President Carter, Yeshiva University and Our Community: Having a Yeshiva which is a University
Guest post by R. Michael J. Broyde
Rabbi Michael Broyde is a law professor at Emory University, was the founding rabbi of the Young Israel in Atlanta and is a dayan in the Beth Din of America. For the sake of transparency, he notes that he graduated from Yeshiva University or its affiliates four times (MTA, YC, and RIETS twice), and both he and President Carter are currently professors at Emory University. Neither of these institutions nor the Beth Din of America necessarily agree with these thoughts. This brief piece was originally written for the RCA internal listserv in response to some who expressed dismay over Yeshiva University’s decision in this matter.
President Jimmy Carter will be speaking at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law and a number of Yeshiva alumni are upset. President Carter is considered by many to be anti-Israel and to have seriously damaged Israel in the world of international politics. They view his invitation by a journal published by students of Yeshiva’s law school as contradicting the mission of a Jewish university, of Yeshiva University. Here is why I disagree.
If we want a Yeshiva which is a University, it is because we accept that there will be academic freedom and civil discourse within the Yeshiva which is a University, and even more so within the more secular parts of the University.
We can seek to run a purer yeshiva only, in which the medical school and the law school and even the whole structure of the University not only complies with the basic expectations of negative halakhah (the food is kosher and there are no classes on Shabbat) but is part and parcel of the Orthodox experience. Such an institution would have no academic freedom. Instead, the ideology of the University would be directed and controlled by the religious mission of the institution, such as occurs at, for example, Herzog College and Yeshivat Har Eztion.
I have no reason to think that such a program will be a success as a University and one can certainly doubt that it will produce a medical school as great as Einstein, or a law school as good as Cardozo aspires to be. To be honest, I am not even sure how much I would like such a yeshiva. Ideological rigidity never spoke to my soul, although I recognize very much that RIETS has much more of an obligation to patrol the boundaries of Orthodoxy than Einstein does.
Rather, the basic balance of any yeshiva which is a university is that – particularly in the more secular graduate programs off the two main campuses – people are entitled to express their own ideologies and to advocate ideas (both as faculty members and as students) that are contrary to the mission, tone and tenor of the university. We who are loyal fans of the central mission of YU see these ideas as challenges to which we should respond and, absent this freedom, would not otherwise encounter.
Such is not only the bedi’eved life of a yeshiva which is a university but is part of the le-chatchilah mission of such a magnificent institution. President Joel’s response (below) – that not everything our faculty or students say or do is part of the YU mission but we are not going to censor them – is the right reply to a student group honoring a President of the United States whose policies we do not agree with.
Of course, I recognize that on the two main college campuses – where Orthodox Judaism is grown and nurtured and where the yeshiva resides – must have a different balance and tone. That is part of the magic that is a yeshiva which is a university. To be honest, I am not sure exactly what the balance is on the main college campuses of YC and Stern because the Orthodox boundaries are complex – but even recognizing that those balances are different than at the graduate schools is part of the complex equation.
In response to those who call for an economic boycott of YU to punish it for its stand on this issue, I, for one, will donate more to YU in light of reasoned response from its President and I encourage others to do the same. YU is the beacon of the ideal in our community. Of course it is not perfect (what is?) but it would be a less perfect an institution, and not a more perfect one, if the administration of Yeshiva University interfered with the academic freedom of a Cardozo Law student group functioning in its own name to honor a former President of the United States.
President Richard M. Joel’s Statement in Response to Student Journal of Conflict Resolution Advocate for Peace Award Selection
The student-run Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution has invited former United States President Jimmy Carter to receive its Advocate for Peace Award. President Carter’s invitation to Cardozo represents solely the initiative of this student journal, not of Yeshiva University or the Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School. The university recognizes the breadth of impassioned feelings engendered by this appearance, and is mindful of the diversity of expressed opinions on the matter.
At the core of Yeshiva University’s expressed mission and sacred mandate stands an unwavering and unapologetic commitment to the legitimacy, safety, and security of the State of Israel. Israel remains not just a critical, but an essential pillar of our institutional and communal ethos. We’ve built a campus in Israel; our students study there in droves; our alumni make aliyah by the thousands; all of our schools engage in collaborative programs with Israeli institutions. Both literally and emblematically, Yeshiva University proudly flies the degel Yisrael, the Flag of the State of Israel, both on our campuses and in our hearts.
While he has been properly lauded for his role in the Camp David Accords of 1978, I strongly disagree with many of President Carter’s statements and actions in recent years which have mischaracterized the Middle East conflict and have served to alienate those of us who care about Israel. President Carter’s presence at Cardozo in no way represents a university position on his views, nor does it indicate the slightest change in our steadfastly pro-Israel stance.
That said, Yeshiva University both celebrates and takes seriously its obligation as a university to thrive as a free marketplace of ideas, while remaining committed to its unique mission as a proud Jewish university.
Richard M. Joel
President and Bravmann Family University Professor