Letter to the Editor: Judah Wolkenfeld
To the Editor and the YU Community:
Re “From the Wilf Student Leadership: A Response to the Recent Statement” (March 26), “A Positive Development but the Wrong Solution” (March 25), and “The Speech that Led to Silence” (February 18):
I can imagine that feeling silenced is unpleasant. That feeling that your voice is not worthy of being heard is degrading. But I’d argue that one thing is worse than being silenced: having to then sit back and allow someone else to inaccurately portray your views.
Over the past couple of months at Yeshiva University, the controversy over Klein@9 has, unfortunately, become one of the hottest debates on campus. If you’ve followed only from the internet, reading recent Commentator or Observer articles, or have visited only certain parts of campus, you’d be led to believe that the debate pits the YU administration against the entirety of the student body, the latter collectively fighting for change against the former.
Let me dispel that notion. There is quite a strong contingency of students at YU that are against what happened at Klein@9 that Shabbos. There are those who feel that women speaking at a minyan is inappropriate at the least and against halakhah at most, those who don’t appreciate having their yeshiva experience diminished by an environment that allows practices that other yeshivos wouldn’t dream of, and those who actually support the original response from the RIETS administration. These sentiments are not coming solely from the “yeshivish” contingent among us, but actually also from those who identify as Modern Orthodox. If you’d believe it, some in the Modern Orthodox community here don’t believe that the change being demanded falls in line with Modern Orthodox hashkafa.
For one reason or another, though, such student opinions have been unexpressed. Instead, they’ve been represented by pieces that overwhelmingly take another side in this controversy. However, as someone who feels the way I’ve just described, allow me to now respond to this public one-sidedness with a different perspective.
This perspective disputes the request that “the chosen path within those [established halakhic] parameters [set by our authorities] must be left to the students … [to] have the freedom to grapple with and chart our own communal norms,” to quote from the recent statement by student leaders, no matter how many Wilf student leaders endorse it. Instead, it willingly and explicitly follows those halakhic parameters set by our religious authorities, as it does in every other aspect of life. This perspective contests Dean of Students Chaim Nissel’s recent statement not because the solution was insufficient, but because it usurps the religious authority of RIETS and its roshei yeshiva, placing it dangerously instead in the hands of the Office of Student Life; and because it unacceptably establishes Yeshiva as a laboratory for synthesis instead of one in line with all traditional yeshivos, something Rav Soloveitchik was notably opposed to. This perspective strongly rejects the assertion that “the decision to prevent women from speaking after the minyan stems … from a patriarchal community mindset encouraged by years of halachically unfounded cultural norms”, as Lilly Gelman put it, and instead stands in awe and appreciation of the profundity and magnificence of our mesorah and its halakhic norms. This perspective genuinely believes that in a religion predicated on emes and kavod, accusations of sexism are inappropriate, and, if anything, illustrate a lack of comprehension of what Torah is about. This perspective is quite embarrassed to allow itself to be represented by student leaders who claim to support all student opinions, but simultaneously release statements which it vehemently opposes. This perspective understands that you may disagree, but this perspective is proud to stand on the shoulders of current and past gedolim, of people much greater than we, and to defend the ground those people have stood on.
And although this perspective will probably remain quiet and un-extraordinary, and will likely be overridden by a much louder and trendier one, this perspective will no longer accept not being accurately recognized as part of the student conversation.
Judah Wolkenfeld, Sy Syms School of Business ‘20