The Young Israel of New Rochelle welcomed Rabbi Dr. Gil Perl as their scholar-in-residence for Shabbat Behar-Bechukotai, May 11-12. He is currently the head of school of the Modern Orthodox Kohelet Yeshiva in Merion Station, Pennsylvania, and the chief academic officer of the Kohelet Foundation.
Rabbi Perl’s first presentation, to the hashkama minyan, was titled “Yovel, Family and the Power of Talmud Torah.” With the rise of modern Jewish settlement in pre-state Israel in 1881, it was necessary to apply biblical law to modern life. Many believed that the increased Torah study during the additional year off, following the seventh Shemita year of each Yovel cycle, would protect the land. In 1883, the first Yovel in modern Israeli history occurred. Rabbi Berlin broke with many mainstream rabbis and suggested the heter mechira that allows the temporary sale of farmland during Yovel rather than leaving the land fallow.
The main minyan learned about “Egalitarianism, Hedgehogs and the Future of Modern Orthodoxy.” His intriguing use of “hedgehogs” in the title was based on an essay by Isaiah Berlin. Successful “foxes” know a little about lots of subjects while “hedgehogs” are experts in their chosen fields. He advocated for taking a “hedgehog” approach to Modern Orthodoxy. After highlighting the small percentage Jews represent in the world’s population, and the even smaller numbers for Orthodoxy, Rabbi Perl delineated the main streams of Orthodoxy. Chasidism champions d’veykut (piety), Chabad leads in kiruv, the dati leumi fosters religious life in Israel and the yeshiva world stresses Torah study. He then challenged the congregants assembled to name the focus of Modern Orthodoxy. Some view the biggest challenge for Modern Orthodoxy to be the push for egalitarianism or finding an acceptable niche for women in the community. Perl suggested that perhaps a focus on being a light unto the nations (ohr lagoyim) should be the goal. Having witnessed the passion of students in their youth, he is concerned that the unified future of Modern Orthodoxy can be lost without a strong identifiable focus.
Continuing his discussion of the life of the Netziv in an afternoon session, Perl spoke of “What Was the Rosh Yeshiva Reading? Intellectual Openness in the Work of the Netziv.” During his doctoral research, he discovered that the famed rabbi could actually have been a closet maskil, of the Enlightenment movement of his generation. He produced a number of writings that made reference to earlier maskilim and other “banned” rabbis and even non-Jewish leaders and thinkers. Perl suggested that the best rabbinic leaders should have an understanding of the world in order to understand and promote their religious teachings.
Turning to Perl’s final session, “Educating Moshe: Ancient Insight for Modern Parents,” Perl contrasted Avraham as a knight of faith with Moshe as a knight of doubt. Some commentators view God’s anger as resulting in Moshe’s loss of leading the Mishkan, or his loss of crossing from Jordan into Eretz Yisrael. Others perceive that Moshe’s self-doubt of his abilities prevented him from assuming full leadership. Using his background as an educator, Perl suggested that the incidents of Moshe’s life were parallel to a parent raising a child. While parents may appear angry at times, and children may doubt their abilities, these are actually common building steps in guiding and teaching one’s young.
After completing his undergraduate education at the University of Pennsylvania and graduate study at Harvard University, Rabbi Perl received ordination from Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. In addition to several terms as an instructor at Yeshiva University, he also served as associate head of school of Yeshiva University High School for Boys (MTA). As an educator, Rabbi Perl served seven years as principal of the Margolin Yeshiva of the South in Memphis, Tennessee, before assuming his dual roles at Kohelet. He was also chosen as professor of the year while on the faculty of Yeshiva University.
By Judy Berger