By: Leib Wiener | Opinions  | 

From the YCSA President’s Desk: Who Is In and Who Is Out?

In a shiur entitled “Who Is In and Who Is Out,” Rabbi Norman Lamm recounts a newspaper article in which a prominent chassidic rabbi stated that, according to his criteria, there are only one million people in the world who can be considered Jews. Upon reading this, Rabbi Lamm approached this rabbi and asked him, “What about me and my family? Are we in or are we out? Do we belong in your one million Jews?” The rabbi responded, “Rabbi Lamm, you ask a good question.” Rabbi Lamm promptly excused himself from the conversation.

As a former president of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Lamm was understandably unsettled by this interaction. YU is an institution that resists narrowly defining Jewishness. It allows for and fosters dissimilarity in hashkafot, ideologies, and religious subgroups on both the Beren and Wilf campuses. Along with these differences that exist within the university and its community, there exists a predominant goal — fostering harmony between secular life and Torah values, and ideally maintaining harmony with one another.

I am not claiming to be presenting a novel account of Yeshiva University’s values; on the contrary, these principles have come to be trite in their constant recounting. I reiterate them now because I strongly believe there is no better time to remind ourselves of what YU stands for. This is a significant moment for the YU community. The LGBTQ #WeTooAreYU march will take place on September 15. YU’s third Giving Day will take place three days after. We are in the month of Elul, a period of heavy reflection, recalibration and rededication to our beliefs and values. We must address questions Rabbi Lamm was forced to grapple with: Are we utilizing Elul to reflect on ourselves or to deflect that judgment onto others? Should we draw lines to the exclusion of other Jews? Can we find a way to strengthen our own values, while still being empathetic to those of others?

It is easy to find fault in others, to call people “kofrim,” to scornfully refer to someone as “too charedi” or as “off the derech.” It takes a deep level of wisdom to search internally instead. And an even deeper level to seek an understanding of those same people we are tempted to judge. As individuals, it is possible to empathize with others and to simultaneously disagree with them. As an institution, it is possible to operate within the framework of halacha and simultaneously wrestle with deep and uncomfortable questions.

I choose to wrestle with these issues. To move past lines. I encourage every student, educator and administrator at Yeshiva University to think about these questions. As our days of judgement and awe move closer, as our perspective threatens to narrow, we have an opportunity to come together as a united Jewish people. It would be a tragedy to see that moment slip away. 

Leib Wiener is a Senior at Yeshiva College and the president of the Yeshiva College Student Association (YCSA).