As Jews, We Must Support the Anti-Discrimination Policy
As students of Yeshiva University, we boast an impressive experience that sets the classic college experience in the context of a Jewish environment. While it may be naive or idealistic, one would expect that our Jewish values would therefore extend beyond the beis midrash and our Jewish Studies classes. Recent events, however, have suggested otherwise.
In light of the approaching student government elections on May 7, a flurry of screenshots and messages have flooded various WhatsApp group chats encouraging students to vote against an amendment that would incorporate an anti-discrimination policy into the Wilf Campus constitution. These calls are antithetical to Judaism, as they essentially defend discrimination on campus.
On election day, aside from voting for students to assume various roles in student government, students are asked to approve or reject amendments to their campus’s constitutions. Among the six proposed amendments that were approved by the Wilf General Assembly (GA), the last one suggests the addition of an anti-discrimination policy, similar to the existing one in the Beren Consitution.
One of the circulating messages among students was a flyer titled “The Yeshiva Ballot,” demanding that students “Vote NO for Membership and Actions of WCSG [Wilf Campus Student Government] Amendment!” Additionally, a screenshot of the amendment form was leaked to students, accompanied by a warning that if the amendment were to pass, it would “legitimize a path for an lgbt club.”
This anti-discrimination policy goes well beyond the discussion of a Pride Alliance club and whether a student should wholly or partially support or reject such a club. Without the amendment to include this policy, students involved in campus clubs would, according to our constitution, be permitted to deny membership as well as limit the opportunities available to students, simply on prejudicial beliefs.
However, students advocating to completely reject an initiative to mitigate discrimination, bullying and hate on campus is deeply saddening and in direct conflict with our basic, Jewish values.
The full text of the amendment reads, “Membership and actions of the WCSG shall not discriminate based on race; ethnicity; nationality; sexual orientation; gender identity; religious, spiritual and humanistic belief or lack thereof; age; disability; health status; political affiliation or ideology; or socioeconomic standing.” It reasons that since the current Wilf constitution lacks any anti-discrimination policy, this addition will “ensure that every student feels included and part of the student body.”
Has our experience as Jews — our collective history, upbringings, education and values — taught us to otherize our fellow Jews? Can we be comfortable being in a student body that cannot call out discrimination?
In an article about racism in the Orthodox community, Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Jeremy Wieder argued that “racism itself is deeply, deeply immoral.” He continued, “I don’t think I need to elaborate on that … We, of all people, of every nation on the face of the earth, should understand the poison of racism.” Mashgiach Ruchani of RIETS Rabbi Yosef Blau similarly wrote about the need to abolish racism in his articles about the Orthodox community and Jewish racism.
It would then seem obligatory to support a policy that bars discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity and nationality.
In his “Shmoneh Kevatzim,” Rav Kook writes that “the heart of a tzaddik is filled with a great love for all creatures: the righteous and the wicked, Jews and non-Jews, and even towards all animals…” (3:170). It would be intellectually dishonest to believe that this “great love” would tolerate the targeting of a fellow student because of sexual orientation, political belief or the like. This is reinforced when considering the famous pasuk in Vayikra that urges us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18).
Have we, as a collective Jewish community, fallen to the point where we need Torah sources to teach us that discrimination is wrong? This should not be something any YU student should need to learn, regardless of their religious observance or affiliation.
Rav Kook writes in “Orot Yisrael” that “a love of [Am] Yisrael demands a love for all mankind, and when it impresses hate to any part of mankind, it is a sign that the soul has not fully purified for its filth. And if so, it can’t align with the higher love” (4:5). Here, Rav Kook speaks of a more universal love for all people, implying the obvious nature of loving our fellow Jews.
Isolated in the context of considering a Pride Alliance Club, some students have justified the notion that Jews should reject an anti-discrimination policy. However, I cannot help but imagine what our perspective on this policy would be if placed in the times of our historical persecution. Jews should never be bystanders to intolerance in the world. This policy is about more than a potential club; it is about championing our Jewish values and concretizing them in our student constitution to ensure that all students feel safe and secure at YU.
Photo Caption: Furst Hall on Wilf Campus
Photo Credit: The Commentator