The Conspiracy

Young Israel has got to go

I’ve been thinking a lot about the impending schism in Orthodox Judaism in America. I’ll be perfectly honest and tell you flat out I’m pro-schism: Whether the moguls of the Orthodox world like it or not, it’s coming, and personally, I’d like to help bring it on. Where to start? Easy: the National Council of Young Israel.

I remember how outraged I was back when the NCYI banned women and converts from holding the presidency in its member synagogues (among other things). In retrospect, I’m disappointed at the lack of action taken in response. I definitely was not alone in my resentment toward the NCYI; this feature article from The Commentator, YU’s student newspaper, exposes a great deal of the hostility felt back in 2007 soon after Young Israel made its notorious decision (as does this interesting—and somewhat comical—blog post on Jewcy from January 2008).

Individuals and communities alike were ready to act; people were ready to rebel against the institution that could once define itself as modern Orthodoxy’s future but now threatened to monopolize all streams of Orthodox Jewish thought around the country.

What happened to that?

I don’t know. But I think it’s time to bring it back.

Orthodox Judaism will not survive the way it has over the past generation. This much is clear. Considering the prevalence and success of Orthodox-affiliated (and otherwise/non-affiliated) independent minyanim that invite women to participate as leaders (a concept that—surprise!—contradicts the ideology behind the NCYI’s decision to outright ban women’s prayer services), I’m beginning to wonder whether the vast portion of the American Jewish population raised by the Orthodox day school system will continue to join and support NCYI synagogues. These people, who have different spiritual interests than their predecessors and tend to think out of the box when they choose their preferred religious experiences, probably aren’t looking for an ambiguous right-wing authority that disqualifies half the members of its religious group as eligible communal leaders. I know I’m not.

It’s a wonder to me how the NCYI can describe itself with a phrase like “a Young Israel synagogue represents the definition of Orthodoxy which we share in common” with a straight face.

Communities in America are changing, each struggling to define and live “modern Orthodox” in its own unique way. Orthodox Judaism cannot and should not be limited by an institution that seeks to implement a single way of living an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle in America. Such an ideological monopoly in the Orthodox world is not productive, desired, or appropriate.

To say that all Young Israel synagogue members agree with the NCYI’s implicit rejection of rabbis graduated from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and its restraining of women’s roles and converts would be horribly inaccurate (according to the Commentator article, which has great details on all of the NCYI’s 2007 decisions). These actions of the NCYI seem to reflect a more political agenda. But the Orthodox community doesn’t need a dictator. Speaking as a member of such a community, all we need is a comfortable place to observe our ritual and tradition; a place that we, together with friends and family, build ourselves to suit both our communal and our individual spiritual needs, with the guidance of a rabbi we feel comfortable with.  The NCYI’s sweeping right-leaning moves do nothing to help Orthodox communities tackle the religious and political challenges of the 21st century.

The time has come. Young Israel has got to go.

15 Older Responses to “Young Israel has got to go”

  1. NGE
    July 29, 2009 at 9:29 am #

    You are very fast to make accusations. Do some research before you point the finger, and do not forget we are all Jews on the same side. If you wish not to go to a YI then go to a different synagogue but do not put down a whole organization of people and communities committed to the servers of god and the Jewish people.
    Side point if you would investigate further you would find out that the real issue that a woman can not be president is because the fact that a president and the Rabbi must spend lots of time together alone working late nights as well as attending events together. It was determined that this would be inappropriate for the Rabbi.

  2. Naomi
    July 29, 2009 at 11:29 am #

    As a follow middle-of-the-road / somewhat progressive Orthodox Jew, who grew up in a YI and got very turned off by it over the years, all I have to say is: Amen!

    Unfortunately, the YI movement is still pretty huge. I can see how when you live in NYC in enclaves like the UWS or Washington Heights, it’s easy to believe that the independent minyan movement is sweeping the country. Fact is, though, it’s really not. While YI and other equally non-inclusive organizations like YU and the OU don’t represent the “definition” of Orthodoxy today, they do represent the face of it. Go out to the outer boroughs; heck, leave New York, and you’ll see that pretty much all Orthodox Jews – even the moderate to liberal ones – daven at a YI or another shul like it. I think time will tell if “Open Orthodoxy” or the independent minyan movement will actually gain a strong foothold in American Orthodoxy. Don’t get me wrong, I really hope it does. But looking at the situation realistically, I’ve gotta say we’ve got a really, REALLY long way to go.

  3. Ruben
    July 30, 2009 at 10:55 am #

    I’m sorry, but I too fell you may be pointing fingers too quickly. I agree with NGE. It is to my understanding that this is why women can not attain the role of president.

    Being Jewish is hard and like snowflakes, it is hard to find two Jews who are alike in their ideals and actions in every way. There are so many different types of Jews out there and the YI crowd is one type. Let them be, and if you choose a different path, choose a different synagogue. There are many other options out there for you with just as much of a following as the YI crowd. We have nothing against each other. We are all Jews and brothers in the eyes of Hashem. We just differ in our religious standings or what we believe to be religious. Let us each be Jewish to the fullest in our own ways and respect each other about it.

  4. ~ josh
    July 30, 2009 at 6:27 pm #

    while i agree with the premise of your article, that Young Israel’s misogyny is reprehensible, i am sad to report that statistics are the undoing of your thesis. demographics, baby. it’s the way of the future. the fact remains that orthodox judaism is very successful when it comes to growth rate, and the more rightward you go, the more it’s true.
    the reason women are (no longer) allowed to be prez at YI shuls a(nd to speak form the bimah at all) is not due to newborn revelation or a technical correction of legal/halakhic errors. it’s due to the entrenched patriarchy that is becoming stronger and stronger within the right-wing jewish (and general religious) world.

