To the Silent Majority: We Need Your Voice
I have just begun my second semester here at Yeshiva University and absolutely love it. I've already chosen a career path, and formed bonds with my Rebbeim and professors. Most importantly, I've made great friends and found a group of like-minded students that share my Jewish and halakhic values.
These friends come from places like HAFTR, DRS, Frisch, MTA, and other high schools with mainstream modern orthodox hashkafot. I think it's fair to call the views associated with those institutions "standard." (I’m hesitant to use that word, because, of course, all this is very subjective, but I'm referring to the spectrum of Orthodox Judaism.) Students with that kind of background make up the bulk of our university. So when we read The Commentator and Observer or listen to the hock on campus, why are these not the views represented? It seems as if there is a silent majority. Why are two extremes – one pushing the university to the right, and the other pushing it to the left – the voices that get covered?
To explain what I mean, I'd like to highlight some examples from each side of the problem.
For a taste of the right, look no further than an article published last semester in the Observer about coed Shabbatons — everyone's favorite controversial topic. In the piece, a prominent student leader remarks that he and the other student leaders "had hoped to find a way to expand our current Shabbat experience uptown for those students who do not appreciate the general caf-atmosphere with Roshei Yeshiva, Rebbeim, singing and Divrei Torah.”
This kind of thinking is super problematic. Are those who feel comfortable attending coed programming against divrei Torah and zemirot? Of course not! In fact, on the Shabbaton in question, plenty of divrei Torah were said, including a speech from a literal Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Weider. To the majority of us, it goes without saying that you can be a proud frum Jew and talk to the opposite gender! And yet, this is the perception of those in charge, creating a toxic culture on campus. No wonder these events come off as such a big deal when they should be business as usual for those who want to attend.
I've met plenty of students who share those right-wing views as well. They often scoff at any hint of liberalism. Everything that doesn't fit in their narrow worldview is labeled kefira. Respectfully, welcome to the world of Torah Umadda, where you might find something in your secular classes that makes you uncomfortable.
Then on the left, we have almost too many examples to choose from. Countless editorials in both of the papers seem like they were selected by throwing darts at a board to randomly select what the writer is going to bash YU for this week. Most recently, an op-ed was published criticizing Stomp Out the Stigma, a popular event that brings awareness to mental health, for its "lack of LGBTQ+ representation." The event is one of the most highly attended of the year, and blasting it for not being everything at once is just ridiculous. The organizers should be celebrated, not attacked. Let’s let nice things be nice things.
The main article that comes to mind, however, is from December 2019. In the strongly-worded plea, the author calls for sweeping changes in YU's practice of Jewish law and a "fight [against] the injustices infecting" our university. In the very same article, she reveals that she no longer identifies as Orthodox, instead opting to spend Rosh Hashanah at a Conservative synagogue. Now, YU has plenty of students that aren't Orthodox, and that's more than okay. At any college, it is the right of anyone to attend. All are welcome at YU. At the same time, YU can be confident in what it is: a modern-orthodox Jewish university. As hard as it is to admit, the administration does not need to conform to any other set of values and adjust itself to fit you. Especially for those who willingly place themselves outside our community (which again, is fine), it is arrogant and disrespectful to lead a crusade against YU.
So where are the middle-ground takes? Why can’t you find this silent majority in the public conversation? I think it is because sadly, we aren't the ones who get involved. Centrists are fine standing on the sidelines while the radicals duke it out. In the world of college politics, that translates to just going about our days in class, chilling with our friends at night, with a little bit of homework thrown in. We won't be leading movements and causing a scene. There's no need for us to start a ruckus when YU's stances fit us fine. We'll laugh privately at the public feuds between the chumrah-heavy fringe who would love to drop the U from YU, and the boundary-pushing activists who would like nothing more than to get rid of the Y, but we will never speak up ourselves.
I know there are countless others at YU on both campuses who find themselves in the middle, in disagreement with both sides in this tug-of-war. Modern orthodoxy has worked for us our whole lives, there is no reason to fight about it now. So, to my fellow silent students out there, I urge you to get involved. That is the only way to make a difference here. Join a club. Write a piece for the Commentator. Find ways to express your opinion, even if it is not the one people usually ask for. Only then can we move past these petty arguments and focus on real progress at Yeshiva University, like fixing those cursed elevators.
Photo Caption: Furst Hall
Photo Credit: The Commentator