By: Shoshy Ciment | News  | 

Rosh Yeshiva Encourages Male Students to Leave for the Weekend in Protest of Uptown Coed Shabbaton

YU Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Eli Baruch Shulman urged students to leave the Wilf Campus this Shabbat in light of the scheduled uptown coed Shabbaton. The announcement was made publicly from the pulpit to over 100 students and rebbeim on Wednesday following the 2:30 p.m. minchah minyan in the Glueck Beit Midrash, which is typically attended by Mazer Yeshiva Program (MYP) students.

“Coed events have their place, but not in the yeshiva campus,” Rabbi Shulman remarked to The Commentator about the coed Shabbaton, following his statement in the beit midrash. “No yeshiva past or present, none of the yeshivot where you learned before, would dream of hosting a coed Shabbaton on the yeshiva grounds. Nor was it ever done in the 100-year history of this yeshiva.”

University officials and student leaders have been working for months to coordinate YU’s first coed uptown Shabbaton in nearly 40 years. According to preliminary plans, programming and women’s housing for the weekend are slated to happen near — but not on — the Wilf Campus. It is unclear whether Rabbi Shulman was aware of this when making his remarks.

According to Rabbi Shulman, this Shabbaton, which was approved by the YU Office of Student Life, is strongly opposed by all the roshei yeshiva and rebbeim. “That itself is wrong,” he said. Rabbi Shulman also mentioned that the tzniut, or modesty, of the Shabbaton is difficult to determine, and stated: “It doesn’t belong in a yeshiva.”

“I don’t think protests or petitions would be productive,” explained Rabbi Shulman. “I don’t think they would even be understood. I do think that the best way to convey our unhappiness would be to go away for this Shabbos. That would be a powerful, quiet statement.”

“I am not speaking for the other roshei yeshiva,” Rabbi Shulman added. “I would encourage everyone to speak with their rebbeim and decide how to proceed.”

Several other roshei yeshiva reportedly made negative comments regarding the coed Shabbaton in their shiurim and attempted to dissuade students from attending and partaking in programming.

“This Shabbaton is most certainly in line with the ethos of Yeshiva University and I would hope that others might see it that way too,” said Yeshiva Student Union (YSU) President Nolan Edmonson (YC ’19), who was instrumental in organizing the Shabbaton. “The beauty of our university is that we are able to engage in the free exchange of ideas and challenge each other while respectfully disagreeing.”

Edmonson added that the manner in which Rabbi Shulman expressed his opinion regarding the Shabbaton was “inappropriate and certainly uncalled for,” though he respects the rabbi’s right to voice his thoughts.

Other students were upset with this announcement as well. “It is disrespectful for a respected leader of this institution to condemn an initiative in this way,” said Chasya Klafter (SCW ’19). “Statements like these suggest an underlying issue: that YU’s roshei yeshiva are neglecting half of YU’s students.”

Torah Activities Council (TAC) Vice President of Speakers Yael Blau (SCW ’19) was also upset, though she acknowledged that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. She stated: “I was very upset to hear about this announcement. I understand that everyone is entitled to their own opinions and if an individual was asking a personal question and the rabbi responded in this way, I would not have had the same reaction. However, to announce that all men should leave because of a coed Shabbaton, one that is sponsored by this very institution, is deeply painful. Such a statement publicly ostracizes a large portion of our community, both the women who plan on attending as well as the men who choose to stay in.”

Scheduled for the uptown Shabbaton were activities such as open beit midrash time in the Shenk Community Shul, a YU-affiliated synagogue located one block from the Wilf Campus, games in the Schottenstein Lounge located in the Shenk building and chaburot led by Noah Marlowe (YC ’19) and Yoanna Rofeh, the wife of Isaac Breuer College Mashgiach Ruchani Rabbi Beny Rofeh.

“Coed events are not necessarily problematic in themselves, but it is not appropriate in a yeshiva,” remarked Zaki Dayan (YC ’20), an MYP student who has been in Rabbi Shulman’s shiur for 1.5 years and planned on leaving for Shabbat before he heard Rabbi Shulman’s announcement. “Even if I had not planned on leaving, after hearing Rebbi’s opinion and the fact that no other yeshiva past or present would consider this appropriate, I would have left too.”

Coed Shabbatons are frequently held throughout the semester on the Beren Campus in midtown Manhattan.

Rabbi Shulman, who holds the Rabbi Henry H. Guterman chair in Talmud, also serves as rabbi of the Brooklyn-based Young Israel of Midwood. He previously studied at the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem and Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, New Jersey.

“Yeshiva is a makom kadosh,” Rabbi Shulman expressed. “Boys and girls should date, but they don’t have to date in the beis midrash.”

YU’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs, the YU Office of Student Life, Dean of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) Rabbi Menachem Penner and President Ari Berman declined to comment on the matter. The Commentator also reached out to several YU roshei yeshiva, all of whom declined to comment.


Photo Caption: Glueck Beit Midrash
Photo Credit: YU News

This article has been updated since it was originally published.