By: Rivka Reiter | Opinions  | 

A Modest Proposal to Ban Women from Wilf Campus

Much like the author of a recent article for The Observer, I identify as a feminist. And, like her, I firmly believe that Yeshiva University is, first and foremost, a yeshiva that believes in Torah UMadda, the synthesis of Torah principles and valuable secular knowledge. In her article, the author states that a good first step towards minimizing distractions and preserving the yeshiva atmosphere is maintaining the status quo of not allowing women to use the Wilf campus pool, explaining that it increases the chances for our boys to see immodesty. However, I must respectfully disagree.

Instead, we should ban women and girls from all the Wilf facilities.

Like I said, I’m a feminist. And the author’s story of a time she saw a girl in a tank top and leggings in the men’s cafeteria is absolutely horrifying, and clearly just the tip of the iceberg. Her anecdotal evidence shows us the risk that we are putting our men in every day we intentionally allow girls into their lounges, their libraries, and their classrooms. I shudder to think what would happen if we allowed the girls to attend the sacred Thursday night parties or, even worse, permitted them to move uptown.

This is a slippery slope and while we unfortunately can’t stop community members from crossing the Yeshiva University 185th Street plaza, we have to try. I know that the undergraduate girls pay more in tuition and housing than the undergraduate men, but they maintain access to the most crucial of on-campus facilities: an ice machine, fresh sushi, and proximity to one of the world’s largest department stores. Ask any Stern girl—Dunkin’ Donuts in the caf is far more important than a pool, a multi-story library, or a theater.

We have graduate schools on the Wilf campus that are full of girls, and that can’t be helped—to mine and others’ dismay—but we are halakhically mandated to take further steps towards gender separation for the sake of our men. An entire third of our undergraduate clubs are co-ed, and we have to nip this in the bud before more of our clubs are tainted.

And before you start to challenge the idea that modesty isn’t inherent to Yeshiva University, that in 1970, YU left the title of “yeshiva” behind to officially become a secular university for purposes of state and federal funding, I oblige you to remember that our faculty are hired with this exact goal in mind. For a hundred years Yeshiva University has hired those with the same moral code as them, not once bringing in teachers or administrators of low caliber or staff who portray YU as anything but the flagship institution of the Modern Orthodox world.

Wait a minute, you, the reader, are saying. Of course we believe in co-ed events! That’s why we regularly bring men down to the girls’ school for Shabbat! Remember that the controlled environment of a co-ed shabbaton is a unique situation, unlike the unsupervised library, cafeteria, and classroom. The girls on the shabbatons are under strict orders not to bring the men to impropriety, and, because we know that all undergraduate females have the capacity to be temptresses, all the Stern girls are required to sign contracts that they will not enter the hotel rooms, as this is the only way to stop them. Written contracts are binding, obviously, which is why our students have such strong academic integrity.

You, dear reader, might be getting upset right now. That’s why I’d like to think that we can eventually consider proposing the reopening of certain facilities on the Washington Heights campus to women. Once the girls have stopped wearing jeans in their dorm buildings and are learning to comply with halakha, amenities such as restrooms and parts of the fourth floor of the library can be opened to them on a trial basis. Maybe we’ll even fix the shuttle app for them so they can use it, though that would be a stretch.

I’m a feminist. So you can trust me when I tell you that separate but equal is the only way to go, and is always successful. The Jewish value of modesty is, as the author stated, crucial. In her words, “we are responsible for preserving a Yeshiva atmosphere, and we cannot allow this Yeshiva membrane to be permeated by setting up inappropriate situations that could otherwise be avoided.” And I would go so far as to say that this value, this responsibility, is far more critical than any other Torah commandment, such as gemilut chasadim (the giving of loving-kindness), kivush hayetzer (mastering one’s impulses), or kavod habriyot (honoring God’s creations). We must keep girls away from the men’s campus for the preservation of their Torah-true experience, no matter the cost.