Jonathan Muskat

Can the Modern Orthodox community have it all?

The Modern Orthodox community wants to have it all.  We want to live by Torah values.  We want to embrace all the beauty that the world has to offer.  We want to be a walking kiddush Hashem and a light unto the nations.  We want to be able to make it in this world and be able to achieve the highest levels of educational and professional opportunities in this country.  We are so excited when our uniquely Jewish culture is celebrated by the world at large, like the recent Miami Boys Choir TikTok craze.  Moments like these make us believe that we truly can have it all.

But there are other moments that make us realize that that is not the case.  Yeshiva University’s efforts to prevent an LGBTQ pride club is one of those moments.  There is a natural desire by our community to try as hard as we can to align our modern sensibilities with halachic values. Therefore, YU’s unwillingness to provide an outlet for its LGBTQ students that has been provided in other colleges creates a struggle for many in our community who want to find a solution that will indeed align our sensibilities with halachic values.  YU ultimately may not be able to provide what some of its LGBTQ students feel they need and these students may go to a different institution.  We may not be able to make all students feel comfortable in our broad Modern Orthodox tent.  As someone who does not personally share this struggle, I can only empathize with how painful this must be for those who feel that they are being left on the outside.

What creates further frustration is that our community prides itself on balancing respect for our Roshei Yeshiva and poskim with the ability to openly and candidly ask difficult questions that will help us understand the complexity about sensitive and delicate issues that our community faces.  We would love to have a more open and public frank discussion with the senior YU Roshei Yeshiva who are likely behind YU’s position on this issue to understand the halachic and meta-halachic concerns and what the red lines are that can maximize support for members of the LGBTQ community while still preserving its Torah values.  Unfortunately, however, due to the toxic discourse that currently polarizes our country, it is unlikely that any such public conversation will take place soon in a meaningful way.

Additionally, this litigation may harm YU’s reputation and ultimately it may limit opportunities for its students.  A letter was posted by some members of the YU undergraduate faculty that expressed concern that YU’s reputation in the broader academic world will be tarnished which may limit students’ career paths and graduate school admissions prospects and which may hurt YU’s fundraising efforts.    YU’s halachic stance may be perceived by the broader world as intolerant and bigoted which may have practical consequences.

I think that it may come to pass that in our Modern Orthodox community, we can’t have it all.  We may not be able to provide an adequate solution for every student who wants to attend YU because the “red lines” of some students may not fit in with the senior Roshei Yeshiva’s “red lines,” as painful as that may be for many of us.  We may not fully be able to plumb the depths of this issue at this moment in this toxic climate.  YU may suffer as an academic institution and its students may struggle more in finding academic and professional opportunities post-YU.  It may come to pass that we can’t have it all.

However, the strength of our Modern Orthodox community has never been about the end result, namely our ability to have it all.  The strength of our community has always been our process in navigating the world.   The strength of our community has always been our commitment to engage the broader world through the prism of Torah values guided by our rabbinic leaders.  It is unfortunate that this litigation has been mischaracterized as a part of a culture war with YU being led by political conservatives.  The fact that recently six US democratic congressmen sent a letter criticizing YU’s stance on the LGBTQ club and the politically right-wing Coalition for Jewish Values wrote a letter praising YU’s stance on the LGBTQ club certainly reinforces this mischaracterization for outsiders.  However, the senior YU Roshei Yeshiva do not make significant decisions about the character of their Yeshiva based on their political views.  They do so based on Torah values, trying to balance human and halachic sensitivities and they will continue to navigate the very painful issue through this lens.  Our commitment to continue dialoging with the Roshei Yeshiva and supporting their leadership is the key to our success as a community, even if at the end of the day, we truly cannot have it all.  Or maybe we just have to re-define what having it all truly means.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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