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An openly gay student studying at a New York seminary has been informed just months before graduation that he will no longer be ordained as a rabbi due to his sexuality.
Daniel Atwood, a student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, revealed the news to The Jewish Week. The 27-year-old came out the first year at the school, but the school only informed him of the decision recently.
"Four years ago I came out as gay during my first year at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, and it was decided that I would receive semicha [ordination] as their first openly gay student," he said in a statement to the outlet.
"After four years of study and my completing almost all of the program's requirements, YCT decided not to give me semicha, news delivered to me only a few weeks ago, three months before my graduation, without any prior conversation on the matter," he continued.
Rabbi Dov Linzer, president of the school, sent an email to The Jewish Week saying the school accepted students regardless of sexual orientation, but not all students admitted would graduate.
"We accept all students regardless of sexual orientation, provided that they are fully committed to Orthodox halachic observance," he wrote. "There have been students in the past that did not receive semicha, each one for reasons specific to his case. Out of respect for all our students, the yeshiva does not discuss particular students and why any student may or may not be receiving semicha."
He would not address the specifics of Atwood's case, but he did note, "The yeshiva could have handled the process of informing Daniel, and coming to a timely decision, in a much better manner, and we are sorry for the hurt that was caused as a result."
Atwood recently became engaged and moved in with his partner, Judah Gavant. He had hoped to be the first out ordained rabbi graduated from the Modern Orthodox seminary.
"I always knew that being in the position that I am in would be a difficult process," he said in his statement. "I was always willing to navigate those challenges and work with YCT throughout this process. And I have always been fully committed to living my life according to Orthodox halacha [Jewish law]. At the same time, I refuse to live anything but a dignified life, something I was always transparent about, including not being closeted or secret about my Torah, my identity, my beliefs, or my relationship."
Atwood's Facebook page shows he remains a rabbinical intern at the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at New York University and that he has been active in local politics. The page makes no mention of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, and the school has not further commented on its own Facebook page.
The Jewish Week reports the school itself served as a flagship for Modern Orthodoxy for 20 years. The seminary opened as an alternative to the conservative Yeshiva University in New York. Orthodox Judaism generally frowns on homosexuality; Modern Orthodoxy is the somewhat more liberal strain of the movement.
Rabbi Asher Lopatin, president of the school when Atwood was accepted, expressed disappointment at the decision to deny ordination.
"I've never been more disappointed in Modern Orthodoxy and its institutions," he said after the news broke. "We're supposed to fear God alone, we're not supposed to fear what other Jews are going to say about it."