    Ruben – i appreciate your belief in klal yisroel and the brethrenhood of all jews. however, to categorize all religious differences as beautiful and lovely is to shield them from ethical critique. some differences need pointing out and excoriation. i was reading a hareidi magazine recently, and in discussing the case of 3 hasidic boys’ arrest for drug peddling, it instructed them to dress as goyim or non-hasidic jews to shield their community from the backlash. that is morally shame-worthy. the extreme position of exclusivity in the orthodox world (again, the more right-ward, the worse it is) is slowly eroding the ethical center of judaism, something for which we have prized it for so long…

  5. Charles
    August 3, 2009 at 1:12 pm #

    I agree that the exclusion of women from shul presidencies is excessive and discriminatory, but even if you think that it’s halachically imperative based on the time spent alone with the rabbi, what’s the response when it comes to converts? I think we can all agree that the Chareidi communities in Israel have gone beyond the pale in their treatment of converts, but at least before I was comforted that that sort of paranoia and isolationism was relegated to Beit Shemesh.

    Where exactly is the halachic basis for discounting converts?

  6. Sergey Kadinsky
    August 3, 2009 at 1:36 pm #

    Why wasn’t anyone interviewed or quoted for this opinion piece? Without other voices, it taken on the appearance of an angry, unsubstantiated rant.

    My choice of shul may appear superficial, but I take into account the speed of the davening, the sermons, and the congregants. If everyone in the shul wears the same type of hat, if the davening is shorter than a commercial break, or if the sermon goes too far into esoterics, politics, or obscure quotes- that shul is not for me. If nobody in that shul says hello or welcome, that shul is not for me.

    I’ve seen shuls that are too far-right, too liberal, clean, and run-down. But the most important factor for me is how friendly the people are. I don’t care about their views on Obama, Madoff, settlements, or gays. I care more about how they treat the visitor or new member, the relevance of the sermon, the speed of the davening, and what I can do as an indivisual to make the shul stronger.

    I don’t go to a shul to change its policy. The shul where I grew up ( is mostly elderly folks. They still daven using the Birnbaum siddur and the Hertz chumash. The rabbi rarely talks politics, but is a strong zionist. He would never endorse someone from the pulpit. He would recognize both sides of an argument. The sermon is like a parsha. No matter what, it always ends with a positive note. A cantor leads. Everyone knows each other’s name. Everyone says good shabbos.

    Nobody wants to see a schism in Orthodoxy. We have enough denominations as it is! We need unity. I will end this note by pointing out that there is difference between “modern Orthodox” and “Modern Orthodox.” The former strives to keep Orthodoxy united, while the latter seeks ot create a separate group. Put me down as lower-case modern.

  7. D Gold
    August 3, 2009 at 1:53 pm #

    Orthodox Judaism means that we respond to commandments as best we can, even if they make us “uncomfortable.” it is telling that the other used “comfort” twice as her demand for the synagogue movement she wants. If you want your synagogue to provide a comfortable religious experience for your family instead of an inspiring and educational one that lifts you up to give more of yourself, you have very sadly missed out on the essence of an “Orthodox” upbringing. If you are not so moved by the powerful meaning of Torah that you want to give rather than take, sacrifice rather than demand, you have not yet reached the plateau of Orthodox leadership that would entitle you to speak your mind this way.
    Anyone contemplating a change in Orthodoxy ought to review what happened to the conservative movement over the last fifty years. “We need to make people more comfortable with Judaism” they said. What happens when you want a place that makes you feel comfortable is that each new person and each new generation inserts into their “demands” more and more comfort and there is less and less room for commandments. Thus begins the slippery slope to “you are the center of the world and G-d help the rabbi if he doesn’t understand that” that defines conservative life for too many of its members.
    i wish the author success in achieving greater depth of understanding of what Torah is all about – enough to appreciate the historic achievements of YI before tossing them out because one decision makes her “uncomfortable.”

  8. E
    August 3, 2009 at 3:02 pm #

    So you don’t like their politics and want then outside the pale. So typical.

  9. Benjamin Siegel
    August 3, 2009 at 5:55 pm #


    I find your side point interesting:

    “Side point if you would investigate further you would find out that the real issue that a woman can not be president is because the fact that a president and the Rabbi must spend lots of time together alone working late nights as well as attending events together. It was determined that this would be inappropriate for the Rabbi.”

    Let’s say that YI had a female Rabbi (an enormous mental exercise to begin with). Do you think they’d let a woman hold the office of president then? Or do you think their sexism is too entrenched to even conceive of the possibility?


  10. Stupid
    August 3, 2009 at 10:19 pm #

    why bother with the word “ORTHODOX”? why do you desire it that much, if you want to be out of the box, get out and stay out and leave YI and others alone. Start your own independent movement, call it what you wish, but don’t false advertise and say it adheres to orthodoxy. Orthodoxy follows halacha and they (usually) base their decisions on that, If you don’t like it, that’s fine too, but don’t say you are following halacha if you are not, that’s call lying.

    At least the reform don’t lie, they say that they disregard halacha and they do.

  11. byron k.
    August 4, 2009 at 3:44 am #

    The time has come. All religions have got to go. Come out of the cave.

  12. Lee Smith
    June 23, 2010 at 2:39 pm #

    Here it is one year later. We finally learn of an Orthodox Synagogue that is standing up to YI by leaving. I hope they don’t get beat down.

  13. Boris
    October 4, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

    There are Young Israel Congregations with Chabad Rabbis, frankly this infiltration is not healthy. If you are a Chabnick open a Chabd Shul, don’t hijack a Young Israel to fit your image.


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