The Outlier

By: Rachel Zakharov  |  April 19, 2018

The issue of Klein@9 (that is, the issue of women being able to give divrei Torah at a YU minyan) is indicative of a greater problem, one that has always been there, an outlier, in the way YU defines the role of women in its community. The controversy shows the division that exists  in the YU community and the hesitation among the leaders of the YU administration to acknowledge the voices of female students on the Wilf campus.

YU has a diverse student body whose backgrounds range from over fifteen different countries. We each have our own unique customs and parameters of what is and isn’t acceptable in Modern Orthodoxy. Therefore, it is difficult to construct a guideline that establishes what the norms and practices should be, so the norms are often determined by the status quo. The current status quo stands on the pedestals of a tradition that is rooted in maintaining a separation between the Wilf and Beren campuses.

Since the diversity of the student body at YU is so vast, the one factor that links us is our Jewish identity. However, at an institution where we are not the minority there is less of an incentive to get involved in Jewish student life. On other college campuses like NYU and Columbia, Jewish students are a minority and they have a strong desire to contribute to the Jewish communities in their universities. Regardless, even at YU, Shabbat contributes to a prospering Jewish life, and Shabbat minyanim play a crucial factor.

The response to a female student sharing a dvar torah at the student-run Klein@9 minyan demonstrates that there is an underlying issue in the role women play in YU’s Modern Orthodoxy, where women are encouraged to play active roles in a society. The decision by the YU Roshei Yeshiva to ban women from speaking at the bima contradicts the values that are inherent in Modern Orthodoxy, which include the encouragement of women to play a more active role in the community. This problem is presented as an outlier,  even though it has actually been evident and pressing for a long time but just set to the side. It demonstrates the dichotomy between the men and women in the community that contributes to the split between the campuses.

We have come a long way in fostering a sense of community for the students, especially for those on the Beren campus. However, the approach presented by the administration, which is to create a new minyan to address one specific need, will not remedy the debate we continue to have regarding the role of women in the community. Adding another minyan that will specifically be distinguished for allowing women to speak at the bima will further divide students at the Wilf and Beren campuses. It will contribute further to the separation because it will create a choice and that choice will create a further rift.

At the end of the day, the ends cannot justify the means because Yeshiva University will always have the challenge of providing leadership not only for the Modern Orthodox community, but also for the American Jewish community as a whole. And as Abraham Lincoln famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”–and most certainly cannot lead.