BOSTON - Yeshiva University (YU) announced on Monday that it will launch a new initiative “grounded in Halacha and Torah values,” to support its LGBTQ undergraduates, including “strengthening its on-campus support services and endorsing a new student club that presents an approved traditional Orthodox alternative to YU Pride Alliance,” a press release stated.
YU announced the establishment of the Kol Yisrael Areivim Club for LGBTQ students “striving to live authentic Torah lives,” according to the announcement. It was explained that this newly founded undergraduate student club, “which emerges from Yeshiva’s principles and its students’ interest for a club under traditional Orthodox auspices,” was approved by the administration, “in partnership with lay leadership and endorsed by senior Roshei Yeshiva.”
“The new club also reflects input and perspectives from conversations between Yeshiva’s rabbis, educators and current and past undergraduate LGBTQ students,” the press release stated. “The club will provide students with space to grow in their personal journeys, navigating the formidable challenges that they face in living a fully committed, uncompromisingly authentic halachic life within Orthodox communities.” It was emphasized throughout the announcement that all of the activities will take place “within the framework of Halacha [Jewish law],” while it remains uncertain how this will be implemented.
In addition, YU announced enhancing on-campus support services for its LGBTQ students. This broad approach will promote “sensitivity training for faculty and staff; specialized consultations through the counseling center; strict anti-harassment, anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies; an ongoing LGBTQ support group; and educational sessions for incoming students during orientation.”
“We are eager to support and facilitate the religious growth and personal life journeys of all of our students to lead authentic Torah lives and we hope that this Torah-based initiative with a new student club tailored to Yeshiva’s undergraduate LGBTQ students will provide them with meaningful support to do so,” Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, President of YU said.
“I add my blessing to this initiative and new student club, which we hope deepens our students’ commitment to the Torah and leads to harmony in our Yeshiva University community,” Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva of YU added.
“Yeshiva will continue to defend itself in the lawsuit that was brought against it by the YU Pride Alliance based on the claim that Yeshiva is not a religious institution,” the press release emphasized.
Supreme Court decision and subsequent backlash
In June, The New York County Supreme Court ruled that New York’s Yeshiva University is required to grant recognition to its LGBTQ club, the YU Pride Alliance. In April, the university’s official student newspaper reported that the YU Pride Alliance, a student and three alumni announced an LGBTQ discrimination lawsuit against the university, Berman and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Dr. Chaim Nissel at a virtual press conference.
In an email to faculty, students and alumni, Berman wrote that “we recognize that our undergraduate students, including our LGBTQ students, who choose to attend Yeshiva come with different expectations and navigate different challenges than those who choose a secular college.”
He added that YU will continue to defend itself in court: “our defense continues against the New York lower court’s ruling that we are not a religious institution and that we lack full religious authority over our environment. Our defense of this matter is essential to our ability to operate Yeshiva consistent with Torah values.”
According to The Commentator, YU student news site, the YU Pride Alliance criticized the move. “This is a desperate stunt by Yeshiva University, to distract from the growing calls from its donors, alumni, faculty, policymakers and the business community, who have stood alongside the YU Pride Alliance, as we continue to fight for our rights," the Alliance told The Commentator. “The YU sham is not a club as it was not formed by students, is not led by students and does not have members; rather, it is a feeble attempt by YU to continue denying LGBTQ students equal treatment as full members of the YU student community.”
Established in 1886, YU is a private university with four campuses in New York City. Inspired by modern and centrist Orthodox Judaism, it also has a yeshiva and Judaic studies programs. The motto of the university is “Torah U’mada” (Torah and secular knowledge). Even though most of the university’s students are Jewish, they don’t all subscribe to the Jewish faith.