According to its mission statement, “Yeshiva University is the world’s premier Jewish institution for higher education. Rooted in Jewish thought and tradition, it sits at the educational, spiritual and intellectual epicenter of a robust global movement that is dedicated to advancing the moral and material betterment of the Jewish community and broader society, in the service of God.”
Yeshiva sits firmly in the center of the Modern Orthodox world, thus to the right of Liberal – or Reform – and Conservative Judaism but to the left of ultra-Orthodox Judaism.
Accordingly, when it comes to Jewish law and tradition, Yeshiva University stands against many of the modern, liberalizing trends that have dominated both Liberal and Conservative Judaism.
For the record, “Conservative Judaism” is not “conservative” in the sense of being morally and socially conservative. Instead, it leans left socially and culturally while trying to “conserve” certain Jewish traditions.
So, while Liberal and Conservative seminaries ordain women to the rabbinate, Yeshiva University does not. And while Liberal and Conservative Judaism recognize same-sex “marriage” and even ordain LGBTQ+ rabbis, Yeshiva University, being Modern Orthodox, does not.
In that same spirit, Yeshiva University has refused to give official recognition to LGBTQ+ student groups, since traditional Judaism does not affirm homosexual practice or homosexual relationships. The subject is hardly debatable.
But that has not stopped Y.U. students and grads who identify as LGBTQ+ from pressing the issue, to the point that, in September 2019,
“More than 100 people marched through the streets of Washington Heights to the Yeshiva University campus Sunday afternoon to advocate for LGBT students at the Orthodox institution. Demanding resources for LGBT students, inclusivity trainings for resident advisers and staff, and to be allowed to form a Gay/Straight Alliance club, the student-led group marched from Bennett Park to the school’s men’s campus on 185th Street where they chanted, ‘We, too, are YU,’ in front of the school’s library while waving rainbow flags.”
Then, in April 2021, two former and two current Y.U. students at the time filed a lawsuit against the school, arguing that “not allowing such a group to be officially recognized alongside the 116 other student clubs is discriminatory and violates New York’s human rights law,” the New York Post reported at the time.
Last month, in June 2022, the court ruled in favor of the students and grads, saying that the school must recognize the LGBTQ club.
In the eyes of the students, it is not a contradiction to be gay and Modern Orthodox at the same time. For them, this is a matter of feeling safe and included rather than marginalized and excluded. This is a matter of being twenty-first century Jews.
As expressed by Bina Davidson, who was co-president of the Y.U. Pride Alliance until she graduated earlier this year, “This fight has been going on for so many years, and so many students have dedicated their student life at Y.U. to making it a safe place, but no matter what we do it seems like Y.U. doesn’t want to listen to us.”
But here’s the thing. This is a Modern Orthodox school, serving over 5,500 students each year. It does seek to be faithful to many aspects of historic Jewish teaching, which is quite unambiguous when it comes to homosexual practice.
And while Y.U., as a Modern Orthodox school rather than an ultra-Orthodox school, would be less rigid and traditional than the most right-wing branches of Judaism, it is still Orthodox. That means that things like Sabbath and dietary laws are firmly upheld, along with traditional Jewish sexual morality.
That also means that students who decide to attend Y.U. (which offers many different degrees, from rabbinical ordination to accounting and psychology) know where they are going. This is not Hebrew Union College (which is Liberal) or the Jewish Theological Seminary (which is Conservative) or the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (which is not religiously affiliated). This is Y.U., a Modern Orthodox institution founded on Modern Orthodox principles. No mystery here at all.
If you don’t like the rules, then go somewhere else. No one is forcing anyone to attend this school, especially since there is an endless number of LGBTQ-affirming schools throughout the country that do not hold to traditional religious values (plus some in Israel too), not to mention some Jewish institutions that are not traditional either. Why go here? Or, even if you feel it’s the best school for you for academic reasons, why expect the school to give formal recognition to your gayness?
According to what Justice Lynn Kotler of State Supreme Court in Manhattan told the New York Times, however, “the case was simple: Yeshiva’s own charter made it clear that the school was not a religious corporation.”
In response, Y.U. spokesman Hanan Eisenman told the Times, “Any ruling that Yeshiva is not religious is obviously wrong. As our name indicates, Yeshiva University was founded to instill Torah values in
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