Wise Words From YU’s Next President
The news got out earlier today that YU’s search committee at arrived at a choice for a successor to President Richard Joel. Rabbi Ari Berman, a former spiritual leader of The Jewish Center in Manhattan, has apparently been given the nod.
It will not be an easy job, dealing with the financial uncertainty of YU’s future (it took a huge hit from the Bernie Madoff scheme, and has been operating at a deficit since) and the different forces and visions all jockeying for position within the Modern Orthodox world. Words that he penned in 1998 show the chinuch from which he emerged, and his roots in the universe of halachah and learning. We present an excerpt from that Jewish Action article that speaks for itself:
…In halachah there is only one Orthodox community and that is the community of achicha b’mitzvot.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet privately with one of the leading American roshei yeshivah in the Chareidi world. In the course of our conversation, I said to him that it would be wonderful if we could arrange a small learning program during the summer which would bring together the best talmidim from his yeshivah with those from Yeshiva University. This would give the next generation of Orthodox leaders androshei yeshivah a chance to meet with one another, to talk to one another, and to learn Torah with and from one another. The goal of the program would be that, through this exposure, both camps will recognize that, although we have our differences, our commitment to talmud Torah, our core values and ideals, are identical. After hearing my proposal, this rosh yeshivah shook his head and said: “This is very difficult, this is very difficult….”
When we think about Jewish unity, we often concentrate on those in the community of Yisrael, overlooking those in the community of achicha b’mitzvot. We focus on unity in the general Jewish populace, and fail to direct our attention to unity within the Orthodox world itself. But as events in the past year have highlighted, there is a great need to focus on unity in the Orthodox world as well. And it is with our community of achicha b’mitzvot that we have the most in common. Many Modern Orthodox Jews today are learned and steeped in Torah, typically having benefited from a strong yeshivah education, including a year or years of full-time Torah study in Israel. For much of Modern Orthodoxy, talmud Torah and shmirat ha’mitzvot are the top priority. As such, it is important for Modern Orthodox Jews and those to the right to be exposed to one another. It is crucial for both of our communities to recognize that fundamentally we share the same core priorities and commitments. While we are not identical and do have our differences, we must focus on and accentuate our common ground because, after all, what we have in common is far more significant than what differentiates us. Although it is true that “this is very difficult, this is very difficult,” both camps must overcome their difficulties….[The] terminology we use today – “modern/centrist/ultra-Orthodox/Chareidi” — has no precedent in halachah. For in halachah there is only one Orthodox community and that is the community of achicha b’mitzvot. The more we emphasize this for ourselves and develop intra-Orthodox programs that focus on our common bond of Torah and mitzvot, the more likely it will be that we can develop into one united community.
Twenty years ago, Rabbi Shlomo Berman, the son-in-law of the Steipler and then a rosh yeshivah in the Ponevez Yeshivah, suggested to Julius Berman (then the president of the Orthodox Union) that if the Union wanted to do something significant for Orthodoxy, it should arrange a Yom Iyun with shiurim delivered byroshei yeshivah identified with different groups within Orthodoxy, such as Agudas Yisrael and Mizrachi, lead by Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik. When asked what would be the purpose of such a program, Rav Berman responded, “Tzu lernen der ‘olam az Torah iz umparteyish; es balangt nit nor tzu di Mizrachi uder di Agudah, nit nor tzu Chassidim uder Misnagdim; es balangt tzu Klal Yisrael.” (“To teach the community that Torah is non-partisan; it belongs not only to Mizrachi or to Agudah, not only to Chassidim or to Misnagdim; it belongs to Klal Yisrael.”
In the camp of achicha b’mitzvot, Torah is what distinguishes us and Torah is what should unite us.
I had the pleasure of listening to a lecture by Rabbi Ari Berman on Tshuva and Ellul Tshuva and Rosh Hashana and Tshuva an Yom KIppurim last night. -MOnday night-
in his lecture he did refer to his recent trip to NY and some article that he read ion the paper edition of the NYTimes.
I know nothing about current YU politics but on must be very careful in assuming that apparent choices of comittees ultimately become President. They’re is no secret that in th last selection a leading Jewish scholar taleted talmid chacham nname was floated as Preusident and ultmately he did not get the job. In 1941 there I were two giants of time Rabbinic scene who had supporters on the Board so the took a third person a RY. One never
Knows how the ultimate Board process will turn out.
i do not know Rabbi Berman but certainly his background is one that I hope will be one that ultmately would become President. Perhaps this I f it happens will be another benefit of the YU separation from Einstein-there is no secret that last time Einstein board was vehement against having a Rabbi as President.
This is an official announcement- some of the names floated last time were of people who were offered the position and turned it down. I think that the implication here is that he has basically consented to being nominated, which makes it more of a possibility. The fact that they are announcing anything, and are announcing one person in particular, says a lot.
