Rabbi Asher Lopatin is feeling a little “roughed up.”
It’s October 17, less than a fortnight since Lopatin’s official installation as president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a liberal Orthodox rabbinical school in the Bronx, and his attempts to reach out to New York’s Orthodox community are not going well.
Sitting in a cramped office at YCT, Lopatin is replaying the smackdowns and letdowns of the previous few weeks.
First there was the condemnation from the ultra-Orthodox umbrella group, Agudath Israel of America, which savaged Lopatin’s decision to mark his October 6 installation with a roundtable discussion involving leaders from the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist movements.
“I am surprised that the Agudah saw the panel… as something that was going to destroy Judaism as we know it,” Lopatin says.
Then there was the absence at Lopatin’s installation ceremony of his colleagues from the flagship Modern Orthodox institution, Yeshiva University. The absentees included several friends and acquaintances who found more pressing engagements that day. “There were a lot of people on the road that Sunday,” Lopatin says.
“Then I was blessed with my Yated Ne’eman article,” he adds.
Lopatin is referring to a lengthy editorial in the ultra-Orthodox newspaper describing YCT’s roundtable as a “spit in the face of Orthodox conduct and practice” and labeling Open Orthodoxy itself as a threat to Judaism.
“They aren’t content with their small group. They seek to expand it and to transform our communities as well,” the newspaper’s editor, Pinchus Lipschutz wrote, adding that Lopatin’s “deviant group” is “drawing adherents and gaining control of shuls, schools and organizations.”
Lipschutz added: “It is high time for our community to formally declare — and really mean it — that Open Orthodoxy is not Orthodoxy and that anyone involved with Open Orthodox institutions risks being ousted from leadership positions in the Orthodox community.”
Lopatin never imagined that gaining acceptance for Open Orthodoxy would be easy. But he seems genuinely surprised — and a little hurt — that the name-calling and shunning has begun already.
“It might be that they feel that we are a player in the Orthodox world,” Lopatin says. “I would like to think really we are such a factor and they are scared.”
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Lopatin was hailed as a moderating force to counteract YCT’s bullish founder, Rabbi Avi Weiss, who stepped down as president of YCT at the end of June.