NEW YORK (JTA) — Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Chicago is set to succeed Rabbi Avi Weiss next year at the helm of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, the liberal Orthodox rabbinical school founded by Weiss, JTA has learned.
Lopatin is the spiritual leader of Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, a high-profile Modern Orthodox synagogue in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago that counts Mayor Rahm Emanuel among its occasional congregants. A former Rhodes Scholar, Truman Scholar and Wexner Fellow, Lopatin was ordained by the late Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik of the Brisk yeshiva in Chicago and by Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, or RIETS. He also has been listed on Newsweek’s list of America’s 50 top rabbis.
Weiss’ school was launched in 1999 as a more liberal alternative to YU’s rabbinical school and has encountered some opposition among more conservative elements in the Orthodox world. Weiss ignited a furor in those circles — and applause in many liberal Orthodox ones — when in 2010 he conferred rabbinic ordination on a woman, Sara Hurwitz, who was given the title "rabba" (female for "rabbi"). Several years ago, the New York-based Chovevei moved from Manhattan to the Riverdale section of the Bronx, where Weiss leads a Modern Orthodox congregation, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.
"We at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School (YCT) believe that the future of Orthodoxy depends on our becoming a movement that expands outward non-dogmatically and cooperatively to encompass the needs of the larger Jewish community and the world," the school says on its website. "For this vision to succeed, we require a new breed of leaders — rabbis who are open, non-judgmental, knowledgeable, empathetic, and eager to transform Orthodoxy into a movement that meaningfully and respectfully interacts with all Jews, regardless of affiliation, commitment, or background."
That would be an apt description of Lopatin’s approach to Jewish life, say those familiar with his 18-year tenure at Anshe Sholom.
Under Lopatin’s stewardship, the synagogue has "become really cutting-edge in progressive approaches to Orthodox tradition while remaining firmly Orthodox," Rabbi Paul Saiger, the president of Lopatin’s shul, told JTA. "I moved to the community because he was the rabbi and he was revitalizing the congregation. He helped build a community day school, an eruv, a mikvah."
Reached by telephone, Weiss said that Lopatin’s appointment wasn’t official yet, and Lopatin told JTA that an announcement would be premature, but the succession plan already has been shared with insiders at YCT, and Lopatin told his Chicago congregation about a month ago that he’d be stepping down in June 2013.
Lopatin originally had been slated to leave Chicago two years ago and immigrate to Israel, where he was to lead a new community in the Negev Desert comprised in part of new immigrants from his congregation. But those plans were canceled when Lopatin’s young daughter Cara became seriously ill and the family decided to stay in the United States to avoid disrupting her treatment.