Last week was Edah’s 4th International Conference. The stated theme of this year’s conference focused on Modern Orthodoxy’s challenges and opportunities. No stranger to controversy, Edah had listed as a session, “The Legal Philosophy of Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Its Challenge to Orthodox Moderns.”
Most of the pre-conference buzz was devoted to guessing what this session would be like. The initial schedule did not list the presenters, so there were several theoretical possiblities. Most of the people I spoke with before the conference were concerned that this would simply be a “hatchet job” on Rav Schachter. Certainly Edah would have the motive to “bash Rav Schachter”, considering his positions on Edah and his recent controversial comments. Consequently, the opinions I had seen ranged from skepticism to outright pessimism.
By now, most of you will know that the lecture was given by my father, Rabbi Alan J. Yuter, and it was upon his request I didn’t enter into the pre-conference fray,1 and as such I had some insider information. First, the title of the session was not his, and it was eventually changed to the more neutral “The Legal Thought of Rabbi Hershel Schachter.” Second, I knew it wasn’t going to be the hatchet job people were expecting. Those who have heard and/or read my father’s academic presentations know that he doesn’t resort to personal attacks and any statement he makes will be supported.
As it turned out, after the conference, people were disappointed that my father didn’t take the shots at Rav Schachter that they were expecting. It appears that some just wanted to see someone give Rav Schachter his comeuppance or perhaps exact a measure of ideological revenge. For one example, when my father began by saying Rav Schachter is neither a fanatic nor a sexist, one friend of mine admitted tuning him out. What I find interesting is that this mentality justifies the skepticism levied upon the conference. Many didn’t give Edah the credit to present a critical analysis of Rav Schachter because of emotional reactions or personal biases. If some attendies had their way, the critics would have been right.
In truth, the nature of the presentation really speaks more to the skill of my father. There were criticisms of Rav Schachter in the session2, but it was done such that only those interested in first understanding Rav Schachter would notice. Those that were interested in a verbal smackdown left empty handed – no catchy sound bytes and no critical comprehension of what they had just heard.
For those who missed the session – either literally or figuratively – worry not. The presentation was a condensed version of a comprehensive fully footnoted article which is nearing completion.
1. My father’s position was that Edah would eventually publish the speaker’s list. He was more focused on preparing the actual session than dealing with the rampant online speculation.
2. Although I wasn’t there, I’ve discussed the topic with him enough to know approximately what he said.