Promoting an Honest and Open Modern Orthodoxy

excerpted from an opinion piece by Ben Sales in New Voices (National Jewish Student Magazine):

Keep YU Discourse Open

Yeshiva University is no longer a place for open conversation about Judaism, despite its being the largest Jewish college in the country. According to an article in the Jewish Star, four YU senior officers canceled a student-organized lecture last month because it featured Rabbi Ethan Tucker, one of the heads of the egalitarian Yeshivat Hadar in New York and an active proponent of gender equality in Judaism – stances that conflict with YU’s policies.

According to the Star, YU’s administration opposed the event on the grounds that the school is “Centrist Orthodox” and would not host clergy from different denominations. Leaders of the student group Torah Exploration of Ideas, Questions and Understandings, which organized the event, countered that the administration was being inconsistent because far-right Orthodox speakers had lectured at the school.

Whether the administration is abiding by its own rule is beside the point. The larger problem here is that such a rule exists at all. YU students are adults, and should be able to conduct discussion on their own terms – especially about issues of Jewish law and philosophy. These students engage with issues confronting the Modern Orthodox world on a daily basis, from gender equality to the place of homosexuals in the community. It would be unfair to their intellectual development and counterproductive to YU’s goals if the school means to educate a group of students committed to honest engagement with Jewish tradition and the Jewish world.

… YU may be attempting to keep its students in the bubble of what it calls “Centrist Orthodoxy,” but sooner or later students who want to know more about the rest of the Jewish community will leave that space. Intellectually curious Jews, whether students or not, will seek out challenging conversations about Judaism and will confront ideas not compatible with what they learned in yeshiva. YU has the chance to allow students to wrestle with those ideas in a familiar setting, encouraging their academic growth and fostering an honest Modern Orthodoxy. As it is, however, the administration’s policy on outside speakers stunts the intellectual growth of its students and fails to encourage thoughtful Jewish discourse.