Friday, March 21, 2014

Message from the Rosh HaYeshiva

linzer 2Things are in full swing here at the yeshiva as we prepare for our annual dinner this Sunday, honoring our visionary and founder, Rabbi Avi Weiss. I want to thank each of you for your ongoing support of the yeshiva throughout the years, and I look forward to seeing so many of you at the dinner.

This weekend we will also be having our Alumni Shabbaton over Shabbat and our annual Alumni Conference on Monday. The dinner and the weekend, and the work that each one of our musmachim does every day, is a true tribute to Rabbi Weiss and all that he has given to us and to Klal Yisrael.

In addition to the excitement of the dinner, this week also was full of fun as the simchat Purim spilled over from last Sunday.  On Monday, Shushan Purim, I ran after mincha what I entitled: "Chopped: the Purim Edition." "Chopped" is a show of the Food Network where four chefs compete in three rounds - appetizer, main course, and desert.  In each round, they have a basket with mystery ingredients, and they have 30 minutes to make a course using all three ingredients, and are judged on taste, presentation and creativity.  Each round, the panel of judges decides which dish, and which contestant, gets "chopped", so that by the end only one is left standing.  

In the Purim Edition, I prepared baskets containing three different mystery seforim, and the student contestants had 5 minutes to prepare a dvar Torah using all three seforim. The first would be an appetizer, spicy dvar Torah, then a sermon, then a short, sweet dvar Torah.  Each dvar Torah would have to be delivered in 3 minutes or less to a panel of student judges. The event was great fun. In the first round, the baskets contained: Mishna Zeraim, Gemara Beitzah-Chagigah-Moed Katan, and Chumash VaYikra. In the second round, the baskets contained: Sefer Yishayahu, Breishit Rabbah, and Rambam Sefer Zmanim. Sadly we ran out of time before round 3. The pressure to find appropriate sources and weave them together into a meaningful and inspiring dvar Torah in 5 minutes was intense, and student contestants really outdid themselves. I personally could not believe how high quality the divrei Torah were, and how they genuinely and meaningfully drew on the sources they were given.  

The student-judges got into the fun, inhabiting the persona of some of the judges of the actual show,  and the entire student body was rapt with excitement. Afterwards, many students commented to me on not only how enjoyable the event was, but also on what a good challenge and learning experience it was, and asked for an opportunity to do it more often. Definitely food for thought...

And then on Tuesday, we had our belated Purim Chagiga with Purim shpiels from many of the students, as well as from myself. The students good naturedly poked fun not only at the rebbeim and the staff, but also at one another, and some of the skits were truly hilarious (especially those with spot-on impersonations of distinctive characters here at the yeshiva). It was such a wonderful feeling of a loving community and family - a true simchat Purim.

In more serious pursuits, third- and fourth-year students wrapped up Hilkhot Kiddushin this week, with shiurim on Sheva Brakhot and  Ketuvah, as well as lectures on Onah and Family Planning, and with special presentations from two guests. Rabbi Dani Segal from Israel, who has been running highly successful pre-wedding retreats for dati and chiloni couples, who spoke on how to prepare couples for the wedding, regardless of their background, in a way that is both deeply based in Torah but also draws from contemporary fields, particularly in the area of communication. Later in the week, Dr. Jennie Rosenfeld, author of The Newlywed Guide to Physical Intimacy, spoke via Skype on the reality of Orthodox singles, their struggles with their sexual lives, and how to best give religious guidance that is not just about halakha, and that can be of help to them even when they may violate halakha. Students were so moved by the wisdom, sensitivity, and insight of both presentations, and they formed the perfect culmination to our weeks of learning about these intense and profound topics.  

We had another special guest last week at YCT, Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, Principal of SAR High School.  Rabbi Harcsztark spoke about his decision to allow some girls to wear tfillin during Shacharit with a women's tfillah in school. It was a wonderful presentation: calm, balanced, thoughtful, talking about how he weighs such decisions and the questions on halakha, values of the institution, the school community itself and the broader community, and how so often it is about not promoting a particular practice, but inclusion, diversity and tolerance. He spoke about the issue of rabbinic authority and psak, and mentioned that he had consulted with great halakhic authorities, but did not bring that into the conversation as the halakhic decision was, in the end, both his right and his responsibility.  He also modeled how to deal with some of the nonsense of the blogosphere in a positive way - recognizing how misguided it all is and how it should strengthen one's resolve about the rightness of a different approach towards Klal Yisrael. It was great for students to hear from and to learn from his mature, thoughtful leadership.

Truly an intense week all around. Again, Mazal Tov to Rabbi Weiss, Toby, and the whole family on being honored this Sunday. I hope to see so many of you there!

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