Title: The Search Committee
Author: Marc Angel
Publisher: Urim Fiction
“Members of the search committee You asked me to respond to three questions, and I will do so … to avoid the appearance of being uncooperative. My husband, too, objects to your impertinence in summoning me Number one: do I want my husband to be rosh yeshiva?”
These are the opening remarks of Rebbetzin Dena Grossman, whose husband is fighting to become the biological heir to Yeshivas Lita, a prominent American yeshiva, upon the passing of his father, the former rosh yeshiva.
Fashioned on the European model, Yeshivas Lita is on the brink of a breakdown as two polar-opposite factions of the rosh yeshiva selection board envision a very different future for the institution. The jarring realization for readers of The Search Committee is that the rebbetzin is just one of many conflicting voices debating the appointment of her father-in-law’s acclaimed baal teshuva student rather than her husband, son of the venerated but deceased yeshiva head. The late rosh yeshiva did not leave a written will declaring his choice for his successor. He had only verbalized his preference that David Mercado be his heir upon his petira.
Appointing a new rosh yeshiva based on that off the cuff remark is at the bottom of to the search committee’s divisiveness.
How does the bereaved daughter-in-law but loyal wife defend the appointment of her husband, the biological heir of his father? She points out that “among our circle of friends it has always been an unstated assumption that my husband would become the rosh yeshiva.” She adds that her father had arranged her shidduch to whom he understood would be the future rosh yeshiva, so that he, her father, could realize his dream of social prominence. She then asserts that her dreams of social standing should not be destroyed by a “mere” baal teshuva, stellar IQ and admirable character notwithstanding. After all, his “disgrace” of a wife, a convert to Judaism, doesn’t cover her hair!
David Mercado’s rocketing rise to prominence as the yeshiva’s premier student is no small matter. His supporters agree with his vision of an American-style yeshiva based on the ever-evolving social and intellectual sophistication of post-Shoah Orthodoxy.
That vision could conceivably offset the tragedy of a hunched-over, physically unfit student body learning in an environment that decries the fresh air and exercise recommended by the Rambam; doomed to fail shidduchim that take advantage of trusting naifs; and a growing social gap among wealthy yeshiva supporters and those who drain off their funds as a “mitzvah.” Mercado’s supporters and David himself cite his departure from a promising future within secular society and his entrance to halachic Jewish life – predicated on his reaction to reading The Kuzari – as one of his many merits for becoming a leader of Yeshivat Lita.
Mercado mentions the precious hours he’d spent in learning with the former rosh yeshiva who had seen in his student an ilui with excellent leadership skills. The recollection, offset by Mercado’s memory of motzi shem ra and onaat devarim from the rosh yeshiva’s son, illustrates the search committee’s dilemma. The aspiring rosh yeshiva had attempted to seal his glorious future with public insults over time, calling heir-apparent Mercado a phony whose life-change was based on a Sefardi sefer, among other slurs.
“I can’t say I’m surprised by the outcome of your deliberations,” David Mercado eventually announces to the search committee members. You, the reader, might be, after reading this phenomenal book that brings to the fore the gritty, real-life debates over the future of American Jewry’s advanced Torah study.