You may have seen in recent days the news that Yeshiva University has filed an emergency request to the Supreme Court appealing New York State’s Court of Appeals denial of a stay of a lower court ruling that it must recognize a campus LGBT club.
In its appeal, Yeshiva University said that “as a deeply religious Jewish university, Yeshiva cannot comply with that order because doing so would violate its sincere religious beliefs about how to form its undergraduate students in Torah values."
I don’t challenge the sincerity of Yeshiva University’s religious beliefs, which of course I do not share, but that is one of the reasons that I am a Conservative and not an Orthodox Jew. The problem that I have with Yeshiva’s filing is that in 1967, Yeshiva University changed its charter in order to define itself as a non-sectarian University. Its affiliated rabbinical school, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETs) is separately chartered as a religious institution.
At the time that Yeshiva changed its charter, many other religiously affiliated schools did the same thing, including my undergraduate alma mater Georgetown. The purpose of changing their charters was to enable these schools to receive government grants which they would not have been able to receive as specifically religious institutions.
In point of fact Yeshiva University does function as a secular institution. Both Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women (the male and female undergraduate colleges) in theory admit students of any religion although they require such a heavy schedule of Jewish studies that it’s unlikely that non-Jewish students would actually enroll. The graduate programs -- law school, medical school, business school, social work, etc. -- are non-sectarian although they close on Jewish holidays and their cafeterias are kosher. A friend of mine who would not be considered Jewish by Orthodox standards was until recently the vice provost of the University and dean of one of its graduate schools.
To my mind Yeshiva’s claim is an attempt to have its cake and eat it too. YU is secular when it comes to receiving government funds but religious when it comes to following state human rights law. It seems to me that ultimately institutions have to pick one or the other; be religious and follow your conscience or be secular, receive government funds, and follow the law. There are still a handful of traditionalist Catholic and fundamentalist evangelical colleges which do not take government funding and are free to govern their campuses and students as they see fit.
I would actually not be surprised if Yeshiva University wins its case given the inclinations of the current Supreme Court which has allowed Christian adoption agencies which discriminate against Jews, Muslims, and LGBT people to serve as official state evaluators of potential adoptive parents. We will see what happens, probably fairly soon given that this was an emergency filing.
I want to once again note that I have switched my weekly day off to Monday instead of Tuesday. As we start to do more programs with other shuls, and as more and more professional seminars and webinars take place, I have found that the vast majority of rabbis take Monday off and scheduling meetings with other rabbis has become complicated. The one exception is that on Mondays when we have a synagogue board meeting, I will work on Monday and take Tuesday instead.
I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoon from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
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. 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