A tale of two Batei Midrash; YCT and Philly
by Rabbi Nissan Antine
Last month I had the opportunity of learning in two batei midrash that couldn’t be further from each other on the orthodox spectrum. On Monday, I spent the morning at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (where I earned my semicha). The kol torah (sound of Torah) was amazing as I was able to overhear a number of students trying to master the intricacies of Hilchot Shabbat so that they could effectively lead their congregation in greater observance of Shabbat. On the next day, Tuesday, as I was driving home from NY, I decided to stop at my other Alma Mater, The Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia (otherwise known as Philly) where I studied for 4 years of High School around 20 years ago. I didn’t have a meeting with any of the rebeim or roshei hayeshiva. I just wanted to sit in the Beis Medrash that had nurtured and sustained me when I first started learning. I was privileged to overhear a number of chavrusos learning the first perek of Gittin and dealing with some of the lomdos of “Hamevi Get.”
While I was in Philly, I had a thought which seems so basic but yet in reality is so difficult. “Why can’t we all just get along?” This was not a naive perception that we are exactly the same. Believe me when I say that I know that there are differences and it is precisely some of those differences that motivated me to leave the world of Philly and find YCT. But on that Tuesday morning, when I saw Talmidim of Philly and YCT within 24 hours learning the same Talmud with such intensity, reverence and commitment; I wondered why can’t we all see what unites us? While there are differences on the margins, both communities share a commitment to have Torah impact their lives in the deepest possible ways. Both communities have a strong desire, even if we have different styles, to help make Torah more meaningful to countless Jews who are disengaged.
I would humbly like to make one suggestion that I think would help heal our community. Leaders from open and modern Orthodoxy should commit to not talk negatively about our friends to the right of us. This does not mean that we don’t have differences and that the differences aren’t important. But how does our community (those associated with more open and modern Orthodoxy) benefit from hearing negative statements about the other. We should be working on ourselves and when we point to the Yeshivish community we should look to its many positive traits that we can learn from.
I would request and hope that the leadership of the centrist and yeshivahs communities would make a similar commitment. I hope that if we can start to talk about each other in more positive ways then ultimately we will help heal our communities which is really one community.