Yeshiva College, Please Tolerate Benei Torah
I thank Elliot Resnick for bringing to the fore the issue of academic Bible at YU. While it has been a gnawing issue for many students for decades, he is to be complimented for taking the time to raise it in a public forum. Mr. Resnick argued for shutting down the Bible department, or, minimally, eliminating the Bible requirement. I would like to separate the two issues and address only the second, i.e. academic Bible as a required course of study for all YU undergraduate students.
The Bible requirement has been a source of angst, confusion, or irritation for many YU students for decades. These students found the tone and/or content of the academic Bible classes religiously objectionable. Additionally, it is well known that many of the senior and widely respected rashei yeshivah at RIETS concur with these objections. It is certainly possible that some students find academic Bible enjoyable, useful, or stimulating, and it is safe to assume that the university administration will continue to dedicate resources to maintaining an academic Bible department in order to serve those students. The issue at hand, however, is requiring (or, less politely, forcing) all students, even those who find it religiously objectionable, to study academic Bible. The vociferous insistence on the part of academic Bible’s advocates that it be required for all students amounts to one group dogmatically forcing its own interests on others who find it offensive. One does not have to agree with the religious objections many have to academic Bible in order to agree that these dissenters have a right to their opinion and should not be forced to do that which they find objectionable.
Some may argue that despite the aforementioned issues, the Bible requirement is needed to equip students to defend their beliefs in an outside world that is hostile to faith. While there are various responses to this argument, I will suffice with offering one. I have been living in that outside world throughout my career (starting in 1997), and have worked for four large corporations in three different industries. My current tenure of twelve years is at an industrial research lab of a multinational corporation, which maintains such labs on six continents. I work with highly educated people from around the world who adhere to various religions and whose personal and cultural backgrounds cover an extremely broad spectrum. Not once in my career, however, has anyone challenged my faith with the type of arguments or ideas that are discussed in academic Bible classes, and not once has anything I learned in those classes been remotely useful when interacting with this impressive array of highly educated people. In fact, in the modern workplace, any comment on a personal matter, whether regarding religion or any other non-work topic, that makes a coworker uncomfortable is deemed to be entirely unacceptable behavior and can be cause for disciplinary action or dismissal. On the extremely rare occasion that an anti-religious comment is made it is usually a shallow agnostic comment driven by a hedonistic system of beliefs and lifestyle, and has no connection whatsoever to any issues discussed in academic Bible studies. The assumption that the average person will be confronted with challenges based on Bible criticism is anachronistic at best.
Given the growing range of competition that YU faces (direct “yeshivah plus college” competitors, e.g. Lander’s, the increasing number of highly respected universities offering a bachelor’s degree online, e.g. Boston University, Penn State, and University of Illinois, etc.), one would think that YU would eliminate a requirement that many find objectionable. Personally, for example, I have serious misgivings about sending my children to a school where they will needlessly be exposed to such things, and plan to seriously investigate other options when the time comes to decide where they will go to yeshivah. However, we must be fair to the university administration and recognize that they have to deal with certain extremely vocal and intolerant personalities who feel it is their right to dogmatically force others to do that which they find religiously objectionable. Therefore, I urge all YU students and alumni to make their voices heard on this issue in order to give the administration the information they need to make a balanced decision. Specifically, if you are a YU student or alumnus and have had a negative experience in Bible, whether it was confusing or irritating, please share your experience in the comments to this article on the Kol Hamevaser website.
I will close by reiterating the essential point: The issue at hand is whether students who find academic Bible to be religiously objectionable will nonetheless be required/forced to pursue such studies, or whether a more tolerant approach will be adopted wherein the requirement is eliminated but the courses offered for those who want them. This more accommodating approach would allow a broader range of students to enjoy their stay at YU, and also remove a barrier that currently pushes some students to pursue their undergraduate studies elsewhere.
Judah Diament graduated SSSB in 1996 and is a RIETS musmakh.