Friday, January 31, 2014

Message from the Rosh HaYeshiva

Chodesh Tov!  I hope you all are well and, if not yet getting ready for Purim - which is still 6 weeks away! -  are at least getting into the simcha spirit of Adar.

This last Shabbat, I, together with Rabbi Lopatin and Dr. Michelle Friedman, visited Chicago for a Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Chicagoland Shabbaton - spending Shabbat in Lakeview, Skokie, and Northbrook, and speaking at Anshe Sholom B'nai Israel, Kol Sasson, Northbrook Community Synagogue, DNG, Chicagoland Jewish Day School and Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School, and ending with a wonderful melave malke at Milt's. There was a huge turnout to all the events, and the talks and shiurim were enthusiastically received.  We also had the opportunity to spend time with our Chicago-based musmachim: Rabbi Sam Feinsmith (YCT 2005), Rabbi Josh Feigelson (YCT 2005), Rabbi David Wolkenfeld (YCT 2008), Rabbi Aaron Potek (YCT 2013), Rabbi Eric Zaff (YCT 2009), and Rabbi Aaron Braun (YCT 2012). It was great to reconnect with them and to see all the important work that they have been doing and the impact that they are making on their various communities.   

Learning continued apace at the yeshiva. Third- and fourth-year students have finished the sugyot of the basic components of gerut - milah (for men), immersion and the acceptance of mitzvot, together with the requirement of a beit din - and have read the classic machshava articles by Rav Soloveitchik (Kol Dodi Dofek) and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (On Conversion) on the symbolism and role of these criteria.

On Tuesday afternoon, third- and fourth-year students had their monthly teshuvot seminar, and we heard two student-composed responsa, one on the requirements of shemirah of a dead body awaiting burial, and the other regarding navigating living conditions and dynamics with a gay, sexually active college roommate.  Also on Tuesday, we were visited by Rabbi Saul Strosberg (YCT 2005), from Nashville, TN, who ran a double-session together with Dr. Michelle Friedman and Rabbi Chaim Marder on the halakhic and pastoral realities of converts and those in the process of conversion.

First- and second-year students began two new interconnected classes this weeks: Pre-Marital, Marital and Family Counseling on Tuesdays with Miriam Schacter, and Hilkhot Kibbud Av v'Em on Wednesdays with Rabbi Yaakov Love.

On Thursday we had the pleasure of welcoming Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth, head of Beit Hillel in Israel.  Rabbi Neuwirth spoke before lunch on the importance of the approach of Hillel - bringing Torah out of the ivory tower to the people and appreciating the world from the perspective not just of God and the Torah, but of the people - and the equal importance of balancing that perspective with the Shamai approach, so that Torah and halakha does not become pandering and compromising of its standards.  After the sicha, students spent an hour with Rabbi Neuwrith as part of our monthly Rosh Hodesh "Ask the Rabbi" lunch.

This week we also welcomed back Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Milgram, who is with us on Thursday mornings teaching a chaburah on Rabbinic Literature and acting as our resident Academic Talmud sho'el u'mai'shiv.  And, finally, today, Friday, Rabbi Dov Lerea begins a new Friday class on Aggdata which will take place first thing in the morning immediately after Rav Nati's parsha shiur. Truly an exciting and learning-packed week!

This Sunday, YCT will be hosting a Yom Iyyun at Ohev Shalom: The National Synagogue in D.C. on Proposed Solutions to the Agunah Crisis.  Speakers will include myself, on the topic of "The Threefold Cord is Not Easily Broken: Bringing the Proposed Solutions Together", Rabbi David Bigman, Rosh Yeshiva of Maaleh Gilboa Yaakov, on "New Halakhic Frontiers", and Yaakov Roth, a Harvard trained lawyer and former clerk of Justice Scalia, on the role of the secular courts.  Rabbi Jeremy Stern from ORA, will be speaking this Shabbat.  More information can be found here, and we you can watch it live on Livestream, here.

Below is my piece on the parasha, reprinted from this week's Jerusalem Report, which addresses the role of the arts in Jewish religious life. I have included in the downloadable version of the parasha sheet an excerpt from Rav Kook's famous 1908 letter to the founders of the Bezalel Art Institute, which I trust you will find relevant and moving. Let's try to commit on this Shabbat, parashat Terumah, to find a way to bring more art and beauty into our religious lives and to give diverse opportunities of religious expression, beyond those of textual fluency and mastery, to all members of our community.

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