Y.U. Will Ordain Rabbinical Student Who Held Partnership Minyan Service

Agreement Reached Between Yeshiva and Student

No Women Shall Lead: Rabbi Hershel Schachter and other Orthodox halachic authorities say Jewish law bars so-called partnership minyans.
Yeshiva U.
No Women Shall Lead: Rabbi Hershel Schachter and other Orthodox halachic authorities say Jewish law bars so-called partnership minyans.

By Sigal Samuel

Published February 27, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The rabbinical school of Yeshiva University, previously said to be withholding ordination from a student who held a partnership minyan in his home, now says it will grant the student ordination.

“An agreement has been reached and the student will be receiving Semikha,” Y.U. spiritual leader Rabbi Yosef Blau told the Forward in an email, referring to ordination.

Matthew Yaniv, the yeshiva’s director of media relations, confirmed by phone Thursday that the ordination will take place.

The agreement comes on the heels of a letter sent to the student by Rabbi Menachem Penner, acting dean of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), and published on The Jewish Channel website. The letter explained that a rabbi who receives ordination from RIETS “would be expected to not participate in such activities nor create a public impression that he supports such activities in normative practice” and would be “expected to defer, in matters of normative practice, to the opinions of recognized poskim” or arbiters of Jewish law.

The January 13 letter indicated that the student — whom it identified as “Shalom” — would not receive ordination unless he subscribed to these rules. It asked him to reply, “in writing, affirming or denying your ability to agree to these principles.”

The student had held a partnership minyan, in which women lead certain parts of the prayer service, at the request of his wife. She had been ill and wanted to be able to recite a blessing at the service.

Since the student’s story was publicized by a February 26 report in The New York Jewish Week, many have expressed their displeasure with Y.U.’s initial stance, including several rabbis ordained by Y.U.

Rabbi Josh Yuter, who received ordination from Y.U. in 2003 and now serves as the rabbi of Manhattan’s Stanton Street Synagogue, took issue with the assumptions underlying Penner’s letter, particularly that Y.U.-ordained rabbis do not have the authority to make Jewish legal decisions and are instead expected to defer to more recognized arbiters.

“That’s not what semikha is,” Yuter told the Forward by phone. “That actually contradicts what it says on the semikha certificate.” He explained that the certificate’s wording makes clear that he has the authority to render decisions about what is forbidden and what is permitted according to Jewish law.

“What you’ve got here is an approach that effectively guts the authority of Y.U.’s own rabbis,” Yuter said. He added that the school’s issue with partnership minyans appears not to be based so much on legal prohibition as on the fact that these quasi-egalitarian services cut against a certain image of Orthodox practice. “The real focus here isn’t even God, but the specific manifestation of Orthodoxy that we have today, and that must be preserved above all else.”

Tzvee Zahavy, a former University of Minnesota professor who received ordination from Y.U. in 1973, also took issue with Penner’s letter. “There’s no asterisk on my semikha certificate saying, you have the authority, but you have to check with us first,” he said.

Zahavy was so taken aback by the letter that he sent an email to Penner, asking whether Y.U. would like to revoke his ordination, since he supports the rabbinical student who held a partnership minyan. Penner wrote back, saying, “No, I doubt that’s necessary.”

It’s not clear what role such outside pressure — from Y.U. alumni and others — had in the yeshiva’s eventual decision to grant ordination to the student. Nor is it clear exactly what the student assented to in his agreement with the yeshiva.

Penner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The student has, so far, continued to remain anonymous. He will be ordained at Y.U.’s Chag HaSemikhah Convocation on March 23.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.