Revelation and the Education of Modern Orthodox Rabbis

Guest Post by Rabbi Asher Lopatin, President YCT Rabbinical School

As an Orthodox Rabbinical School, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah is committed to the classic, Torah-true mesoret of Torah Min Hashamyim, a basic tenet of Jewish belief. That is what we teach. As Rav Nati Helfgot, Chair of our Philosophy Department (Machshavawrote, the yeshiva teaches in a classical and traditional way that both the oral and written Torah were revealed to Moshe at Sinai and in the wilderness.

At the same time, as Rav Ysoscher Katz wrote, since we are an Open Orthodox rabbinical school, we want our students to struggle openly throughout their lives as they integrate the mesoret into their own hearts and souls.

Our talmidim are exposed to a range of views on Torah Min Hashamayim from our classic commentaries and thinkers, and students will embrace different views along this traditional spectrum. Some talmidim are in the midst of theological work to uphold Orthodoxy in a way they find intellectually honest.  One recent example is Rav Zev Farber, whose journey has taken him to the outer boundaries of Orthodox thinking on this subject. Rav Zev is thinking honestly and personally, but his ideas are different from, and in some ways contradictory to, what we teach and ask our students to believe at YCT.  He discusses his struggle in more detail here.  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.
Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School actively encourages diversity of thought—all anchored within our students’ passion for their Orthodoxy. I invite you to become part of the conversation, part of a dynamic Orthodoxy that is open and contemporary, but, most important, an integral part of the unfolding of Hashem’s holy Torah, given to us all so long ago at Sinai.

30 Responses to Revelation and the Education of Modern Orthodox Rabbis

  1. Anonymous says:

    how can you employ or defend one who potentially can often warp the innocent not mature minds of those who seek the truth no matter how big a scholar

  2. Lisa says:

    That may possibly be the most pusillanimous attempt to avoid responsibility I’ve ever seen. He’s your only dayan. He has not gone to the “outer boundaries of Orthodox thinking”. He has taken a hop, skip, and jump far outside any boundaries of Orthodox thinking.

    You can’t say that he doesn’t speak for YCT. Or rather, you can say it, but no one will believe it, and for good reason.

    • micha says:

      And he continues to head the IRF’s conversion process. Meaning, they’re producing converts who will not perform their conversion in front of a beis din comprised of three qualifying men. The beis din isn’t valid, and the convert will be mislead into thinking his rite made him a geir according to halakhah, when in reality it did not!

      • Rabbi David Wolkenfeld says:


        Please be aware that R. Zev Farber’s role within IRF giyur has been as an administrator and coordinator. He sat on no beit din and his name appears on no conversion certificates.

        His halakhic knowledge, work ethic, and personal connection to many talmidei hakhamim in Israel and America have been instrumental to the establishment and functioning of the IRF giyur apparatus but, to my knowledge, Rav Zev has not served as a dayan on a conversion beit din.

        This has been a challenging conversation to moderate on a personal level. I imagine that any sympathetic observer could recognize the human element in these deliberations. But, there is no reason why any responsible posek would question the validity of any individual IRF giyur on account of anything Rav Zev has written. It’s important for me that the converts know this.

        with blessings of Torah and Mitzvot,


      • A Thinking Talmid who cares about the Jewish People says:

        Rabbi Wolkenfeld,

        You deserve credit for facilitating this discussion and for your willingness to deal with the issue despite personal connections to Rabbi Farber.

        I hope nobody is happy about what is happening. I know I am not.

        Thank you again

    • David Sher says:

      Give it a rest. You have no idea what you are talking about Lisa. If the President of YCT says something about the organization that he runs, you have no reason to not believe him except for self righteousness (which you have aplenty).

      • Lisa says:

        Right, that he’s run for what, a couple of weeks? Spare me.

      • micha says:

        Meanwhile, the IRF came out with a statement distancing themselves from Farberism.

        I’m not 100% happy with the wording. It sounds like some faction had to be accommodated that wouldn’t let them outright say the word Sinai, or document hypothesis, bible criticism, and instead leave their point implied if you agree that Farberism is not “within the parameters outlined by classical Rishonim, Aharonim and contemporary Orthodox rabbinic scholars.”