Seems like a done deal to me. At least one distinguished Rabbi academic who was offered the position last time turned it down. Eabbi Dr Berman from everything I know of him seems an excellent choice.
rav shlomo berman ztl was not well known outside of the charedi community in bnai brak and more than anything was an ish shalom, hardly a minor accomplishment in israeli politics. when fighting erupted in ponevez among RY and talmidim, he remained steadfastly above it all continuing his legendary hasmadah. though following many of the chumrot of the CI in whose house he lived for 6 years, he was entirely non judgemental.
he wouldn’t but i will ask why the cooperation he suggested never took place? i remember the famous poster of the fictitious invitation for 3 YU RY to speak in Lakewood, given the famous event held in the MO ir hakodesh of teaneck.
“This is very difficult, this is very difficult….”
Thank you for bringing the old Jewish Action article to our attention. Wise words indeed. However, to what do you attribute the rationale for the above statement? Why has such dialogue and collaboration indeed become so “very difficult”? Not to disparage the Rosh Yeshiva in any way, because he certainly deserves credit for even being part of such a conversation. And the statement from the Steipler’s son in law surely goes back at least 30 years, with statements (at least publicly) like that in 2016 few and far between. So, what is truly the basis for the “difficulty”?
From as far back as I can remember, there seems to be a collective behind-the-scenes collusion within the chareidi world towards YU as an institution. Few individuals willing to do anything out in the open which would validate YU as a whole or Yeshiva specifically. While this is only perhaps rivaled by collective antipathy towards YCT (for well-documented objective reasons), practically speaking things do not play out much differently. There appears to be a sentiment of recognition of YU as a Yeshiva or institution will diminish one’s personal or institutional credibility in the chareidi community. (This impediment does not seem to be an issue when it comes to openly affiliating with different worldviews within the “kannoi-ishe” world.) I know of a few cases of Chareidi Rabbonim and RY having declined specific or open invitations to give shiurim in YU proper. Several years ago, there was a well-publicized forum of such Torah personalities held in a large Centrist shul in Teaneck. But, one can be understandably skeptical as to the motivations behind their participation in that event. There was even a subsequent parody of a “reciprocal” event of YU Roshei Yeshiva speaking in Lakewood afterwards. But it was quite telling that everyone knew that the fictitious forum could only be just that, a parody.
Yes, there is some cooperation and recognition that goes on an individual and personal level, public recognition is somehow seen as giving in ideological ground to YU. I think that this ongoing negative sentiment has endured the test of time and has a long history. Much of it has been through decades-old bubbameises having been successfully perpetuated within the Yeshiva world of what goes on in the institution. Yet, I don’t recall ever hearing any delegitimization within YU circles, ongoing or ad hoc, of any other Yeshiva as a makom Torah. So, I don’t believe that the prevalent attitude in the Yeshiva world is about President Richard Joel or even Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm for that matter. Hopefully there is optimism for a new President to build those types of bridges. But the fact that nothing has really changed since 1998 or whatever year the Steipler’s son-in-law made that statement in a private conversation years before that, seems to speak for itself.
Yes, in theory, there should be common ground in seeing Torah as a uniting force (“achicha b’mitzvot”). But, I have not yet seen that there has been a genuine validation of the special contribution which YU has made on individual and collective levels within our Torah community.
I thought we were friends. Why are you publicly trying to bait me? You know darn well the reasons for the anti-YU attitudes. The Litvisher world found YU’s full-throated acceptance of the pursuit of secular knowledge a theoretical and practical threat to its continuity. Part of this was ideology; part was insecurity. It felt that it could not validate that pursuit, or it would lose some of its brightest talmidim to the professions.
The hostility was not always as palpable as it was for some decades. A video was recently released that tells the story of the partnership of R Aharon and R Soloveitchik regarding Chinuch Atzamai. It speaks of Torah giants who rejected in part each other’s ideology – but were not insecure, and could accept their mutual greatness. Worthwhile watching! (Contains material disturbing to certain people, like the story of the time that Menachem Begin agreed to speak at a Chinuch Atzmai dinner!)
The pattern of more recent decades, however, may be shifting. The rise of the neo-Conservative OO is causing a realignment of Orthodoxy. It looks like a new middle is forming, joining more open products of the yeshiva world with the stronger elements of YU. What was always called Modern Orthodoxy is currently going through an identity crisis. It looks like it will not be able to hang together, but will split into two groups, with some going to the new middle, and the rest moving even further to the left.
Maaseh shehayah kach hayah
We were visiting our daughter who was in seminary during the aftermath of the uproar over MOAG. Thanks to very dear friends we met with RNK who explained to us that while the Litvishe world had enormous respect for RYBS as a Gadol the issue was the view of secular studies and Torah study together as a lchatchilah that rendered the hashkafa of YU problematic in the eyes of the Litvishe Gdolim of that generation.
The view of secular studies as a lechatchila certainly applied to the Rav. Of course, it can’t be forgotten that the Rav viewed Torah as primary. IMO it is a given that Torah is primary.
Yet, one should remember RYBS’s famous speech ( “I See Ghosts”) about the splitting off of RIETS as a mere affiliate so that YU could receive “Bundy money” , and especially read R Charlop’s comments in “Mentor of Generations” at Pages 83-90 about the development of RIETS from 1971 through 1986 . Can you show me anywhere where RYBS ever identified as a spokesman for or endorsed synthesis, TuM or the like as compatible with his views on the relationship between Torah and secular studies?
