One must feel a little sorry for Yeshivat Chovevei Torah these days. Like the Jewish Theological Seminary many students have passed through their gates but only one seems to have qualified for the coveted "Yadin Yadin" status, Rabbi Zev Farber. Now it turns out their greatest prodigy is trying to redefine Orthodoxy into something that violates much of its treasured core principles and beliefs.
YCT is, of course, no stranger to controvery. Ever since Rabbi Avi Weiss printed his "Open Orthodoxy" credo the yeshiva and its followers have continually struggled to redefine Orthodoxy further and further into secular territory. From their pulpit in the Morethodoxy blog they have espoused changing some of our morning blessings because it offends their egalitarian senses, subtly encouraged the idea that halacha should change to allow for homosexual marriage and presented deadly enemies of the State of Israel in an encouraging light. Each time they insist they have support from the halacha using their pick-a-posek method of decision making. Each time they insist they are Torah observant in their views and are not violating any principles of Orthodoxy.
In fact there is a tremendous difference that does remain between Morethodoxy and right wing Conservativism. Despite all the comparisons and accusations that have been made that YCT is just JTS with a mechitzah we must acknowledge that the pick-a-posek method, while invalid, is still superior to the so-called Rabbinal Assembly's method of open voting on halacha. YCT recognizes that they still cannot simply make up new rules or dispense with old ones willy nilly. We should not forget that.
But Rabbi Farber may have finally crossed a line and provided opponents of YCT with their "Ah ha!" moment. In a recent essay he endorsed many of the lies that the Documentary Hypothesis has been spreading over the last couple of centuries while analyzing Sefer Devarim. True, his first statement is vague and can be explained away as simply pointing out that the conclusion of those Sinai-deniers who fail to see the unity and holiness of our Torah.
The simplest explanation for these differences between the accounts in Exodus-Numbers and Deuteronomy is that they were penned by (at least) two different authors with different conceptions of the desert experienceBut one of concluding statements dispenses with that assumption of innocence:
it appears to me that being able to accept that there are contradictory perspectives expressed in the Torah allows us to offer meaningful interpretations of each and to address significant tensions in the text without feeling the need to create hollow apologetic explanationsBy referring to the wisdom of Chazal as apologetics Rabbi Farber seems to be stating his preference for the academic approach to Chumash rather than the Jewish one. His tossing out of the phrase eilu v'eilu to justify his position smacks of open Reformativism. Eilu v'eilu doesn't include opinions that allow driving on Shabbos or the eating of bacon.
This is not the only time Rabbi Farber crosses the important line. He dismisses the narratives of Bereshis as mere allegories and moral tales, denying the historical existence of Avraham Avinu et al, something no believing Jew could conceive of doing. His final justification for continuing to be "Orthodox" despite not believing in fundamental principles of it sounds like a paean to orthopraxy:
And despite YCT's protests to the contrary we should not be fooled that the leadership of Morethodoxy has any problem with this position. They can't. Accepting that Matan Torah happened, accepting that the Torah is a divine and accurately preserved expression of the Will of God and that the Oral Law is a necessary part of it, not a product of Chazal invented much later on, creates the authoritative mesorah which must be handled with extreme care and only by the greatest authorities, none of whom work for YCT. It means that being Torah observant is the correct lifestyle for a Jew and the only one at that. It means no moral relativism but external standards of right and wrong that do not change to fit secular society's mood. In contrast, the new "Rosh Yeshivah", Rabbi Asher Lopatin, is on regard as dismissing the uniqueness of Orthodoxy when it comes to genuine Torah observance. For him, like Farber and the others Orthodoxy is simply a stream, a style, not the authentic practice of the mesorah we have received from our ancestors. I have no doubt that the leadership of YCT does not believe in the historical reality of Matan Torah or the unity of the Torah as a God-given document. Unlike Rabbi Farber they realize they cannot continue to portray themselves as "Orthodox" if they admit it publicly.
Now Rabbi Farber may be a nice man. He is probably quite ethical, honest and decent in his dealings with others. But it seems that he is not, despite his attempts to redefine the term, Orthodox. A pity such a mind has gone off in the wrong direction.