        BUT, Dr Farber is still a member, and the administrative head of their beis din.

  3. To paraphrase Shakespeare, methinks the rabbi doth protest too much.
    The roshei yeshiva of Mir, Telshe and Ponevezh never have to make statements like “I believe in Torah Min HaShamayim without qualification”. That your leading rabbis do says a great deal about how you are perceived by the rest of Orthodoxy.

  4. Michael says:

    As your capitulation to the orthodox overlords clearly shows, orthodox “thinking” (even so-called “open orthodox”) has become devoid of thought and intellectual honestly. Rabbi Farber’s thoughtful explorations are the most honest and refreshing to come out of orthodoxy in a millennium. As evidence mounts, orthodoxy’s “classical” views will fall like a cheap deck of cards. Even the most insular of Chareidim will not be able to avoid the tsunami and in retrospect your words here will appear quite pathetic. Orthodox, and Jewish, survival will depend on the ability to think “honestly”.

    • Lisa says:

      “Capitulation”? He continues to label Farber’s kefirah as being within the bounds of Orthodox Judaism. [Edited by DW]

      • Michael says:

        Not really. It was a very nicely worded smackdown… “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.”

      • Lisa says:

        Michael, it wasn’t any kind of smackdown. He continues to portray Mr. Farber’s views as peripheral, but not external.

    • micha says:

      “The Orthodox overloads” is prejudicial phrasing.

      Every faith community has a right to decide the limits of which beliefs they wish to promote. It’s not lording over others, it’s normal community dynamics for any group to self-define.

  5. A Thinking Talmid who cares about the Jewish People says:

    You desire credit for responding to these critiques and allowing others to post their disagreement and even their astonishment.

    “One recent example is Rav Zev Farber, whose journey has taken him to the outer boundaries of Orthodox thinking on this subject.”

    You and Rav Zev may mean well but this is simply not true. He is clearly outside the boundaries of Orthodox thinking on this subject.

    “Rav Zev is a big enough talmid chacham to defend his Orthodoxy from all his critics.”

    Regardless of how big of a talmid chacham Rav Zev is, he CANNOT defend himself against our mesorah, as articulated clearly by such Gedolei Olam such as the Rambam, the Rashba, the Abarbanel, and the Chasam Sofer. (See also written by a YCT student, no less, who articulates philosophical reasons and cites historical evidence why such views as Rav Zev will lead to the demise of halachic Judaism.)

    It sounds to me what you really mean is Rav Zev and his halachic knowledge are too big of an asset to let go, despite being outside the bounds. I REALLY hope I am wrong about this but your reluctance to take action seems to point in that direction.

    In Sefer Shmuel, Eli HaKohen rebuked his wicked sons (Shmuel 1 2:22-25), yet is still punished because “ולא כהה בם” (Shmuel 1 3:13). Rashi explains:

    ולא כהה בם: And he did not darken them; i.e., he did not darken their faces by removing them from their position of authority.

  6. Moh Oshiv says:

    Is Farber a kofer or not, that is the one single question everyone is waiting for you to answer. Everything else is dissimulation.

    • David Sher says:

      And Rabbi Lopatin has to answer your question…why? By what authority to write such Chutzpa Moh? Was your great Grandfather the Choffetz Chaim?

      • Lisa says:

        Because his choice not to answer it makes it clear that he’s evading it. If it’s kefirah, why would he not say so? The fact that he won’t say it’s kefirah means he doesn’t think it is. That’s pretty clear.

  7. David Sher says:

    So many haters on this post. Rabbi Lopatin, if you were not sitting at the right spot you would not be getting any shots in your direction. Keep doing what your doing and never mind the bile from people who have nothing better to do then despise others.

    • Lisa says:

      That’s hilarious. Anyone who is criticized must be right by virtue of the criticism. I’d love to see you put that into practice across the board.

    • A Thinking Talmid who cares about the Jewish People says:

      How can you say those who criticize Rabbi Lopitan are haters? Do you know us?

      Rabbi Lopitan said Rabbi Farber is at the edge of Orthodoxy and can defend his Orthodoxy against any contenders. That means it is an acceptable belief within the bounds of Orthodoxy. Anyone who can learn on his or her own can see from the sources that this simply is not true.

