The YU Pride Alliance, an unofficial group of undergraduate YU students, together with three alumni and one registered student, have brought a discrimination lawsuit against the university, President Ari Berman and, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Dr. Chaim Nissel, The Commentator reported on Tuesday (YU and Administrators Sued for LGBTQ Discrimination by YU Pride Alliance, Students and Alumni). According to the lawsuit, the university has rejected three proposals by the plaintiffs to start an official LGBTQ club, in 2019 and 2020.
According to The Commentator, the late Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the profound spiritual leader of YU, was adamant in his opposition to designating the religious Jewish university as a non-sectarian institution in 1970, a change that qualified the institution to receive state funds. Rabbi Soloveitchik warned that its new, non-sectarian designation, would leave YU with “only a limited right to formulate rules” that comply with Jewish law.
Yeshiva University has its roots in the Etz Chaim Yeshiva that was founded in 1886 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and offered Talmud study along with secular education, including instruction in English. The rabbinical seminary was chartered in 1897. (Neither offered a gay club to its students.)
The stark change in values that characterize YU was perhaps best stressed in a letter of protest that was sent by 48 law professors teaching at Cardozo Law (YU’s law school) to YU President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman: “Discrimination against a student organization solely because of its focus on LGBTQ+ issues has no place in a University that holds itself out as a community committed to the flourishing and equal dignity of all its members.”
We looked it up. In 2020, the YU endowment stood at $615.1 million. This was, essentially, the price the university charged for transforming from a religious Jewish school to “a community committed to the flourishing and equal dignity of all its members.” It’s called, Pay the piper.
Molly Meisels, one of the plaintiffs, told the Commentator: “What I want Yeshiva University students, faculty, staff, and administrators to know is that I am partaking in this case out of love for the university. The institution has so much potential to be a safe, loving, and supportive environment for queer students and allies. This potential has yet to be realized. Hopefully, this case will provide queer students with the club they deserve.”
The lawsuit states that “on a tangible level, YU’s refusal to officially recognize the club deprives Plaintiff the YU Pride Alliance and its members of the important benefits enjoyed by YU’s 116 other recognized student organizations.”
“Beyond depriving students of access to these tangible benefits of student clubs, YU’s refusal to recognize the YU Pride Alliance sends a stark and painful message of rejection and non-belonging to its LGBTQ students and their allies,” the lawsuit continues. “By its acts of intentional discrimination, YU has inflicted and is continuing to inflict grave dignitary, emotional, and psychological harms on these college students, and indeed on all its students, who need belonging, safety, community, and support.”
“An official LGBTQ student club is not only Plaintiffs’ right as students, it is necessary to their health and well-being on campus. Students may feel isolated and unwelcome on campus, and do not know where to go for resources, guidance, or camaraderie,” says the lawsuit. “A club will provide these students with a safe space to create a community and support each other as they navigate the challenges of being LGBTQ Jewish individuals. It will give the students access to funding and communication resources so they may hold and publicize events addressing LGBTQ issues and build relationships with other LGBTQ students and allies.”
I checked out the YU Pride Alliance’s Facebook page, which last Friday featured a sermon by Rabbi Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh Yeshiva of the Modern Orthodox Ohr Torah Stone network of institutions. Rabbi Brander was making a cogent point about the fact that the Torah prohibition against relations between two Jewish men does not mean that gay Jewish men should be ostracized by the community. The rabbi is 100 percent correct, and across the Modern Orthodox world, gay men and women are usually welcome to partake in community prayer and other events, as equal members.
However, I am not aware of Ohr Torah Stone condoning gay marriages in Orthodox synagogues. Because this is against the spirit of the Torah. Yeshiva University is also welcoming of students of all sexual preferences, but it can’t remain a Jewish institution and lend its name to a gay students’ club. The difference between Modern Orthodox shuls and YU is that the former don’t take half millions of dollars from the federal government.
They should have listened to Rabbi Soloveitchik.