Rabbi Dov Linzer, president and rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT), has been dealing with a maelstrom since the liberal Orthodox yeshiva decided not to ordain a fourth-year rabbinical student who is gay, first reported exclusively by The New York Jewish Week, NJJN’s sister publication.
The student, Daniel Atwood of the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, came out in his first year at YCT and became engaged in the fall, though that decision could be a one-off as the yeshiva has since indicated it is willing to ordain gay students.
“We are committed to beginning a transparent process that will culminate in Spring 2020 that will bring in all relevant voices — from the LGBTQ community, from rabbis, lay leaders, and poskim, to provide clear direction of how to best chart a path forward so that, while it did not prove possible in this case, we will be able to grant smicha to gay students in the future,” wrote Linzer in a statement on April 5. Linzer previously emailed The Jewish Week that “Out of respect for all our students, the yeshiva does not discuss particular students and why any student may or may not be receiving semicha.”
YCT, which is based in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, presently has 35 students and has graduated over 125 since ordaining its first class in 2004. Local graduates include Rabbi Daniel Geretz of Maayan in West Orange and Rabbi Menashe East of the Mount Freedom Jewish Center in Randolph.
Rabbi Michael Moskowitz, a Lakewood resident who is scholar-in-residence for Trans and Queer Jewish Studies at Manhattan’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, expressed his dismay with the Atwood decision, and his hope for openly gay students at YCT in the future. Moskowitz called the Atwood decision “sad and disappointing,” in an email exchange with NJJN.
“I know that Daniel has worked very hard and YCT was really excited about being able to ordain an out-gay student,” he wrote. Still, Moskowitz, a national advocate for the Jewish LGBTQ community, believes there will be positive outcomes from this incident.
“I think that many people are hurting right now, but I don’t think that this will hurt others from advancing the cause of LGBTQ equality, and others being ordained in the future,” he said. “We need to continue the holy work of having these very difficult conversations in order to better uncover and discover the Divine will for our times.”
In his statement, Linzer wrote, “One of the big challenges for us as a rabbinical school is that there is a difference between communal inclusion, and between what it means to be ordained as an Orthodox rabbi. So much more is expected and demanded from our rabbis than from our laity.”
Geretz, in a joint statement with his wife, Jennifer Kotzker Geretz, who is a student in Yeshivat Maharat, a program that ordains women to serve as Orthodox clergy, praised Linzer’s work at YCT and his support of the LGBTQ community. Linzer has been the head of the institution since September 2018.
“We have had the honor of calling Rav Linzer our posek for many years, and trust his vast Torah knowledge, his expertise, his humility, his sensitivity, and his good judgment. Rav Linzer has proven himself to be a sincere ally of the LGBTQ community, as he has already demonstrated his support on many occasions,” they wrote.
The statement added that “Those wishing to serve as genuine allies of LBGTQ individuals within the religious Jewish community can do so more effectively by demonstrating sensitivity and respect for halakha as well as modeling the Torah value of emunat chakhamim,” faith in our sages.
Atwood remains enrolled at YCT, receives a stipend, and is continuing his studies remotely, according to Linzer. He is seeking an independent ordination.
“We know that there is a lot of pain out there as a result of recent events, pain that will not go away anytime soon,” a representative of YCT emailed NJJN. “And we know that there is a lot of healing that needs to take place. These are things that we must not lose sight of even as we begin at the same time to work out a path forward.”