Have American Jewish Leaders Abandoned Judaism for the Religion of the Woke?

by Ann P. Levin

Has woke ideology captured “Jewish” organizations to such an extent that they are willing to abandon traditional Judaism?

Heading into the Jewish New Year, the Yeshiva University of New York is likely less able to focus on the inner work of repentance and community-healing that typifies the period before the Days of Awe.

Instead, the largest Torah Judaism institution in the United States is on its knees, fighting for basic First Amendment rights before a hostile public and legal system. This sounds like Communist Russia, but, no, this fight is in 21 st century America.

A group of LGBTQ students attending Yeshiva University, called YU Pride Alliance, demanded that Yeshiva University recognize and endorse them as an official student group on the Orthodox University campus. According to its charter, the University expects its undergraduate students to “live in accordance with halachic norms and Torah ideals.” Students, all of whom attend the University voluntarily, are on notice of this principle before enrolling.

The YU Pride Alliance’s request for formal recognition by Yeshiva University is not a harmless cry for respect by a helpless, victimized group. They admit they want to “make a statement” and promote “cultural changes” in the University. These activists demand that the University negate its own charter and raison d’être, as well as thousands of years of Orthodox Torah interpretation. YU refused. It had to.

So the group dragged the University through an expensive legal battle, diverting funds from better uses such as scholarships for low-income students. Every day of the week, these students could meet and discuss, or publish whatever they wanted. They just would not get University funding or facilities. YU never threatened to expel them, despite its charter. In fact, the University administration denied the student request for official recognition in gentle and respectful terms. It noted that recognizing the Alliance would “cloud the nuanced message of the Torah… which accepts each individual with love.”

But that was not good enough. This activist group marshaled the might, and muscle of powerful trends, social networks, progressive groups, and the secular government to force this Jewish religious institution to “say uncle” on this issue. Worse yet, this lawsuit came when hate crimes against Orthodox Jews in New York are skyrocketing.

The YU Pride Alliance based their lawsuit on a New York statute called the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), which forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender. Yet this local statute has carved out exemptions for secular groups such as the American Legion, the United Scottish Clans of New York and New Jersey, and the Loyal Order of the Moose. In contrast, Yeshiva University, whose educational activity entitles it to the highest First Amendment protection, was denied an exemption. So we have the absurdity that The Gay Pride Alliance would have lost to the Loyal Order of the Moose, but the New York Courts forced Yeshiva University to succumb to its demands.

YU sought a stay (freezing of enforcement pending appeal) of the court order that forced it to recognize and endow this group with resources and privileges. The higher New York State Courts denied a stay with no explanation. Even the “conservative” United States Supreme court denied a stay for YU. So YU is now forced, under penalty of law, to put its imprimatur on an interpretation of the Torah that it objects to, while months of appeals snake their way through the justice system.

The dissenting United States Supreme Court Justices who wanted to grant YU a stay noted that “The loss of First Amendment Rights even for a short period constitutes irreparable harm.” That is correct. Would anyone insist that a visiting Israeli Prime Minister who kept kosher eat bacon, “just for one meal”?

In desperation, Yeshiva University canceled all student group activities on its campus to avoid the wrath of the courts.

Where are the mainstream American Jewish advocacy organizations on this issue? Are they fighting for the right of an established Jewish institution to practice its religion, or are they too enthralled with woke ideology? It would uplift us to see them invoke their Enlightenment-based liberal principles and fight for Jewish observance, even on an unpopular issue. Their donors should encourage them to do so.

But do not be surprised to hear a deafening silence from the major American Jewish organizations such as the ADL, AJC or Hebrew Union College. Indeed, some of these organizations may agitate against Yeshiva University on this issue. You have every right to be another progressive, woke organization, but then you have to honestly admit that to your members and supporters. You should not style yourself as a Jewish advocacy group, raising money on that basis, and be silent, or join the legal strong-arming against traditional Jewish religious practice.

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