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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fallout

One of the aspects of the homosexuality panel discussion that have been especially interesting is the comments I've been hearing from friends and others, including comments that are being passed along the grapevine. Friends and colleagues whom one wouldn't even expect to have read the previous post, let alone necessarily agree, have stated that they thought the comments and opinions expressed were especially good and right along the line of what they themselves felt on the subject - whether people from the "right" or "left" of the Orthodox spectrum. In addition, R' Twersky's and R' Reis' speeches tonight were excellent, and the general goings-on at YU are fascinating.

There are a few minor and major points that seemed especially interesting and which are worth mentioning:
  • One YU Rosh Yeshiva apparently voiced what many have been thinking: Until now, the yeshiva world blasted YU, but didn't have much ammunition behind it. Now, they have something legitimate.
  • One friend noted simply that her brother (a good friend of mine) who is planning on entering into social work had previously been considering attending Wurzweiler for graduate school. That just became extremely unlikely.
  • A friend commented that she now somewhat regrets attending Stern, and questions how YU can consider itself a frum school.
One of the most interesting comments came from an alumnus who was furious at the event, and basically vowed not to send their children to YU in the future (as it does not live up to the ideals of Orthodoxy that they feel are important). When I asked what if it straightens itself out, they expressed serious doubt that this was possible, noting strongly: [sic]
...It can't straighten out. They are out of control!! It only gets worse from here. They do these radical things, make radical statements. And for what?? More money? They don't honestly care about these people who were on the panel. President Joel doesn't give two ***** about homosexuality in the frum community.
While that's surely an immediate overreaction that will temper with time, how much of perception here is reality? How much of a hit will YU actually take - perhaps not from alumni, but from current and future enrollment, from support? This presumably won't help their recruitment in Israeli yeshivos and seminaries, and it marginalizes their own graduate schools - certainly Wurzweiler - at least a little bit by making them viewed as far less Jewish and far more as just a Jew-heavy school. (Though this was true already to an extent, this certainly isn't going to help the cause.) How many roshei yeshiva will continue to stay in a university where many supposedly were already uncomfortable with some of what goes on? There are certainly other options out there for many of them.

It's important to remember that many, many people were already somewhat wishy-washy on YU and its direction over the past number of years, uncomfortable with what they viewed as a leftward-leaning direction. An event such as the one held last week only confirms and seals this perception for those people and allows them to cross off YU in their minds permanently. While certainly not for all, for many, YU was viewed as the strong, appropriate balance of Judaism and how one maintains and builds on their religiousity while balancing that with the secular world. Without that balance, for those people, YU loses its identity at best, and quite possibly crushes it - eliciting reactions like the ones above.

In the earlier post, I touched on the idea that R' Gil Student, in his post on the subject, may have somewhat overstated the idea that the Orthodox world will be swinging to the left after this panel. I think he has it partially wrong and partially correct: YU itself will likely continue a gradual shift back to the left, but Orthodoxy as a whole won't go with it - in large part because those who are uncomfortable with YU's direction will shift away from that world. It seems as if YU itself only realized just how much of its constituency it upset with this after the fact, and its own rabbonim are furious and extremely saddened.

As a friend in YU put it: After years of toeing on the brink, YU is now in a full-blown identity crisis. Instead of a world outside which often looked askance at its actions but a strong frum core from within who could defend its balance, it has now crossed the line where even its staunch supporters are now forced to question what they're supporting, exactly. R' Reiss and R' Twersky spoke strongly (and extremely well) tonight, and the excerpts that have been shared with me by people who attended seem to have nailed the issues perfectly. One lamented that at a few points in the panel, there was applause for what the panelists were saying. At no point, however, did anyone object to what was being said, including when a panelist alluded to homosexual acts.

My friend also made an interesting analogy, comparing it in a way to the Golden Calf. When making the egel, everyone who was there thought that it was not just okay, but important to do. Aharon HaKohein felt that it was a good idea, at least to some extent, if not completely. Only when a person steps back and takes a look from a bit of a broader point of view can they realize "What the heck are we doing!?" and understand that it sends the wrong message and doesn't accomplish much beyond a short-term good feeling.

A number of people have noticed one other important point: Before the event, a lot of people were indifferent to the event. But as the last week has passed and people have thought about the event and read the transcripts, read the commentary, they have found themselves more and more against the event having taken place. They don't understand what it was supposed to have accomplished, what it actually accomplished, and taking a step back, they're questioning why something like this should have happened on such a public stage - and nobody has a good answer, and that's forced people to shift from disappointment to disillusionment (if not outrage).

As discussed in the previous post, perhaps if there were a positive outcome that emanated from this panel, one could argue that it was necessary despite the negative aspects and implications that can be drawn from it. But without that, all it does is raise questions as to what YU stands for and where its priorities lie. This time, those questions aren't coming mostly from outside, but instead, they're being hotly debated from within its very core.

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