Yeshiva University’s recent decision to withhold semicha (rabbinic ordination) from one of its about-to-graduate rabbis because of his participation in a Partnership Minyan should be of serious concern to the broader Modern Orthodox community. I know there are many of us who have essentially “written off” YU. We feel like they have lost touch with the ideals of what Modern Orthodoxy was created to embody. And I get that. And often I just shrug my shoulders when the institution does something I don’t admire and go along on my merry way.
In this case, I really don’t think we should because the underlying message they are sending is of significant rule-changing. And that’s just scary.
Here’s the deal:
— YU needs to be more transparent and can’t change the rules retroactively. If they have standards they want to hold rabbis to, (and let’s face it, every semicha granting institution has a right to its standards) they should make those clear before a student signs up for four years of study. If they aren’t clever enough to foresee the issues that may arise later, that’s really their problem. They just can’t start changing the rules whenever they want to or all the rabbis out there with semicha are in trouble.
— They are essentially changing the meaning of semicha. The last time I looked, “Yoreh, Yoreh” on the semicha document meant that a rabbi could rule on things he thought he understood. It didn’t mean that he merely acts as a conduit, channeling the vision and opinion of his Rebbe. That is a new, and frankly, a scary course for Modern Orthodoxy, one that separated it from the Chareidi institutions. Yes, we assume properly trained rabbis will know their limits and go to more knowledgeable ones when necessary but we want to benefit from the blessing of smart, thoughtful, rabbis who may take a new and more nuanced approach.
— YU is closing ranks and including only a chosen few in the new definition of “poskim” (halakhic decisors). Why do THEY get to decide who the poskim are? Where did that come from? If I want to count Rabbi Daniel Sperber as my posek who are they to tell me otherwise? But the new message from YU is “here are the final arbiters.” No real dialogue is acceptable.
I think this whole event portends an ever-more concerning approach by YU, and I, for one, hope there is some backtracking on the issue.