Monday, January 22, 2018

Is Yeshiva University Still Modern Orthodox?

One of YU's Roshei Yeshiva, R' Mordechai Willig 
Yeshiva University (YU) has become Charedi! That is new description of YU that has been bandied about by some people in the Modern Orthodox world. Mostly by those on the left.

I do not attend YU and never have. But based on my admittedly limited observation of what is going on there, I reject that description. YU is clearly not Charedi. 

No Charedi institution would host Yale University Professor of Religious studies, Christine Hayes. As noted in its Revel Events Calendar she will be delivering a seminar on Ancient Jewish History. Having received her PhD in Talmud and Judaic studies from Columbia University, Professor Hayes is considered a foremost expert on the Academic study of the Talmud and in ancient Jewish history.

(For those not familiar with the Academic study of the Talmud, it is not about learning Gemarah. It is about studying the history and culture of the period and its people using modern academic methodologies. It is not by any means an in depth study of Gemarah and Rishonim of the type studied by a student in a Yeshiva. The idea that Professor Hayes is some kind of Talmid Chacham should be dismissed from anyone’s mind. A PhD in Talmud does not in any way make one a Talmid Chacham.)

The university side of the Yeshiva is yet another clear indicator that YU is not Charedi. No Charedi Yeshiva would even entertain the idea of having any kind of university program on its campus. Nor would they even support the idea of attending a university except (in some cases) for purposes livelihood.  And even then, not as part of the Yeshiva and certainly not on campus.

So what is all this talk about YU becoming Charedi? I believe it is based on the fact that the Roshei Yeshiva there tend towards a similar view of Halacha and Hashkafa as does the Charedi world. Except for the University issue, there is not that much difference between a YU Rosh Yeshiva and a Charedi Rosh Yeshiva. At least in terms of Psak Halacha and Hashkafa. This is the Yeshiva part of YU - The Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). When most of us refer to YU, we mean RIETS.

I have been in YU’s Beis Hemdrash many times.  It looks like any Charedi Beis Hamedrash in terms of the Hasmada (diligence) and the ‘Kol Torah’ (the sound of Torah) emanating from its halls. You will not see any difference in the intensity of study between the two. The only differences are really the following: the students generally do not wear the black and white ‘uniform’ of the Charedi world (although some do). Their dress is more casual in most cases. Many cover their heads with knit Kipas (Yarmulkes). Most see the modern State of Israel in a more positive light. And all (or most) attend the University side of YU.

The fact is that the Roshei Yeshiva at YU are role models for the students there. And the students there are as meticulous in Halacha as any of their counterparts in the American Charedi Yeshivas. Their Hashkafos are molded by their Roshei Yeshiva. Which is why most of them tend to be on the right wing of Modern Orthodoxy (Centrists). And most, if not all the Roshei Yeshiva reject the innovations of the far left.

This has been the case for quite some time. Which the left has reacted to quite negatively.  And why Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) was formed. It was in response to the right wing Centrist Hashkafa they see dominating YU. Which they say has veered from the path of a Modern Orthodoxy they say has always been more open to the Modern side of its Hashkafa. (Hence, the original term  - Open Orthodoxy – which has now been abandoned.) The left wing of Orthodoxy insists that it is they who carry on the tradition of modern Orthodoxy and that YU has abandoned it to join the ranks of the Charedim.

Well, as noted above, they haven’t. What is more likely closer to the truth is that the Hashkafos of YU are not all that different from the Charedi Hashkafos - but with the important distinctions mentioned above that make them modern. Both communities place high value on Torah study and study it the same way; both are meticulous in Halachic observance; and both place a high value on Mesorah – seeing it not to be abandoned so easily with the winds of societal change. As does the far left of Modern Orthodoxy.  

The fact that there is more of a right wing attitude there now may also in part be due to the very creation and success of YCT. Left wing oriented students that might have attended YU for lack of choice – can now find a home at YCT. Leaving a more right wing student body at YU.

There are some in YU that will say they can now focus their energies on promoting a Hashkfa more in line with the mainstream and ‘good riddance’ to the left. But I am not one of them. I would have preferred that the more left wing oriented students had some exposure to the Hashkafos of the YU Roshei Yeshiva. Instead of what they have now – which is exposure only to views of the far left.  But it was not meant to be. Which in my view has caused much divisiveness in recent years.

Be that as it may, I am in complete support of the type of institution that YU is. And I support what its Roshei Yeshiva try to do as well. It is the current product of the YU that I believe to be the real future of Modern Orthodoxy. (If it has a future at all). And it is this very same product that is currently melding with the mainstream moderate Charedi world to form what I have called the new centrism. Which is not based on Centrist Hashkafa (which differs from the Charedi Hashkafa) but rather on lifestyle – in which the two worlds hardly differ at all.