Avot are complex to advance and ought to be diligently supported by references to rabbinic literature and done in the course of lengthy essays on topics with long explanations of reasons and rationales This type of mistake in style and expression on his part comes from lack of experience and nothing more. Anyone who has read his defense of his comments sees that his comments are well vested in the approach of tanaim, amoraim, rishonim and achronim, in fact — even if he did not tell us this in his initial dvar torah. I hope he has learned the lesson of providing supporting sources for the less than obvious to readers who are sometimes ignorant of the breadth and depth of Chazal’s insights. Let me add something else. Anyone who knows Rabbi Farber, knows very well that he is a learned, God-fearing, young, Torah-scholar who, although he wrote this dvar torah in the wrong tone, has a wonderful future ahead of him and could go on to greatness and accomplishment.
- The creation of additional yeshivot which serve the Modern Orthodox community is good, both because competition creates intellectual vibrancy and because variety is important for serving many different students’ needs. Thus, I view the creation of Yeshiva Chovevei Torah in a positive light, even as my own primary loyalty resides with Yeshiva University, where I was privileged to learn for fourteen years. Indeed, I have spoken at Chovevei Torah a number of times, and I arranged for a YCT musmach to direct the Atlanta Torah Mitzion Kollel (see above).
- Yeshiva Chovevei Torah is in its infancy and has, in my view, made a number of mistakes, which if not corrected will ultimately undermine its credibility within the Orthodox community. To me, the biggest mistake Chovevei Torah is making is the policy of never announcing that it made a mistake and letting accusations fester against it without either a rebuttal or an acknowledgement of error. Orthodox institutions (like all others) err and they sometimes engage in conduct that with hindsight was far from ideal or even just plain wrong and assur. When that happens, it is important that they note such conduct publicly, so that all can understand that what happened was not proper. Silence confuses people as to whether what occurred was ideal or less than ideal or simply wrong. YCT’s policy of silence in the face accusations of impropriety by its musmachim, staff, Chairman of the Board, and others in its institution or its publicity is simply unwise and misleading about what YCT is. Because YCT is a leftward leaning yeshiva, YCT bears a special responsibility to make sure that those who speak for YCT are representing YCT accurately and when a misrepresentation of YCT occurs, it needs to actively correct it. (Let me be equally clear that YCT should not be judged because of the actions of others and YCT is not in the rebuking business — nor is any yeshiva. However, when someone affiliated with YCT speaks in the name of YCT, it is reasonable to assume that unless YCT speaks to the contrary, that is YCTâ€™s view.)
- In particular, it is important to me that YCT speak publicly and directly about five matters, so that the Modern Orthodox community can hear the authentic voice of YCT on these matters. I do not mean to imply at all that YCTâ€™s conduct in each of these cases has been incorrect (indeed, in some of them, I am comfortable with YCT’s conduct and in others, not) — what I mean to note is that YCT is not sharing with the community its full views on these issues, and a reasonable person who simply reads what YCT itself has done or published can not determine were YCT stands on many of these issues. (For those who are unfamiliar with the details of these particular five events, see the note here.)
- First, it is important that YCT address the comments of its Chairman of the Board from three years ago about Yeshiva University and a number of its erudite scholars. Do those statements represent YCT or not? These comments, said publicly from the dais in the course of the YCT annual dinner, sound like the official pronouncements of YCT. Are they?
- Secondly, it is important that YCT address the question of the publicity YCT has itself put out with regard to one of its musmachim’s work with the gay and lesbian community and its hagadah. YCT needs to tell us whether the publicity it shared with the community represents the YCT ideal as a reasonable person could conclude from the way YCT publicized this work?
- Third, it must address the questions related to its vision of am hanivchar and the perfection of our Creator, so as to inform our community whether the comments of a particular YCT musmach is representative of YCT, as he has indicated he is.
- Fourth, YCT must address question of interfaith cooperation and interfaith interactions — was the Cardinalsâ€™ visit to YCT a manifestation of the ideal or something less.
- Finally, it must present a consistent vision to the community of its vision of inter-denominational interactions within Judaism. Are the non-Orthodox clergy on the faculty of YCT part of the YCT approach?
I recognize that one of the hardest mitzvot in the Torah is to eradicate the wrong within one’s own midst, and that it is very hard for anyone or any institution to speak about mistakes. Writing this note pains me, to be honest. But without such guidance by YCT as to its own philosophy, it is reasonable to assume that YCT’s own conduct speaks for itself. I, for example, will not support any Yeshiva that publicly attacks my own teachers at Yeshiva University or is supportive of creating a gay and lesbian hagadah or denies the notion of am hanivchar. Others might have other criteria — and YCT ought to share its own vision so as to clarify the reality.
A little bit of light drives away a lot of darkness is an old rabbinic adage, and YCT has the chance to clarify its views in a public and open way. That light will drive away much darkness and ought to be done.
 For (A) see http://www.forward.com/articles/philanthropist-attacks-university-for-right-turn for a history of this matter. For (b) see http://www.yctorah.org/content/view/120/49/ and call up the summer 2005 newsletter, and then go to page 7. On matter (C), go to http://www.jewishaz.com/issues/story.mv?061103+torah; on (D) see http://www.yctorah.org/component/option,com_docman/task,doc_download/gid,101 and on (e) see http://www.yctorah.org/content/view/20/49/ for a list of the YCT faculty.
UPDATE: From R. Darren Kleinberg:
I just wanted to drop you a line to clarify something in R’ Broyde’s post. In it he states that YCT needs to clarify “whether the comments of a particular YCT musmach is representative of YCT, *as he has indicated he is*.”
Without question, the musmach he is referring to is myself. I just want to be clear that I am *in no way an official representative of YCT* and that *I have never indicated as such*. In fact, just last week I wrote a piece for the Phoenix Jewish News in which I stated explicitly that while I am a graduate of YCT, etc – I do not speak on behalf of the yeshiva.