On August 23, as part of the ongoing litigation between a group of students and Yeshiva University, the court ruled that Yeshiva University must immediately recognize the YU Pride Alliance as an official campus club rather than being allowed to wait until the appeals process has been completed.
As a very proud YU alumnus, I want to share a perspective on this topic. I am also putting out a request to those who are pushing this agenda to seriously reconsider their position, consider the impact of their actions on others such as me, and appreciate what YU has truly represented to the Torah world for more than 100 years.
In the fall of 1983, I began a journey that has left an indelible mark on my life. It was the day that I came to Yeshiva University High School for Boys. I remember that it was a short time before Rosh HaShanah and Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen, my ninth grade rebbe, taught us about t’shuvah and how to connect to Hashem through learning Torah. The journey over the next 11 years was paved with gold, as I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to learn from some of the greatest Torah scholars of our generation. These rebbeim taught and guided me on my journey of avodas Hashem, which has included my lifetime commitment to the rabbanus and Jewish education. I remember the excitement and feeling of seeing Rabbi Soloveitchik zt”l at Yeshiva. Although, at the time, the Rav’s health was failing, the mere presence of the Rav on campus created a sense of k’dushah unlike any other I have ever experienced. We were heirs to the great Yeshivah of Volozhin and the “Shalsheles HaMesorah” (the Chain of the Mesorah) going back generation upon generation.
When the Rav passed away, the next 30 days were spent with presentations of eulogy after eulogy from the Roshei Yeshiva expressing just how much the Rav meant to Yeshiva University, the world of Torah, and Orthodox Judaism. I remember the excitement of the visit of the Rishon l’Tzion HaRav Ovadia Yosef zt”l and the shiur he gave to a packed beis midrash. I remember watching in awe the m’siras nefesh of Rav Ahron Soloveitchik zt”l who, despite his disabilities, came every week from Chicago to give his shiurim. Watching Rav Ahron walk through the beis midrash using his walker is a sight that none of us will ever forget. When Rav Norman Lamm z”l passed away a few years ago, I realized that the firm establishment of Yeshiva University as a makom Torah was his legacy. Rav Lamm, through his legendary efforts, created a place where limud and sh’miras haTorah (the learning and observance of Torah) not only had a place in the Modern Orthodox world but the ability for it to thrive.
At my personal Chag HaSemichah in 1997, we marched down the street and into the Nathan Lamport Auditorium to the tune of “Baruch Elokeinu,” extolling the values of Torah and thanking Hashem for giving it to us. Yes, this is the Yeshiva University from which I proudly earned four degrees.
There are two more memories that I would like to share. Who could forget the Chanukah and Purim chagigos (celebrations) when Rav Dovid Lifshitz zt”l would enter the packed beis midrash, accompanied by scores of his students, come to the middle of the circle of the dancing, and sing “v’taheir libeinu l’avdecha be’emes” (purify our heart to serve You sincerely). This is the Yeshiva University that has touched the lives of countless people. If one looks around the world at the many rabbanim and maggidei shiur, as well as simply the average balabatim committed to a life of Torah, one will see the massive success of the place that we call “Our Yeshiva.”
For almost 20 years, I had the privilege of being the baal t’filah at the YU beis midrash on the first night of S’lichos. Who can forget the divrei chizuk (words of inspiration) of both Rav Yosef Blau and Rav Meir Goldvicht, followed by the sounds of the S’lichos that reverberated through the room, demanding us to achieve higher levels of spirituality. When one davens S’lichos at YU, Hashem’s presence can be felt, and we are moved and inspired by this special evening. I can go on and on, but I want to present just a small taste of what Yeshiva University means to me and so many others. It has been a place where we grew and came close to Hashem and took this with us as we began our lives outside the Yeshiva. No matter how long it has been since we were there daily, it was – and remains to this day – our home.
Recently, there has been an attack on “my home” by people who have taken their demands to a new level. They sued YU in order to strongarm them to accept them and allow them to have their club; and the courts, for whatever reasons, are forcing YU to comply. The question I ask with tears in my eyes is: Why? As I have shared above, YU has been such a special place, a home to so many dedicated to the study and observance of Torah. Why is there a need to go there and drag in things that are not in accordance with a Torah way of life? Why demand that the Yeshiva community violate our own beliefs, convictions, and principles to conform with those in direct conflict to our own? Any of the individuals who wish to come to join the Yeshiva should be welcomed and given an environment safe from harassment and discrimination. We should absolutely empathize with this group and their desire to be accepted. We should absolutely invite them into shul, the beis midrash, and our s’machos; but to come to a place that one knows is an institution that inextricably binds itself to Torah and Orthodox Judaism is unfair.
As we have just left the period of the Three Weeks and are beginning the month of Elul and the season of the Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe), I beg those involved in this lawsuit to take a step back, recognize what Yeshiva means to so many people and to the Jewish world, and reconsider their approach. Though there is still much work to be done in this area, please know that we do respect you as individuals and we empathize with your struggle for acceptance. I beg you to take a moment to reflect on what you are fighting for and to realize that what you ask is just simply impossible and unattainable under the umbrella of a yeshivah. I beg you to leave our Yeshiva alone and allow it to remain the Yeshiva it has always been, to continue its mission to produce b’nei and b’nos Torah who will impact the Jewish community for generations to come, through the legacy of its past luminaries and the potential of the budding Jewish leaders.
As we have entered the month of Elul, now is the time to reflect on this idea. May Hashem grant us a year of protection and salvation, and may He send us the Mashiach speedily in our day in the merit of the kavod haTorah and the preservation of its k’dushah.
I wish all of us a k’sivah v’chasimah tovah.
By Rabbi Rodney (Elisha) Weiss
(YUHSB ’87, YC ’90, RIETS ’97, Azrieli ’04)