By: CJ Wiesenfeld | Opinions  | 

Show Some Respect - Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

This past Wednesday, Rabbi Eli Baruch Shulman, YU rosh yeshiva and magid shiur, shared his views on the upcoming uptown coed Shabbaton. I myself was not present when the statements were made, and was first made aware of them when I overheard a conversation in the elevator. I didn’t think much of it at the time. A rosh yeshiva had a religious opinion about an upcoming event, and wishing to share it with his students, he did.

As reported that evening by The Commentator: “Coed events have their place, but not in the yeshiva campus,” Rabbi Shulman remarked 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.”

“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.”

Fairly quotidian stuff, in my opinion.

That was not the attitude adopted by several YU student leaders, however, as demonstrated in the subsequent article published in The Commentator.

One of the students who took exception to Rav Shulman’s stance opined that Rav Shulman’s remarks were “inappropriate and certainly uncalled for.”

Another student had the following take: “It is disrespectful for a respected leader of this institution to condemn an initiative in this way.”

Finally, a third student stated that “to announce that all men should leave because of a coed Shabbaton, one that is sponsored by this very institution, is deeply painful.”

Meanwhile, Rav Shulman is the disrespectful party?

Full disclosure: I attended the Shabbaton, and I appreciated all the effort expended by Yeshiva Student Union and the Office of Student Life to bring the event to fruition. That said, I take issue with the declarations made by my fellow students in the article covering Rav Shulman’s remarks. Of course, students are entitled to their opinions and to respectful disagreement. As the first student himself noted, “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.”

Firstly, Rav Shulman has every right to condemn an event to students or to recommend their absence. He knows that he disagrees with some of his colleagues. He clearly stated that students should speak to their own rebbeim or religious authorities when making this decision. It is a rebbe’s responsibility to express his opinions on how to live one’s life in harmony with Torah Judaism to those who would listen. He was doing his job. College students should have the maturity to recognize that not everyone needs to share their opinion; Rav Shulman’s disagreement with them is not personal and should not be “deeply painful.”

More importantly, Rav Shulman is a noted Torah scholar and religious leader. He has spent his life steeped in Torah learning and in service to the Jewish Community. He is also several decades older than the average YU undergrad, has been at YU far longer and understands halakhah, makhshavah and YU tradition far better. To publicly criticize Rav Shulman in such a manner, referring to him as “disrespectful” and referring to his actions as “inappropriate,” is shameful, to put it mildly.

Disagreeing with a rabbinic figure while demonstrating the appropriate level of deference is fine, and productive conversation is typically encouraged in YU. However, students must recognize that regardless of their personal views on the subject, the rabbinic position Rav Shulman holds demands a basic level of respect. It’s clear that students have fallen far short of that standard.

CJ Wiesenfeld (YC ‘21)