Nobody Says Sorry in a Court of Law

By: Benjamin Gottesman  |  September 18, 2022

Benjamin Gottesman, Editor-in-Chief

I spend a lot of time on Twitter. While it’s not the best use of time, I justify it with the occasional sparks of inspiration that appear on my timeline. Recently, I’ve been flooded with videos of midnight slichos, the prayers of repentance that we recite before and during the Days of Awe, at the Kosel HaMaaravi [Western Wall]. Every night, thousands of Jews flock to the Kosel plaza, coming together to beseech God in the foothills of our holiest site. It is wonderful to see our people engaged in communal activity in our capital city – but that is not what I find so meaningful. What amazes me every time I open my phone is the wild diversity that descends upon Jerusalem’s Old City each Elul night.

Out of the thousands of petitioners, no two are the same. Some wear tall streimlich, others wear knit kippot srugot and many don black hats. Some wear IDF-issued berets and others wear nothing on their heads at all. One need only open up any Israeli news site to know that these sects are at each other’s throats in the Knesset and the public arena. However, when Elul rolls around, the discourse quiets– there is something larger at stake. The Yomi Noraim [Days of Awe] require prayer, and prayer demands a unified front.

It has certainly been a tumultuous start to the semester at Yeshiva University. Our little school found itself in the national spotlight, covered by the country’s most established news outlets and discussed in the hallowed halls of the Supreme Court. The topic is an emotional one, and far be it for me to try and discuss it tactfully. Frankly, it does not matter what my thoughts on the matter are.

However, what I can speak to is the collateral damage this saga has caused. It is embarrassing to have this aired before the world. More importantly, the recent decision to suspend clubs affects student life in the most drastic move the administration has made in the post-COVID era. Furthermore, the conversation regarding the court case has become particularly embattled. People are understandably angry on both sides, and ad hominem rains down in the halls of Wilf and Beren.

Human rights and religious liberty are not small issues. I am not, God forbid, saying that we should take these matters lightly. However, as Rosh Hashana approaches, it is time we shift our focus, at least temporarily.

One of the central prayers of slichos is the vidui [confession]. We methodically admit our misdeeds before God and beg for forgiveness. Importantly, this prayer is not a personal one. It mentions each sin in the plural, putting the burden of responsibility on the community writ large. I wonder then, how it would be conceivable to recite the vidui without the voices of your brothers and sisters at your side. The vidui is an invitation to accept that culpability is never one-sided and that the only way to repent is if reconciliation plays harbinger.

I am not telling the YU administration how to manage its affairs. I have no advice to offer to the Pride Alliance. Either way, I know this is not how we go into Tishrei. This cannot be how we are meant to enter the Days of Awe.

Two decisions will be made in the coming days. The first, and less consequential one, will be made by the courts. That will determine whether or not the Pride Alliance exists on campus. The more important decision will be made by us. It will determine our standing before our Father in Heaven during the Days of Judgement. This is the decision to love each other despite our differences. It is the decision to pray together despite our strife. It is the decision to ask for forgiveness even though we think we’re right. It is the decision to forgive even when we feel we’ve been spurned. Tonight we say vidui. We’re going to be saying it a lot during the next few weeks. Let’s say it together. It’s better that way.