      As Ben Elton, a YCT student, wrote:

      “This is not the place to rehearse the rabbinic literature on Torah Min Hashamayim. Suffice it to say that Hazal took it as given that there was a Revelation on Sinai. Their main concern was that people might argue that while Moshe went up the mountain he brought down a forgery, and they declared that anyone who claimed that Moshe wrote the Humash of his own account would have no place in the World to Come. This is a very serious statement considering that in general every Jew has a portion of the Afterlife. It certainly never entered the heads of Hazal that Moshe is a fictional character and that the whole text, both its sources and its current form, dates from much later than his supposed lifetime.”

      Perhaps Rabbi Farber can be considered coerced, but that is no justification for keeping him in such important positions. Claiming that Rabbi Farber is within Orthodoxy and failing to remove him sends the message to others that, when push comes to shove, it is OK to believe this. That is the first issue we are concerned about.

      The second issue is that in delicate matters such as conversion, would you trust the halachic expertise of someone who Hazal say has no place in the World to Come? Can such a person posses the amount of reverse required to render decisions of such a magnitude?

      • Anonymous says:

        You are haters. Why? Because its none of your business to judge whether a Rabbi is a heretic. You modern day Torquemadas with your smug certitude. You know what God wants as if you own him and keep him in your pocket. Pathetic losers!

      • Lisa says:

        Wow. I mean, never mind that Judaism *does* claim to know what God wants. Never mind that Chazal *do* say that someone who denies Torah miSinai (real Torah miSinai — not the inane, term-switched, parved out redefinition I’ve seen on this site) is a heretic and has no place in the World to Come. No, because Anonymous thinks “judge not lest ye be judged” is a Jewish sentiment, rather than a quote from the treyfer sefer, we’re all haters.

        It amazes me how people who are so gung-ho about everyone having the right to believe whatever they want, and to have that belief be accepted in whatever structure they want, are so willing to label others as haters. The hypocrisy is overwhelming.

  8. Glatt some questions says:

    You can’t say that he doesn’t speak for YCT. Or rather, you can say it, but no one will believe it, and for good reason.
    There is an openly gay musmach from YU (Rabbi Steven Greenberg) who has performed a Jewish marriage between two members of the same sex, and has no problem promoting a gay lifestyle for Orthodox Jews. There have been many YU musmachim who felt very comfortable being rabbis at Conservative synagogues, without any plans to change them and add a mechitza. Would you say that they speak for YU? If not, let’s be fair and not call out Rabbi Lopatin for saying that Rabbi Farber does not speak for YCT.

    • Michael says:

      Whether or not Farber speaks for YCT, YCT spoke for him very loudly, providing him the credential to call himself an Orthodox Rabbi, knowing his views on Torah min HaShamayim.

      If I am mistaken, and YCT wants to say that Farber concealed from them his true beliefs these past 10 years in order to get his semikhot, let them say this.

  9. Jon Baker says:

    Lisa, the gemara does have a similar sentiment: “Kol ha-ma’avir al midotav ma’avirin lo al kol pesha’av”. Don’t be so quick to judge.

  10. […] and removed all doubt to where YCT/IRF/Maharat is actually holding on the religious spectrum. The defense of Zev Farber written by Asher Lopatin could have easily been penned by famed Christian missionary Michael Brown, […]

    • DHS says:

      The following is an excerpt of the IRF Letter of recommendation.
      9) Do you consider the candidate to be Orthodox in belief and practice? Assuming they are truly interested in the answer, how can Rabbi Farber maintain his position as a board member? Unless “Orthodox belief” excludes Torah Min Hashamayim

  11. […] Orthodox Union. Even Open Orthodoxy’s institutions have sometimes struggled to either condemn or distance themselves while saving face. For example, when the conversion coordinator for the International […]

  12. […] he prays the mandatory thrice-daily prayer service.   When Rabbi Asher Lopatin states that “Rabbi Farber is a big enough talmid chacham to defend his Orthodoxy from all his critics“, he’s saying that a philosophical position that is intolerable within Orthodoxy is […]

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