By: Commentator Staff  | 

From the Archives: Dr. Belkin Outlines Purpose of Yeshiva After Dramatics Society Ban

Editor’s Note: The following set of articles presents a prospectus by Dr. Samuel Belkin, president of Yeshiva University, in the aftermath of a ban on the Yeshiva College Dramatics Society and its functions. In his prospectus, Dr. Belkin explained the reasoning for the ban, outlined the goals of Yeshiva College, the administration’s attitude towards extracurricular activities and the definition of synthesis. Today, the students and the administration of YU are faced with many similar issues to those outlined in Dr. Belkin’s prospectus. 

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Title: From the Archives (December 14, 1944; Volume 10 Issue 4) — An Open Letter from Y.C. Council to Dr. Belkin 

Author: Yeshiva College Student Council

Editor’s Note: The following letter was presented to Dr. Belkin by a committee appointed by Student Council at a special meeting held on Thursday evening, November 30. Dr. Belkin had previously banned all dramatic activities in the College. The scheduled Varsity Show was to be permitted, however, on the condition that no tickets be sold. A reply in the form of a prospectus by Dr. Belkin will appear in the next issue of The Commentator. 

The Student Council has decided that no Varsity Show is to be held this year, under the conditions you have deemed requisite for its presentation. This decision was guided by a desire to maintain not only the letter but also the spirit of your action in banning all dramatic activities. With respect to the Varsity Show, yet another consideration was involved: the fact that this is a war year. 

Our decision, as you can readily see, has placed us in a somewhat precarious position. We have given up, without a struggle, that which has been a part of the Yeshiva College student body’s activities for many years; an activity, too, which was eagerly awaited and enjoyed by the great majority of students and faculty. Our action affects not only this year’s student body, but that of future years. We have done this as partners in a bona fide relationship which exists between the Office of the President and the students. 

You, as the principal partner in this relationship, should give us, and with us all future student bodies, an assurance that this curtailment is a final one, which will not extend to any other activities. In this capacity too, we should like you to clarify certain other and larger issues which are involved, implicitly or explicitly, in your decision. Once you, as President of the whole institution, have seen fit to pay particular attention to one of its principal, there are still more pregnant matters involving that same part, which, we feel, deserve your fullest consideration. 

Function of College? 

These major problems can all be subsumed under the heading: What is the function of the college with respect to the Yeshiva? We have had many definitions of synthesis, but, apparently all were meaningless; for here that which has, in all times, been considered as an almost curricular part of any college program, dramatics, has been removed. Does this mean an abandonment of the ideal of synthesis, or at least an abandonment of it in that guise in which it has appeared since the foundation of the college? All too frequently has synthesis been trotted out before the world as that which distinguishes us from any other institution. If the experiment has failed, let us know that it has failed; and let a new and perhaps stronger ideal take its place. 

Then, too, we feel that even in the past the college’s position in theory was never realized in fact. The level of scholarship in the Yeshiva studies is seldom approximated in the college studies. Nor can the norms of knowledge prevalent in other American universities be our standards. The American educational scene is such that one would fear to affirm anything but the barest minimum of knowledge possessed by the holder of a baccalaureate degree. Yeshiva need not accept this bare minimum as its standard, thus bowing down to the “idols of the market-place,” when it can produce a type of scholarship which is not to be readily found elsewhere. 

This can certainly not be brought about in the present surroundings. The removal of philosophy from the list of requirements and the need for more intensive courses in Jewish philosophy (not apologetics) are two apparent gaps. There are more than can be pointed out. There is much room for improvement in the numbers of the college faculty. Entrance requirements might also be raised for all students who seek admission to the Yeshiva College. Nor should the need for competent advisers be forgotten. A determined effort in this direction would raise the place of the Yeshiva College to a position which its youth denies it. 

