On Tuesday students put together a program after mincha in honor of Presidents' Day. Students looked at a number presidential speeches and letters - including George Washington's famous Letter to the Touro Synagogue - and grappled with the question of how we relate to our dual identity as Jews and as American and how this issue affects our roles as Orthodox rabbis in America.
Having finished their studies in Hilkhot Niddah two weeks ago, third and fourth year students continued their learning of the laws of gerut this week. Shiurim this week addressed the different components of conversion - milah (for men), immersion, and accepting the mitzvot - and analyzed the significance of each component and its relationship to the others. We dealt with questions of order (what if milah comes after immersion) and where a beit din is needed. By the end of the week we were looking deeply into the requirement of acceptance of mitzvot - what does this requirement actually demand? We will continue to look at this and the wealth of contemporary responsa on this topic next week.
Parallel to this, students are hearing case studies from our musmachim, who have come in to present on real life gerut situations that they have dealt with. This week they heard from Rabbi Saul Strosberg, who shared challenging cases he has had in his synagogue in Nashville, TN. Rabbi Jason Herman, executive director of the IRF, presented as well and discussed the current political landscape relating to gerut, both in the States and in Israel.
It was such a treat to have our musmachim presenting in the yeshiva, and on Wednesday we had one more. Rabbi David Wolkenfeld presented - at least virtually, via Skype - to the students in our Campus Rabbi track. Rabbi Wolkenfeld heard students present their responsa on questions that had been asked on campus, and both he and I gave students feedback, both in regards to psak and in regards to proper policy considerations.
A group of Modern Orthodox Israeli leaders was visiting the US this week on a trip sponsored by the NIF. Their trip included YU, Drisha, Maharat, and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. I had the pleasure of meeting with the group over lunch on Wednesday. Each participant was a head of a major Modern Orthodox (in contrast to Religious Zionist) organization, and we discussed together the major challenges that are facing the Jewish, observant community - from the agunah problem, to cases of rabbinic sexual and physical abuse, to the extremism that has fostered Jewish violence in Israel, to issues of overt and hidden racism and the need to bring our Sephardic and Oriental heritage into our schools and institutions.
After this heady lunch, we were honored to have Chana Kehat, founder and director of Kolech in Israel, address the students. She began with a dvar Torah on two roles of leadership in the Torah - one mostly embodied by men, the other mostly embodied by women - and she discussed the type of leadership that is needed today. She then spoke about her work in Kolech and the challenges that are facing us in Israel and in the States in terms of women's protection and advancement within the Orthodox community.
All in all a quite exciting week for one that was one day shorter than usual!