Rabbi Dov Weiss, an alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program, is the Director of Admissions of Yeshiva Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. He is also pursuing a PhD in Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School.  He can be reached at dyweiss@aol.com.

Over the last ten years, I have had the distinct privilege of working with one of the greatest leaders of our day to help create and develop a, heretofore non-existent, progressive and open Orthodox Rabbinic School – Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. What has made this experience even more special is that this “leader” also happens to be my father, Rabbi Avi Weiss.

Even before the Yeshiva opened in 2000, we faced numerous hurdles. We were told by mainstream Orthodox leaders – our colleagues and friends – that we would have no following, that students would not come, or that our ideas were too forward-thinking for contemporary Orthodoxy. As a fourth-year rabbinical student at Yeshiva University, I feared moving forward. Would we succeed? What would happen to our professional and personal relationships with our colleagues who did not support us? How would I deal with all the opposition? 

My father, however, remained undeterred. He repeatedly stressed a leadership principle which has helped guide the YCT staff in the most difficult moments. Leadership is not about winning a popularity contest. It is about affecting serious change. To dramatize the point, my father often cited an encounter he had with a Rebbe of his who, forty years ago, once blessed him that he should have “many detractors.” My father, dumbfounded, told his Rebbe that he wanted a blessing and not a curse!? The Rebbe responded that indeed this was, counter-intuitively, a blessing. He explained that the only way a person can be loved by everyone is by doing absolutely nothing! A leader who affects serious change and who takes risks will most likely “stir the pot” and bring about serious opposition.

I think of my father’s leadership principle often. Though YCT has succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, we have also encountered intense criticism from the more conservative elements of the Orthodox community. While I certainly hope that in the future my public decisions will engender substantive changes without the attendant intense opposition, I now understand that this is highly unlikely. Leadership is about adopting positions not because they are popular, but because they are the right ones to make.