Education in Ideals 

We believe, however, that the educational activities of an institution of this sort are not fulfilled when it has trained its students alone. The Orthodox Jewish public must also be educated in ideals which it has understood but imperfectly. Is it not possible that these same groups who oppose dramatic presentations will oppose the very existence of a college? Did not basketball, for example, undergo a scurrilous and misinformed attack at the hands of a widely publicized Anglo-Jewish journal? Are we to subscribe to the opinions of the misinformed, and mold our actions as they would will; or are we to educate the misinformed? 

But, at the cost of these larger discussions, the actual position of extra-curricular activities must not be forgotten. We seek a clarification of these major issues, and a positive assurance with respect to the minor issues.

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Title: From the Archives (December 14, 1944; Volume 10 Issue 4) — Definition Needed 

Author: Allen Mandelbaum and The Commentator Governing Board of 1944-5

This issue of The Commentator contains a letter from the Student Council of the Yeshiva College to President Belkin. The immediate occasion for this letter was the banning of all dramatic activities in the college. The issues it deals with, however, have needed clarification for a long time. Confusion has marked the mind of the students in the past, and this new ruling has done nothing to lessen that confusion. The President now has an opportunity to clear up, once and for all, whatever has been imprecise and vague. 

Much of this confusion has resulted from the lack of definition of terms which we have been taught to think of as basic. Synthesis has been the most maltreated, The result has been that we have all used these terms as if we were in accord as to their meaning when, in reality, we were all airing but private notions. 

Once these axioms have been recognized, we shall be able to judge and act in a consistent manner, certain that what we do is in keeping with what we say, and assured that our position is a valid and solid one. Given these ideals, we must not deviate from them, nor be swayed by the tides of ignorance which groups in that body call the “public” may set in motion. We shall, without fear, demand of our critics that they do not take exception to standards which they not only fail to embody, but fail to understand. 

Dr. Belkin’s reply to this letter is eagerly awaited. Given a comprehensive prospectus and a well-defined program we may feel confident that if we are to stand, we shall know where we stand. 

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Title: From the Archives (January 4, 1945; Volume 10 Issue 5) — President Belkin’s Prospectus 

Author: Dr. Samuel Belkin

1. Yeshiva College is not a secular college in the same sense as any other American college, for the college is primarily a Yeshiva college and, therefore, when any problem arises that pertains to activities whether they are extracurricular activities of the entire student-body or activities of the individual student, one must judge such activities from the Yeshiva viewpoint. Every college permits and often encourages certain activities of a student-body, either because they have their value from the standpoint of physical education or intellectual gymnastics, or as a form of expression with a view of their usefulness in later life. 

2. Since I have been associated with the Yeshiva and the College I objected to Dramatics as an extra-curricular activity for the following reasons: First, Dramatics is not an activity revealing or reflecting the personality of the traditional Yeshiva man. Second, we have no desire to develop students who will use Dramatics as a form of expression in life after they have left the four walls of the Yeshiva. Talents which we do not want our students to use after they leave the Yeshiva, we cannot encourage in the Yeshiva. Third, Dramatics more than any other of the students’ activities caused a great deal of bittul Torah and even disturbed the academic studies. Finally, through its publicity it has given a wrong stamp on the nature and essence of the Yeshiva, and Yeshiva men. My objection to Dramatics for the last nine years are well-known to the students, administration, and particularly to the Dean of the College to whom I voiced my disapproval in my earliest association with the Yeshiva College. I am glad that the student-body saw fit to remove it from the extra-curricular activities. 

The Yeshiva Man 

3. Above all you must remember that you cannot consider yourself a Yeshiva man in your actions the first half of a day, and a College man in your actions the second half of a day. In all our activities we must beat in mind that we are Yeshiva men, and whatever is not befitting the dignity of a Yeshiva man is not befitting to the College man. The institution, as a whole, cannot be departmentalized lest we create a split personality.  The Yeshiva ideology must guide the entire life of the student. I am sure that the student-body understands that fully. 

