In the Beit Midrash, first- and second-year students continued to learn hilkhot Shabbat, addressing some of the general principles and starting with melakha she'eino tzrikha li'gufo, a melakha not needed for its own sake, and the famous debate of Rashi and Tosafot, as to its definition - does an act, to be considered a melakha, need to serve the same purpose that it did in the Mishkan (Tosafot), or is the only requirement that it be considered productive and constructive, rather than just negating a negative situation (Rashi)? Third and fourth-year students continued in their learning of Yoreh Deah, turning from bitul yavesh bi'yavesh, nullification of dry mixtures, to bitul lach bi'lach, nullification in "wet," or fully intermingled mixtures, and the need to have 60 times the heter, permissible food, to achieve bitul in a mixture.
This week also saw a lot of learning and discussion regarding religiosity and spirituality. On Monday, Rabbi Aryeh ben David from Ayeka gave a 3 hour session to third- and fourth-year students on how one can function as a spiritual leader to his community. He opened with a simple question: "If an adult Jew came to you asking where should he go for personal and spiritual growth - what would you say?" This was, sadly, not an easy question to answer, and the afternoon was devoted to learning how to be a rabbi who would be able to give spiritual guidance to just such a person.
On Thursday, Rabbi Herzl Hefter, the sgan Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivat HaMivtar, visited YCT and gave the parsha shiur. Rabbi Hefter is a longtime friend and colleague of mine - we were chavrutas together in the Gush almost 30 years ago! - and we both share a concern for the religious dimension (or lack thereof) in the Modern Orthodox community. Rabbi Hefter spoke about how the individuals in the stories in the Torah could be understood kabalistically as representing different aspects of God, and how one could read the story of Avraham and Sarah as an interplay between Chesed and Din. He then spoke about the larger religious implication of this, and what it would mean to live with a religious/theological understanding that we are embodiments of aspects of the Divine, and that our human drama is actually a playing out of a cosmic Divine drama. An interesting debate ensued as to whether such a theology, while religiously shaping our entire lives, is worth the attendant risk of justifying unethical acts by individuals who see themselves as acting out a divine drama (something that we need to be particularly sensitive to in an age of violent religious fundamentalism).
All in all, it was a wonderful week of intensive learning of halakha, and grappling with our avodat Hashem and connection to God.
Outside the yeshiva, Rabbi Katz and I have had opportunities this last week to speak on various college campuses. Rabbi Katz spoke at Harvard last Shabbat to a group of over 100 students on the topic of "Satmar and Lubavitch: Enemies, a Love Story". A big yasher koach to Rabbi Ben and Sharon Greenberg for arranging the Shabbat, and especially to Sharon who cooked for 100 people! And last Wednesday, I spoke at Penn on the topic of "Mechitza: Meanings, Marginalization and Membership," to a group of 60 students, and met with 10 guys over dinner beforehand who were interested in finding out more about YCT. We hope to visit more campuses soon, including Rutgers - where Rabbi Akiva and Nataly Weiss are the JLIC couple - in December.
Finally, a big Mazel Tov to Rabbi Aaron Levy for Makom and Rabbi Ari Weiss for Uri L'Tzedek. Their organizations were named by Slingshot as among the top 50 most creative and effective Jewish organizations of 2010-2011. Kol HaKavod! We are so proud of the amazing work that they are doing. She'telkhu mi'chayil el chayil!