YU’s Message to Young LGBTQ Jews Across the World

By: Manny Ehrlich  |  November 1, 2022
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Manny Ehrlich, YU Pride Alliance Writing Committee 

There is no denying the fact that Yeshiva University is one of the most prominent Orthodox institutions in the world and in many ways serves as a representative of Orthodox Jews, both in the United States and around the globe. More than a university, or even a yeshiva, Yeshiva University is a symbol. On the university’s website, YU describes itself as “the world’s premier Jewish institution for higher education.” As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks zt”l famously said, “YU is the most important Jewish educational institution in the Diaspora.” Consequently, YU’s actions have an impact that extends far beyond the confines of its Manhattan campuses. The ongoing legal battle between Yeshiva University and the YU Pride Alliance has only amplified the scope of YU’s influence on Orthodox Jews worldwide. Many are now looking to YU for guidance on how to address the complex issues surrounding queerness and Judaism. As a result, YU has, at this moment, the potential to do both tremendous good or irrevocable harm. 

Setting aside the question of whether YU should permit a Pride Alliance club, let’s consider the impact of what they have done so far. I reached out to Jewish LGBTQ undergraduate students at other universities and asked them to share their thoughts on the lawsuit. Their responses were heartfelt and personal.

R.G. (she/her, Rutgers University ‘23) describes herself as an “observant Jewish queer student.” She noted that the way YU is fighting against the Pride Alliance makes her “even less comfortable with my observant and queer identity that I’ve been fighting so hard to merge my whole life. If only they could accept us for who we are and show us the support that so many of us lack in our homes. This could be a huge step in the right direction.” The struggle of reconciling their Jewish identity with their queerness is one that is familiar to many LGBTQ people from religious backgrounds. “YU’s handling of this has made me doubt that I have a future being queer and religious,” said S.C.S. (they/them, University of Maryland ’23)

Some respondents expressed feelings of disappointment. B.R.R. (she/her, Binghamton University ‘26) previously believed the Modern Orthodox world was moving towards further acceptance of LGBTQ members of the community. “This situation,” she said, “makes me lose a lot of hope that I can ever comfortably be in Modern Orthodox environments without feeling like I need to hide who I am.” Even students outside of the States had what to say. A Jewish and queer Australian student, T.C. (she/her, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology ‘23), said she is “appalled” by what is happening. T.C. went on to express her desire to support those made to feel unwanted by their institution. Even though these students do not attend Yeshiva University, the school’s actions affect them simply because they are queer members of the Jewish community. 

Some of YU’s actions suggest that they are not taking this responsibility seriously. President Berman may have claimed that YU welcomes, loves, and supports its queer students. However, sending out emails suggesting that YU’s LGBTQ students wish to destroy the university and its Torah values, or deciding to suspend all student activities just to prevent queer students from having a club on campus even temporarily, are callous moves that ignore their impact on students, both at YU and beyond, who care about, and are affected by, these issues. When Yeshiva University claims time and again to support “nuanced Torah values,” the LGBTQ members of our community, closeted or not, heard the real message loud and clear: you are not part of nuanced Torah values, and you will not be accepted in the Orthodox community unless you pretend to be something you’re not.

As a current YU student and member of the LGBTQ community, I know firsthand how painful and powerful this message is. For me, one of the scariest parts of coming out has been attempting to find my place in the Orthodox community while living a lifestyle that will not be detrimental to my well-being. It may be hard to imagine what this feels like if you are someone who has never gone through it, but I assure you, the feeling that the community you’ve grown up in and love is not willing to accept youthe real youis devastating.

Being queer, especially in religious environments, comes with many challenges, some that last a lifetime. For those going through it, it becomes crucial to have support and to be accepted for who they are in order to carry on living. This is not an exaggeration. Lack of such support can manifest itself in many terrible ways and profoundly damage a person’s psychological well-being. Queer people need to be accepted as they are. They should not be told that their life is a struggle they must constantly fight to overcome, because such an existence is one of loneliness, depression, and self-loathing.

When Yeshiva University shows a complete unwillingness to properly support its queer members, many are forced to seek that support elsewhere, even if that means leaving Orthodoxy. Do not erroneously assume that these Jews do not care about the Torah. The truth is that they need the support of being accepted for who they are, and it is that need for support and acceptance that is motivating their decisions. I cannot describe the pain and turmoil of needing to choose between being religious and being accepted. This is only made worse by the fact that these decisions would not need to be made if only proper support to queer Jews was offered from within the Orthodox community. Such support could be given without compromising any Torah values, and would save many from being forced by the Orthodox community to live lives devoid of Torah.

If the administration does not wish to send this disheartening message to queer Jews both on campus and off (and I do not believe they do), they need to think seriously about their communication strategy. Queer Jewish students everywhere are waiting to hear what the world’s premier Orthodox educational institution, an institution that stands on Torah, Chesed, Emet, and infinite human worth, has to say to us. We want to hear them say that they welcome, love, and support us and actually back up those words with their actions. We want to be treated with the respect we deserve as fellow Jews, not to be painted as enemies of Jewish ideals and beliefs. We want to be able to be part of the Orthodox community without being forced to live lies that compromise our identities. We want the YU community to recognize that they have a responsibility as a yeshiva to help those of us who identify as queer and wish to still be committed to Torah succeed in doing so. By no means, should they attempt to convince us that being Orthodox Jews is not an option available to us. It is my hope that the administration will soon realize the spiritual and emotional harm they are doing to young Jews everywhere, and change the way they are handling this complex situation. It is my hope that they can instead use the unique position they are currently in to reassure the next generation of Jews that they, too, can conduct lives of meaning and Torah observance.

Link to full responses from LGBTQ college students:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1EVCiiq1SabT9iOgNoLFAswRMyRtZhPzPyCIex-fCpdY/edit?usp=sharing 

Want to show your support for Yeshiva University’s LGBTQ students? Follow the Pride Alliance on Instagram and check out our official website!

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