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The Billion Dollar Question: Can Yeshiva University Survive?

It would be tragic beyond all proportion if Yeshiva University were to fold. I don’t think that is going to happen. But the mere prospect of losing the only asset that rises to the task – scares me.
Yeshiva University

Yeshiva University
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

There is only one Yeshiva University. There are many ‘Lakewoods.’ I have no issue with Charedi Yeshivos like Lakewood  whose purpose it is to learn Torah only.  My criticisms are only about how widely that is implemented in the Charedi world. I disagree that all Charedim should strive to do that to the exclusion of all else. But certainly such institutions should exist. There is nothing wrong with focusing on your area of expertise. Whether one should also be well versed in other subjects for their own sake (Torah U’Mada)  or only to enhance one’s Yahdus (TIDE) is what separates us from Charedim who do not place much value on Mada at all except for utilitarian purposes.

The fact is that Yeshiva University is a Yeshiva that has both a Yeshiva and a university on the same campus and encourages its students to study both. Its motto is Torah U’Mada. That is in contrast to the Charedi worldview where very few Charedim seek secular education beyond high school in America (and at all in Israel). That some go on to become professionals via a higher education is not a function of any value they place on secular studies. It is solely a function of getting the education required to make a decent living.

There is nothing wrong with studying Mada for parnassa purposes.  That’s what Touro does. Their education is geared towards Paranassa. I am a big supporter of that. But YU actually values secular studies per se. They take seriously the Gemarah’s statement ‘Im Omar Lecha Yesh Chochma BaGoyim, Taamin.’ If someone tells you that non Jews have wisdom, believe them.

YU’s goal is to seek out that wisdom and teach it to its students. It is the only Yeshiva to do so L’Chatchila beyond high school .  Those who study in the Yeshiva program – the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS, which is what YU is really all about) are typical of those who place primary importance on Torah study but place great value on Mada too. There are plenty of Masmidim there. One can go into the Beis HaMedrash at YU at any given time and find it filled with students learning B’Hasmadah Rabbah (with great diligence). Some into the wee hours of the morning. And they do not neglect their study of Mada at all  - succeeding at those studies with similar degrees of excellence.

I bring all this up in light of the recent report* about the financial straits YU is going through.  Apparently YU’s board of directors approved risky investments that went south to the tune of a billion dollars. I cannot image any Yeshiva having those kinds of funds to invest, let alone to operate with. That is some serious money. That’s 1000 million dollars. They lost it all, it seems.

A lot of people blame YU’s president, Richard Joel. He is after all the CEO responsible for, among other things, YU’s financial welfare (and being handsomely paid for it). But I am not one of them.  He consulted with the board about those investments and they must have approved it.  He did not just blindly go into the market and invest in penny stocks. He consulted with acknowledged experts in the field of financial investments and if I understand correctly followed their recommendations.  When the economy tanked a few years ago, so did those investments and apparently they did not recover when the economy started rebounding.

But… I understand that Mr. Joel is getting the blame for all this. He is the man in charge. He is the man at the top. The buck stops there. So if he gets fired, it is just as understandable as when a Cubs manager gets fired. If the team is doing badly you don’t fire the team. You fire the manager. Even if he is a proven winner in his past engagements with other teams that have won pennants under his leadership. That’s just the way it is. Richard Joel will land on his feet. I’m pretty sure he put away piles of money from the very generous compensation he received over the years as CEO of YU (unless he put that money into risky investments too. I hope not).

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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7 Responses to “The Billion Dollar Question: Can Yeshiva University Survive?”

  1. Donny Reich says:

    Fortunately, YU is not the only place where a Torah Jew can both learn in Yeshiva and study University studies. Such institutions exist – at a lesser cost – throughout Israel.

    Israel is more accessible now than it has ever been. Clearly the future of the Jewish community – especially the Torah community lies in Israel. Maybe now it's time to close up YU and other american Jewish institutions and concentrate on Israel?

  2. I support Yeshiva University with a full heart. We must save Yeshiva University . Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  3. Anonymous says:

    The fact that a Jewish organization has $1 billion to invest while so many religious parents around the country are struggling to pay tuition is alarming. America need to wake up and devote resources to making Jewish education affordable to more Jews. As we see from this sad course the money is there. Could we all imagine the impact that $1 billion would have on sponsoring scholarships – its over 30,000 students for 3 years at $10,000 a year.

  4. Kenneth Schreier says:

    The huge debt is a disgrace. Where did all the money go? Where are the accounting books. Tuitions are $25,000 per year for its high school. They need to lower tuition to increase students coming to their school. Charging large sums of money to teach Torah is a sin for those many who cannot afford it. Times are economically tuff and consumer inflation high. Their tuition grant programs are for the poor and do not address middle wage earners who cannot afford anywhere near the tuition they are charging. They are a needed academic institution for the continued teachings of Judaism and the sciences but they need to become financially responsible and not go after the holy dollar.

  5. Kenneth Schreier says:

    They no longer have the money, they claim they lost it by bad investments. Maybe they need to higher people who know how to invest money. Let them open their accounting books to see what really happened to the money.

  6. Douglas Kent says:

    If it sinks it sinks. The students have many other excellent yeshivot to choose from. And with it will sink Harry Maryles' view of what Orthodoxy should be.

  7. Ch Hoffman says:

    the fiscal ineptitude which brought about the current conditions of insolvency says very little in a positive way for the board of directors; honorifics are nice, but sometimes you have to spend some time with the numbers and the realities rather than just sitting up on the dais and posing with celebrities.

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