By: Yehuda Greenfield  | 

Who’s AK?: The Need for Open Dialogue

“It’s funny how they called the rosh yeshiva ztz”l, the Rosh Yeshiva, while they called Reb Yoshe Ber, the Rav,” Rav Reuven Feinstein said in his much-imitated, wispy voice. “Really, it was the rosh yeshiva ztz”l who was the Rav, a poisek, and Reb Yoshe Ber was the Rosh Yeshiva.”

I was in eleventh grade, sitting in a chumash shiur given by my own rosh yeshiva, Rav Reuven Feinstein. He was saying a story about his father, Rav Moshe Feinstein, and a man unknown to me, Reb Yoshe Ber.

“Who’s Reb Yoshe Ber?” I asked my chavrusa later, during seder.

“Reb Yoshe Ber? Oh, that’s JB.”

“JB?” I asked. “Who’s JB?”

“JB Soloveitchik. He was the head of YU.”

“Oh,” I replied.

I didn’t know much about YU, but I’d heard about it before, in whispers. It was a place of kefirah. Someone once told me that they had a gay club there. It wasn’t a place a proper ben Torah would talk about.

It was later that I realized I’d heard of JB before. My grandfather, rabbi of a small shul in Long Island, would often quote him. He called him “Rav Soloveitchik.”

“Who’s Rav Soloveitchik?” I asked my grandfather later that month.

He looked at me with interest.

“Rav Soloveitchik? Why are you asking about Rav Soloveitchik?”

I was a good bochur, in a chashuva yeshiva. He didn’t want me getting involved in such things.

“My rosh yeshiva mentioned him in a shiur,” I replied.

“Ah. Well, Rav Soloveitchik was a big talmid chochom, but his hashkafos were messed up. A real genius, but real krum hashkafos.”  

From then on, my grandfather would remind me this, every time he quoted words of Torah from Rav Soloveitchik.

“A genius, but krumme hashkofos,” he would say. “He made the first coed Jewish school! Such a thing was never heard of before!”

My grandfather owned his seforim though, and would listen to his shiurim. In my yeshiva, Rav Soloveitchik’s seforim were nowhere to be found. No one would talk about him except in hushed whispers behind closed doors, and even then they would refer to him as “JB.”

It was only later, in post-high school beis medrash, that I discovered Rav Soloveitchik’s writings. I had become unhappy in yeshiva, dissatisfied with its closed approach to Judaism. In my search for something different, I went to a seforim store and began exploring literature that had, up to now, been barred from me. I read Rav Hirsch, Rav Kook, Rabbi Norman Lamm, and finally I came across Rav Soloveitchik. His “Lonely Man of Faith” blew me away. After reading Rabbi Lamm and Rabbi Soloveitchik, I knew one thing. I needed something like this, broader than the hashkafos I learnt in yeshiva. I wanted to go to Yeshiva University.

This my third semester at YU, and I love it here. I’ve become used to an environment where I can study Torah in the morning and Madda in the afternoon. I’ve become used to a place with many voices on campus, each one heard in their own right. I’ve forgotten yeshiva. I’ve forgotten the people who call the Rav, JB, and call the institution I learn in and love, a “makom kefirah” (place of heresy). Sometimes though, I’m shocked back into remembrance.

This past shabbos, I went home and, in the afternoon, learned in my old yeshiva, which is the only beis medrash nearby. My neighbor and old friend came over to me with a smile.

“Hey Yehuda!” he said. “You know, Reb Boruch mentioned JB in his shiur on Thursday!”

He smiled at me, happy that we had this one thing in common. That my old rebbe, who was now his rebbe, had mentioned “JB” of YU in his speech.

I wanted to shout at him. Don’t call him JB! Stop calling him JB! Have a little kavod hatorah! I refrained though. I remembered when I too would call him JB. I smiled back at my neighbor, and I was happy. I was glad I no longer attended a yeshiva where they degraded talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) and called them names because they disagreed with their hashkafa.

How wrong I was, apparently. I was shocked to hear that our Rosh Yeshiva, a student of Rav Soloveitchik, the man they called “JB”, ripped down signs for a shiur on campus and called the speaker an apikorus (heretic). The speaker, Rabbi Klapper, a great talmid chochom and a musmach of YU, is someone whom I greatly admire. This wasn’t the way I expected a torah dialogue to be carried out, here of all places.

I didn’t spend years struggling to leave yeshiva, so that I could hear the same type of close-minded dialogue in YU that I heard my whole life. I didn’t give up my old life, lose friends, and basically become an outcast of my community for attending this venerable institution, in order to hear the leaders of my Yeshiva humiliate others because they disagree with their views.

I’m shocked to my core. Someone needs to speak up. I don’t want Yeshiva University to become the same type of place my old yeshivas were. I came here searching for Torah Umadda. I came for thinkers like the Rav and Rabbi Lamm. I found those thinkers here, but I’ve also found other types of thinkers that I didn’t expect to find. Thinkers who denigrate others and call them names because they disagree with them. I saw too much of that in my old yeshivas. I don’t want to see it here.

I agree with what Rabbi Penner said in the Glueck beis medrash this morning. He said that we need open dialogue. We need to speak to each other. If Rav Schachter doesn’t like Rabbi Klapper’s views, let him speak to him. Let him give a shiur to his students about how he disagrees with Rabbi Klapper. To call Rabbi Klapper an apikorus and rip down the signs advertising his shiur shuts down any semblance of the open dialogue Rabbi Penner spoke of.

I’ve worked hard to get to YU. I came here knowing no one and terrified of this “makom kefirah.” After three semesters, I finally feel comfortable here, but I’m scared. I don’t want this yeshiva to turn into the sort of yeshiva I’ve attended in the past. I don’t want to have to leave and start my search all over again. I’m scared that if we continue down this road, we’ll have a new name for Rabbi Klapper. Instead of calling him Rabbi Klapper, we’ll call him “AK.”