Tomorrow night after minyan I plan to continue my discussion of the intersection of First Amendment legal concerns and the American Jewish community. Yesterday two interesting things happened in this regard which you may or may not have seen.
In New York City, a state Supreme Court judge ruled that Yeshiva University must recognize its student and alumni LGBT association and provide it the same benefits it provides other student groups. (For those of you not familiar with New York, the “Supreme Court” is actually the lowest level and the University can, and has said it will, appeal.) The case hinged on the question of whether Yeshiva University is legally an “educational institution” which has to abide by New York City non-discrimination laws, or a “religious institution” which is free to discriminate in accordance with its religious beliefs. The judge ruled, based on the University’s own public statements, that it is an “educational institution” and had to abide by this law.
Yeshiva University is a very diverse institution. Its undergraduate schools, Yeshiva College for men and Stern College for women, are theoretically open to students of any religion but require such a heavy load of advanced Jewish studies as well as certain behavioral expectations in the dorms and on-campus that it is unlikely that a non-Jewish student, or even a non-religious Jewish student, would enroll. And of course it has a rabbinical seminary, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary or RIETS. But it also has a law school, a medical school, a business school and a school of social work which are non-religious and enroll many non-Jewish and Jewish but non-Orthodox students (a friend of mine who had a non-Orthodox conversion to Judaism and would not be considered Jewish by Orthodox standards is dean of one of these schools). And of course Yeshiva University receives federal and state funding, not only grants and loans made to students but payments made directly to the University. Like many Catholic and Evangelical universities, Yeshiva seems to want to have its cake and eat it too -- be considered “religious” when it wants to be exempt from certain laws but not when it comes to receiving government funding.
In Florida, a Boynton Beach synagogue filed suit against the state’s new abortion ban which is slated to go into effect in July. The rabbi of Congregation L’Dor va-Dor, an unaffiliated progressive synagogue, is also a lawyer and former state legislator. In the lawsuit, the synagogue says that because the new law would prohibit Jewish women from getting abortions which Jewish law not only permits but requires, it “prohibits Jewish women from practicing their faith free of government intrusion and thus violates their privacy rights and religious freedom.” It says that “failure to maintain the separation of church and state, like so many other laws in other lands throughout history, threatens the Jewish family, and thus also threatens the Jewish people by imposing the laws of other religions upon Jews,”
This is precisely the same argument that I made in the class I taught two weeks ago which can be viewed in this video. I’ll be interested to see the fate of this case as it winds its way through the courts.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian