By: Rafael Saperstein  | 

What Does YU Stand For? President Berman Weighs in with New Book

During orientation for new students at the beginning of this semester, President Ari Berman gathered the incoming class of Yeshiva University to ask them a question that would define their upcoming years at YU. He went around the room, asking students, “Why did you choose to come to YU?” Answers ranged from religious studies to academics to location, representing the diverse perspectives and expectations incoming students have for their time in YU. 

In the recent draft of his book, “A Life of Faith, Meaning and Purpose: Nineteen Letters to Our Students,” however, President Berman notes that there is a question that students have a much harder time answering. As stated in the second of nineteen letters that make up the structure of the book, “One of the questions I consistently asked [students was] ‘What does YU stand for?’ I could readily detect that our students struggled with answering this question.” 

So what does Yeshiva University actually stand for? What’s behind the five core Torah values (originally called the Five Torot) that have been popping up all over campus lately? Where does Torah Umadda fit into all of this, and, perhaps most importantly, what does this have to do with me? If you find yourself asking these questions, you are most certainly not alone, and you make up the target audience of Rabbi Berman’s upcoming book whose draft was distributed to new students at orientation. 

In the spirit of the “Nineteen Letters on Judaism” that Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote to explain the “relevance of traditional Judaism” in the modern age, President Berman addresses his nineteen letters to the YU student who is unsure about the nature and relevance of the values of Yeshiva University. 

He introduces the book by explaining its purpose: Directed towards students, it aims to address the disconnect between “many beyond our walls [recognizing] what is unique and invaluable in our YU schools,” and “at times our students … [having] trouble articulating our distinct outlook.” He explains his history at YU, YU's place in the diaspora, its foundational principles and more in the first five letters before delving into his system of the Five Torot.

Laying the groundwork for his thoughts in later chapters, he states the following in Letter #6: “Nothing about our core Torah values is new at all. That, in fact, is the point … There is only one Torah and 613 Torah commandments. The five core Torah values are simply a language and prism with which to understand our tradition.” Throughout the next batch of letters, President Berman goes in-depth into each of the Five Torot, explaining them and proposing their relevance and applicability to the lives of Yeshiva University students. 

In the last two chapters, President Berman lays out strategies for living and actualizing the values-driven life he hopes for those who read his book. As he states in the final letter: “I share my thoughts and story with you in these letters not to generalize my experiences, but to encourage you to develop your own way of seeing the world … I hope that you will add your contributions and commentary to the Five Torot that are the centerpiece of this book.”

Before publication, President Berman is encouraging all students to read his draft and send feedback which may be included in the final published edition. Interested students can RSVP to 19letters@yu.edu by September 15th to comment on the book’s ideas and join the conversation about what Yeshiva University stands for.

Ruben Prawer (YC ‘25), a first time on campus student who attended the book distribution event, said, “The opening event was very important. Having a strong value system enables you to set yourself on the right path, so YU having a conversation surrounding values is crucial.” He noted that “the opportunity to give President Berman feedback about the book and engage in a conversation with him about our values gives the students a chance to be involved in shaping YU and demonstrates that the administration values and appreciates us.” 
Whether you are someone who finds yourself charmed by the Five Torot, or someone who clarifies their own value system on their journey through understanding them, “A Life of Faith, Meaning, and Purpose” will certainly be a great insight into the values of Yeshiva University as President Berman sees them, and a unique window into the process that drives decisions at YU on the highest levels. After hearing the insights and contributions from the incoming class, the book will be available to the public in 2023.

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Photo Caption: President Berman discussing his new book at this year’s orientation

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University