By: Kira Paley  | 

Working Within the System

Yeshiva University’s purpose, according to its mission statement, is to “promote a Jewish community that champions Torah Umadda.” The statement, though, does not clarify what it means by “Torah Umadda,” and this openness to interpretation leaves students qualifying the statement for themselves. For some, it may mean having to fulfill Judaic Studies requirements in addition to General Studies requirements. For others, perhaps it means being able to participate in team sports without jeopardizing their adherence to Halacha. Maybe some students interpret “Torah Umadda” ideologically; combining college education and environment with Modern Orthodox values. It could ,of course, mean all of these things to one individual and none of these things to another.

President Richard Joel, at his final Beren Campus town hall meeting, iterated, or technically reiterated, that “in the center of uptown is a classic litivish yeshiva.” For many students, this is hard to forget. Yeshiva University is often deemed sexist for its focus on the fact that it is partly a traditional yeshiva, thereby excluding female students from going to certain places on campus. Namely, the pool that’s located on the Wilf campus, which is only accessible to male students.

If the Wilf campus is a traditional litivish yeshiva, then Torah Umadda should mean struggling with the tension inherent in the nature of Modern Orthodoxy: trying to exist as as an individual or a university in the secular world while adhering to a set of values and to a Halachic system. In this way, YU exemplifies Modern Orthodoxy in that not only does it represent it on a microcosmic level, but it also shares its struggle of trying to satisfy everyone in the community’s needs while working within in a system. Unfortunately, though, the satisfaction of one group often comes with the dissatisfaction of another.

When you enroll in Yeshiva University, it is important to realize that just as religious movements are imperfect, so are schools that represent them.


The controversy that is the notion of women using the Wilf pool is an example of this. If YU was to allow women to use the pool, which it has tried in the past, perhaps students living in Rubin, where the pool is located, would feel halachically uncomfortable with the idea of women in bathing suits in their dorm. This is even without bringing Roshei Yeshiva into the picture. Though when the opposite is true, as it is now, and women aren’t allowed to use the pool, female students feel it is unjust that male students have access to facilities to which they do not. It is impossible for all parties to be satisfied, so the question of whose needs are more important becomes the forefront of the issue.

What is frustrating about the pool case, though, is that I don’t believe that every college student in America has access to a pool; being able to go swimming at one’s leisure does not necessarily legitimize a person’s college experience. Sure, perhaps it is unfair if at one university different students have different rights based on their gender, but students who attend YU need to realize that the school they attend is not like other schools. It embodies a movement in which ,at the end of the day, there is deep-rooted difference between genders.

When you enroll in Yeshiva University, it is important to realize that just as religious movements are imperfect, so are schools that represent them. YU is successful in many aspects of its embodiment of Modern Orthodoxy; perhaps even the fact that a college exists where students theoretically don’t need to sacrifice religion for education is representative of its success. However, though religion is not necessarily being sacrificed, there are other aspects of education and college life in general which may need to be sacrificed in order for one to be content at YU.

The school recently ran an ad campaign claiming that YU students can “sacrifice nothing” and “achieve everything” at YU. This is dishonest in that both YU as a school and its students make sacrifices, and need to in order for YU to succeed in its ultimate goal. YU sacrifices the needs of some of its students for the needs of others; it is impossible to please everyone, especially while working within a halachic and Modern Orthodox value system. Perhaps certain groups’ needs are placed at the top of the hierarchy too often, but I don’t think that fighting for the right to use a pool is a successful way to argue for the rights of those whose needs are made secondary.

YU students make their own personal sacrifices. I sacrifice my desire for certain classes or majors while remembering that I go to a small school. Though I’m frustrated by the lack of students to create a particular major, I am appreciative of the fact that because my school is small, I can participate in endless extracurriculars. Other student’s sacrifices can manifest themselves in religious or gender-related areas.

I am not saying that certain campus groups should be silenced or should stop advocating for issues they deem important. But like students’ needs are sometimes placed on a hierarchy, issues should be placed on a similar hierarchy. While it might feel good to outwardly protest a known issue, quiet work to make important changes is more productive. Those who try to make changes in order to make a statement delegitimize those who try to make changes because they truly want to work within the system and improve the status quo.

It is easy to get angry, not only at YU, but at life in general. Instead of spending three or four years being angry at your institution, realize that YU is unique in that it is a microcosm of Modern Orthodoxy, and perhaps also of the world at large. Appreciate its uniqueness and make the conscious choice to make effective, worthwhile changes by learning to work within the system, or realize that life and it’s religious movements are unfair, and learn to make sacrifices.