4. We are not opposed to any extra-curricular activities such as they exist now, but in every activity the dignity of the entire institution and particularly the Yeshiva must be the first consideration. We have no intention of curtailing extra-curricular activities as they stand now. There is nothing wrong in playing a game of basketball or any other of the physical or intellectual sports; on the contrary they are to be encouraged, but with whom we play may sometimes be of great significance for the meaning of the institution and what may seem excellent “publicity” to some members of the student-body may prove the opposite to the institution in its entirety. All your clubs may render good service to the student-body but the persons you sometimes invite to address you may merely misrepresent the essence of our institution. It is for this purpose that I have appointed the Inter-Departmental Faculty-Student Committee on Extra-Curricular Activities so that no unnecessary blunders be made. This is not a “censoring” Committee but one which will be mutual understanding reach agreements satisfactory to all concerned. In fact, the student-body of the Yeshiva College has greater freedom of expression than students of secular colleges. I am rather proud of this fact because it reveals our sincere confidence in our student-body, and I am sure that you will live up to our expectations. 

5. If Dramatics has been removed then it does not mean the “abandonment of the ideal of synthesis” but on the contrary it rather emphasizes that our activities must be in accordance with the Yeshiva ideology which is the real meaning of synthesis. On other occasions I have defined our concept of synthesis in very clear terms. We prefer to look upon science and religion as separate domains which need not be in serious conflict and, therefore, need no reconciliation. If we seek the blending of science and religion, and the integration of secular knowledge with sacred wisdom, then it is not in the subject matter represented by these fields, but rather the personality of the individual that we hope to achieve that synthesis. We shall create a real synthesis if our approach to our lives in general, to our activities in particular will be judged from the Torah viewpoint and only when our secular knowledge will be used for a higher purpose, for a Yeshiva mode of living. Only then shall we create an ideal personality and unifying principle in pursuit of knowledge. It is, therefore, our duty not to secularize the Yeshiva, but make the Yeshiva the guiding principle of our lives. 

6. The Yeshiva College, and the other departments will continue to grow, but the Yeshiva will always remain the guiding spirit. As the leading jewish institution in the world to-day, we shall always have critics. It has always been my policy, however, that while all the periodic criticism leveled against us by some outsiders are not necessarily true or significant, and often false, still we must not assume that because the criticism comes from outside sources therefore it must necessarily be wrong. We should rather constantly re-examine our acts and endeavor to correct and improve them for the future of Orthodox Jewry in America depends on you and that is a great responsibility. 

Growth of The College 

7. The fact that certain courses were removed from the required list, and freedom of choice in electing courses is given to the student-body shows the immense growth of the College, and its liberal spirit. In the early days of the College, primarily due to financial difficulties, we lived on a “borrowed faculty,” and they were few in number. The College had to adjust the student program and limit the courses of the College so that it might fit the hours of the particular teacher. In the early days of the College, students used to complain that they were not given the opportunity to select courses but the courses were forced on them, and their complaints were justified. Since the Executive Committee which consisted of Dr. Churgin, myself and Dr. Isaacs, chairman, came into existence in 1939 we worked with the main goal in mind of developing our own faculty and not live on “borrowed time,” and since Dr. Isaacs became the Dean of the College, the College is acquiring more and more mature stature with its own faculty, a greater number of courses, a well as more convenient hours so that the student-body may have the freedom to choose a great number of their courses. Furthermore, along this progressive line we may receive greater accreditation in the academic world. For this purpose we have in the last few years more than doubled the budget of the College. We are still making all efforts to enlarge our faculty, and add more fundamental courses. 

I believe that our student-body is improving in quality, and in fact we cannot accept half the number who eagerly apply to enter our school. Finally, we are not interested in curbing the activities of the students, but it certainly is our duty to guide the life of our students.

Photo Caption: The Commentator archives
Photo Credit: The Commentator