It certainly won’t be an easy job andI would simply comment on your lead in where you described why.
1. Madoff as far as I can tell was part of a broader story of financial management issues. These can easily be dealt with by strong financial leadership which starts at the top and makes decisions with 2. Below in mind
2.There needs to be some heavy lifting by the administration and the board as to exactly what the vision of YU (both the university and the yeshiva) is and this needs to be communicated to all not just in a PR sense but connected to decisions that are explained in its light. As an example trying to be all things to all people is an expensive approach and is very open to poaching by niche players.
I’d love YU to stand for what I thought I signed up for, but I’d more love that it clearly defined an attainable vision.
Madoff victims have recovered over 62% of their losses, and there may be another 10-25% to come. It is one issue among many, and not the largest. People should stop overstating its impact based on years-old articles from gloating journalists.
It is important to remember that the team of R D Lamm and Dr S Sokol rescued YU from the brink of bankruptcy after RYBS spoke at a board meeting where the prospect of such a filing RL was being discussed and the necessary legal documents had been prepared and then raised enough $ to leave YU with a surplus. Perhaps thought should be given to seeking a strong CFO like Dr Sokol and more members on the board who are YU alumni and Shomrei Torah Umitzvos with a strong sense of fiduciary responsibility for the future of YU as opposed to water cooler inside baseball as to the hashkafic direction of MO and YU.
“The Litvisher world found YU’s full-throated acceptance of the pursuit of secular knowledge a theoretical and practical threat to its continuity.” This is very misleading. My father R’ Nachman Bulman z’l was a musmach of YU and a Hirschian, a true believer in Torah im Derech Eretz. He worked for YU twice, a year each time, once in the ’50’s and again in the ’60’s. He couldn’t take it. The whole place listed heavily to the left.
Even though the yeshiva part of Yeshiva University had some wonderful rebbeim and some wonderful talmidim, the university part was and is the tail that wagged the dog. The secular part was weightier and far more influential than the Torah part. A large percentage of the students, probably a majority, were infected with secularist hashkafos, an infection they caught in YU.
Torah uMada is a very different beast from Torah im Derech Eretz. TuM is “two mountains, two magisteria” with the secular mountain free to critique the Torah mountain. YU’s attitude is, let Torah and secularism duke it out and every man for himself.
TIDE is a hashkafa in which all of secular knowledge is viewed through the prism of Torah.
YU lists even more heavily to the left today than in the past. I remember when a talmid complained to his Rosh Yeshiva that he was being forced to view slides of nude paintings in his art history classes — in YU! And the RY sighed and said there was nothing he could do about, he had no influence over the U part of YU. That says it all. Imagine a yeshiva in which talmidim are forced to view nude pictures. What is the Torah in such a place? Chazir feesel.
It isnt provable that students caught secularism at YU, rather than coming in with those views. Especially in the sixties.
YU’s attitude is, let Torah and secularism duke it out and every man for himself.
See my comment below – but I don’t believe anyone includes this in their YU vision statement.
Instead of basing your conclusions on observations from last century, it might be time for you to visit the campus and Batei Midrash to get some more current perspectives.
you are absolutely correct. the madoff impact was minor compared to the impact of shifting from the “dumb-bell” investment strategy (descriptive not remotely pejorative) and related spending discipline that was used under RD Lamm. both the investment strategy and the spending guidelines used by Joel and the PE heavy board has brought the school to its current unfortunate state. under normal corporate governance, this could never happen, absent extreme malfeasance.
“YU lists even more heavily to the left today than in the past.”
I’m curious why you say that. My impression was the opposite is the case. The YU of today seems to me to be far more to the right than in the past, but admittedly I’m not an expert in YU past or present.
One has to distinguish the leading RY from various time periods which has gone right to the administration Dr Belkin at one time. Before the Rav came to YU was a RY at RIETS teaching its then top class, he was succeeded by R N Lamm a leading Rabbi,he was succeeded by Richard Joel who when he first became President even experimented with a logo for YU wo. Torah in it. Thus,the administration has drifted left. The RY have drifted right. It comes down to who do you believe represents YU.
of course, Dr Revel before he. Became Pres of YU was one of the few people from the US to go to the Founding Conference of the Aguda in Europe.
Perhaps your view which is not without some merit might be amenable to some modification if you heard shiurim from any of the Gdolei Torah who are RY in RIETS and or from any of their talmidim
Focusing on tafel as opposed to ikar IMO from legitimate concerns without acknowledging the positive has a way of morphing into urban myths and stereotypes that really don’t allow for hakaras hatov even if one is a loyal but critical alumnus of any yeshiva including YU
“I remember when a talmid complained to his Rosh Yeshiva that he was being forced to view slides of nude paintings in his art history classes ”
I think those were issues of a different generation; I think of YU on some hashkafa issues today being similar to where the Agudah world was in the 50s-80s. At this year’s graduation, a Stern valedictorian spoke about yiras shomayim and its relation to life(quoting Rav Soleveitchik on the Machzor) which I found impressive for a graduation speech in any institution.