May 23, 2024
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It’s Time to Fix a 52-Year-Old Mistake

I would like to thank The Jewish Link for covering the recent ruling of the New York Supreme Court against Yeshiva University (“NY State Supreme Court: YU Must Allow LGBTQ Clubs on Campus,” June 16, 2022). I would like to share some of my thoughts regarding this disturbing, but not unexpected, development.

First, I would like to address the fact that there may be room for dispute regarding whether such clubs are, in fact, desirable. There is no question that the larger LGBTQ movement as a whole is anti-Judaism. However, it is not beyond reason that a club with an Orthodox Jewish membership and appropriate rabbinical guidance might nevertheless be beneficial. Such a club could possibly help its members to navigate the difficult personal challenge that they face, ensuring that they are able to adhere to halacha without feeling mistreated, disrespected or discriminated against. On the other hand, it may be argued (as YU does) that a student club cannot be trusted to maintain the necessary nuanced approach, and thus the Orthodox character of YU necessitates disallowing such a club.

I do not intend to take sides here on this thorny question. Rather, I wish to point out that the current court ruling is dangerous regardless of one’s views about an LGBTQ+ club. The court ruling is based on maintaining that YU is not, in fact, a Jewish institution, and so its impact extends far beyond a carefully nuanced LGBTQ+ club. A pro-intermarriage club, a Christian missionizing club or a BDS club would all be able to likewise use this ruling to argue that YU should be no different than secular universities in permitting such clubs.

Second, I would like to note that this ruling is due to a decision that was opposed by the Rav (among many others), believing it to be the mistake that, in retrospect, it in fact was. I speak of the decision in 1970 to legally change Yeshiva University into a secular university, relegating MTA and RIETS to affiliate status in order to allow them to maintain their officially Jewish status.

This connection has already been made in an article in the YU Commentator (“The Ghosts Have Become Alive: Yeshiva University and the Future of Religiously Affiliated
Higher Education in America,” May 10, 2020). Unlike the implications of that article, however, I suspect that the Rav’s concerns were not regarding a legal challenge such as this, but rather internal changes in YU (such as the fact, noted in the aforementioned article, that “Yeshiva College has expanded its admission base so that it has admitted many more students who are less committed to a complete and full Orthodox life than in other eras”). However, if my suspicions are correct, and this newest development is even beyond what the Rav was concerned about, it creates all the more reason to conclude that secularizing YU was a mistake.

As such, it seems clear that it is time (or past time) that this decision be undone, and Yeshiva University once again merged into RIETS. There will undoubtedly be legal and political challenges in doing so, but I believe that all such challenges can be overcome. (A full examination of some strategies that might be used to either overcome such challenges or to bypass them while maintaining the effective functionality of such a merge, and what role in this process might be played by the typical Jewish Link reader, is a lengthy enough discussion that I may cover it in a future piece, but not in this one.)

Third, I would like to point out that even RIETS is not entirely safe from these concerns. It is true that RIETS is officially and legally a Jewish institution, and thus this ruling will not apply to it directly. Nevertheless, because of how the split occurred in 1970 and subsequent organizational decisions, the buildings in which RIETS holds its classes, the residence halls in which the students live, and the various departments in charge of such buildings are all under the aegis of Yeshiva University rather than RIETS. This would not be a problem if all relevant departments were Orthodox (in fact if not in name) and were immune to external pressure: If these two conditions held, then the departments in question could be trusted to show proper respect and consideration for RIETS and its needs. When and where that ceases to be the case, however (such as the potential for external pressure implied by this ruling), there is a much greater danger. In such a case, Yeshiva’s legal ownership of RIETS buildings could prove a severe liability to the ability of RIETS to function as befits a yeshiva.

It should be noted, however, that this third point could be addressed with less drastic measures. Simply transferring partial or complete ownership of relevant buildings and batei midrash (either as a gift or by redirecting YU donations to instead be given to RIETS first and then paid to YU as the price of purchase) would likely be sufficient to address this issue.

Ultimately, we must face the possibility that YU’s nonsectarian status is not compatible with its role as the flagship of Modern Orthodoxy. If we are forced to choose between the two, we will need to recognize that, as financially painful as losing nonsectarian status may be, it is preferable to abandoning YU’s raison d’etre.

Yitzchak Kornbluth
Teaneck
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