The Yeshiva And The Bazaar

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to attend Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s fourth Chag Hasemikha and extend best wishes to all the new musmakhim, especially roommate Rabbi Yonah. This was the first time I attended a non-Yeshiva University Chag Hasemikha, and throughout the proceedings we could not help but compare the two ceremonies especially having attended my own Chag Hasemikha just last year. What I found particularly striking was the contrasting emphasis and tone of the ceremony, with YU celebrating the institution and YCT highlighting the individuals.


The differences in tone may be partially attributed to simple logistics. It is much easier for YCT individualize all of its musmakhim when there are only nine graduates. On the other hand YU’s last Chag Hasemikha included over 180 musmakhim – over twenty times YCT’s graduating class. Not only does this limit the attending YU can give to its individual graduates, but factoring in friends and family, it would be impossible for YU to emulate YCT’s intimate, personable atmosphere.

Still, the dual symbols of institution and individual were repeated throughout both ceremonies. YU’s four hour plus Chag included honoring contributors to the Yeshiva and multiple speeches on the importance of YU in the Jewish world and our duty as musmakhim to spread the Yeshiva’s message. YCT’s Chag lasted just under two hours in which the musmakhim were commended on their unique abilities and encouraged to share their individuality with the Jewish community.
YCT musmakhim received a personal commendation from one of their educating rabbis, including a formal declaration granting heter hora’ah and rav u’manhig. YU musmakhim shook hands and posed for a picture with R. Lamm, R. Chalop, and President Richard Joel. As a graduating gift YCT musmakhim received a shofar symbolizing the unique voice of each musmakh, YU musmakhim received a sefer of a Soloveitchik’s shiurim (I forget who offhand) in another reinforcement of the tradition of the Yeshiva.

Even the publication material is revealing in that in its program YCT published included a short biography of each musmakh listing their personal, educational and Rabbinic accomplishments, while YU’s nine page program (PDF) neglected to even list the musmakhim’s names, printing instead the RIETS Administration, Board of Trustees, Officers of the Board of Trustees, a listing of RIETS divisions, previous award recipients, and a small advertisement for the Yeshiva University Museum.

What I find particularly interesting in all this is how well the tone of the Chagei Hasemikha reflect the overall attitudes of the respective institutions and their approaches to Jewish leadership. In this dichotomy, YU represents the traditional establishment where participation and benefits are predicated on group affiliation and conformity. For most of the YU population Judaism is based on following the approved status quo and adaptive innovations are generally discouraged. On the other hand, YCT promotes what it calls “Open Orthodoxy,” an empowering slogan allowing for people to independently incorporate the myriad of opinions and possibilities in the broadest definition of “Orthodox Judaism.”

Ten years ago, Eric S. Raymond famously characterized hierarchical corporate software development as a Cathedral and the democratic Open Source model as a Bazaar. While the analogy to YU/YCT is not perfect – YU is not as parochial and YCT is not quite open source Judaism – I do find the comparisons striking not only in terms of the general ideologies, but to the extent in which their ideologies permeate the institutional culture.

Posted in Jewish Culture.

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