Which candidate will Yeshivas Lita, an institution of advanced talmudic learning here, choose as its new leader: the elderly and learned son/grandson of the school’s previous roshei yeshiva, or the younger and more charismatic faculty member who has no family ties to the yeshiva?
To find out, you’ll have to read “The Search Committee.”
That’s the new novel, the first, by Rabbi Marc Angel, emeritus spiritual leader of Congregation Shearith Israel on the Upper West Side, who has written or edited 25 previous books, served as a leading voice of Sephardic Jewry in this country for a generation and recently emerged as an outspoken critic of what he sees as “authoritarian” influences in his Modern Orthodox community.
“The Search Committee,” to be released next month by Jerusalem-based Urim Publications, presents in fictional form the real issues that concern Rabbi Angel. Rav Shimshon Grossman is a scholarly but autocratic Talmud teacher at fictitious Yeshivas Lita. Upon the death of his father, the only competition for the position of rosh yeshiva, or dean, is Rav David Mercado, Rav Grossman’s rabbinic colleague who has a secular background and a college education. A search committee will choose between the two rabbis.
“What’s really at stake is who’s in control,” which philosophy of Jewish life will take the yeshiva’s reins, Rabbi Angel says.
His book is the verbatim proceedings before the lay-led search committee, a week’s worth of the statements by the two rabbis, their wives, and other interested parties. Each statement reflects a position espoused by actual leaders of Orthodox Jewry, traditionalists who would favor Rav Grossman because of his prestigious genealogy and his fealty to established Jewish leadership, and innovators who would favor Rav Mercado’s openness to change and personal connection with his students.
Rabbi Angel’s novel approach to his topic reinforces the work he has done as founder-director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals (www.jewishideas.org) and as co-founder of a new, alternative rabbinic organization, the Rabbinic Fellowship. His goal: “an Orthodoxy that respects diversity of opinion, that is moderate, that is inclusive.”
His wife, Gilda, suggested a few years ago that he needed a different, less-academic way to reach like-minded people. “The Search Committee” was born. “I always wanted to be a novelist,” says the rabbi, who has a master’s degree in English literature from City College.