Dear Friends and Loyal Readers,
In shul this past Shabbat I formally announced my intentions to the community to step down as Rabbi of The Stanton St. Shul with the intentions of making Aliyah this summer. 1 For those who know me the decision to make Aliyah itself should not be surprising. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, my immediate family is all there, and of course it’s a religious obligation. 2 But making Aliyah is still a huge step. It’s probably the only time where you can give up a career, family, friends, security, and the entire life you knew for a completely uncertain future and people will still wish you “Mazal Tov” for doing so. 3 The question for me is less a matter of “why” than it is “why now?”
Let me say at the outset that my decision was not determined by any internal factors within my shul. 4 There is still time for retrospectives for the blur that has been the past 5.5 years of my time here, but for now I will just say that I am leaving with the utmost appreciation and gratitude towards the entire community, and I hope to elaborate on my experiences in a later post.
The immediate catalyst was actually a decision by the Seward Park Cooperative where I have been subletting since my arrival. On January 9 of this past year the co-op decided to raise the fees it charges owners for the privilege of subletting apartments such that the amount I am currently paying in rent – a non-trivial sum to be sure – would not even cover these fees, let alone any profit the owners would understandably like to collect. While the co-op later rescinded this decision on March 11, I had already come to terms with the reality of needing to move again and stress and uncertainty of finding other suitable “affordable” accommodations, let alone the prospect of finding a long-term housing solution.
Over the past several months I had also explored other options which might have allowed me to pursue other goals in America. I had applied to PhD programs with the intent to study the religious ethics of Rabbinic Judaism, but was not admitted to the programs to which I applied. 5 I had perused over the YU Rabbinic Placement list and found that independent of any professional qualifications or ideological compatibility, I am ineligible from virtually all communal rabbinic positions being simply because I’m not married, 6 a status which also does not seem likely to change in my current situation.
In short, with all the resources I have at my disposal, I feel I have reached a point where I have accomplished all I can in this country. I explored possibilities, tried to turn those possibilities into options, and took advantage of as many options which were available to me, even ones I never would have expected.
Why now? It’s just time.
- Ideally on the August 11th Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight from JFK, though I’ve learned from experience nothing is final until it’s in writing. ↩
- See M. Ketubot 13:11 and B. Ketubot 110b. For an interesting halakhic fact, according to Rabbinic Judaism the halakhic consequence for a woman not wanting to make Aliyah with her husband is that she gets divorced and loses her entitlement to her husband’s estate as defined in her ketubah. This is the exact same consequence if a married woman goes out without a head covering (M. Ketubot 7:6). While it is undoubtedly easier to put on a hat than it is to move to another country, women’s head covering has ironically become an identifier of religious commitment among Orthodox Jews, at least in America. ↩
- Tell your parents you’re going to become a rodeo clown and see how that works. ↩
- In fact one reason why I have not made an official announcement until now – and have not networked extensively – is that I wanted to do things “the right way,” first by informing by board, then by announcing to the shul over Shabbat, followed by a shul email blast. I felt that out of respect to the synagogue and those who have supported me that they ought to have heard it from me directly before hearing second or third hand. ↩
- Given that nothing I would want to do would be financially lucrative, my intent in applying to PhD programs was to look for programs where I could enjoy the process as much as possible. This understandably limited my options, but I was of the mindset that if a program would not be compatible then it would be a waste of my time and theirs to pursue a degree in that institution. I have not yet looked into PhD programs in Israel, though it might be a possibility. ↩
- Job descriptions are either implicit or explicit in this requirement, and others may discriminate without noting so in their job description. Regardless of the legalities of this practice, I cannot imagine anyone jeopardizing their professional rabbinic career by suing a shul over discrimination.
There’s another factor I want to mention, not significant enough to make the body but ironic enough for to merit a footnote. Many “Modern Orthodox” synagogues require their Rabbi be an avowed “Zionist.” In my own shul I made a conscious decision not to discuss Israeli politics (we did discuss halakhah pertaining to Israel) for three reasons: 1. I have no particular expertise in Israeli politics such that my opinion is no better than anyone else’s. Furthermore, I respect my synagogue and audiences enough not to preach on topics I do not understand. 2. The Stanton St. Shul is wonderfully diverse and I felt it was more important for people to feel religiously comfortable in the shul than it was to risk alienating people over politics. 3. I wanted to impress on the community that living in New York none of us were going to live with the consequences of any decisions made by the Israeli government. We are not serving in the army nor are we facing barrages of rocket attacks. People will still have their opinions, but I am extremely wary of telling other people what to do lacking my own skin in the game.
In the Stanton St. Shul, this approach is greatly appreciated, but I have found that other Modern Orthodox synagogues specifically want a Rabbi who is more vocally “pro-Israel” – at least as how they define it. Thus, it turns out that one small factor in my making Aliyah is that I am simply not Zionistic enough for the American rabbinate. ↩