On Monday night, December 4th, the same night that Dennis Prager spoke at YU, I chose to attend a different event at Yeshiva University. You might ask why the managing editor of The Observer would choose to miss what was being advertised as the “event of the year.” But it was precisely all this hype that made me realize that amidst all the publicity surrounding the speech, the broader story of the YU student body and the events they attend had been lost.
The lecture I attended was titled “Deliverance Denied: A Jewish-Christian Artistic Exchange About Isaac’s Sacrifice.” The event was hosted by the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies and featured Dr. Yael Feldman, a professor at New York University. She shared her research which focuses on the prominence of the Sacrifice of Isaac or akeida throughout Zionist history, and asked why a narrative that features a passive protagonist and a saved life has become the symbol heroism and lives lost in modern Israel. Feldman answered this question through analyzing Christian depictions of the akeida in Renaissance art, and demonstrating how Israeli representations are an outgrowth of such depictions. She also weaved together unpopular biblical interpretations and Israeli history as influences that shaped the unintuitive symbolism modern Israel has ascribed to the biblical story.
This fascinating event, which was attended by over twenty students, was unique in content but not an unusual occurrence at Yeshiva University. In fact, it was just one of the nine intellectually rigorous Revel events that have been open to undergraduate students this semester, with each one offering students exposure to original and stimulating scholars. Furthermore, it was not only alternative option to Dennis Prager’s speech last night. On the Beren Campus, the Stern College Torah Activates Council hosted Rabbi Ozer Glickman as part of their weekly Torah with the Roshei Yeshiva Series. Rabbi Glickman spoke about the meta-analysis of a sugya and whether precedent or concept plays a more prominent role in Torah learning. On the Wilf campus, Yeshiva University’s video game club ran YU’s first ever High Score/Speed Running competition, which allowed students to have fun competing and playing video games with their peers.
I do not highlight each of these events to silence the story of Denis Prager’s coming to YU, but to make sure the full story of last night’s events is being told. Bringing a controversial speaker to the halls of Yeshiva University is an important matter that should be covered, discussed, and debated. But the controversy and excitement shouldn’t cloud the way we think about our school. I have heard many students bemoan how this event highlights the conservative nature of YU and its student body, but before jumping to such conclusions one must analyze the full lineup of events offered last night. Students had the opportunity to learn Torah, hear a famous American conservative, analyze Israeli art, or play video games with their peers. Like almost every night at YU, last night was a celebration of the diversity of opportunities that exist within our university. It is a shame if we think that only one controversial event is defining and worth talking about. There were four events that took place last night. We should acknowledge all four, and not let one define us.