Letters to the Editor — By Rabbi Abba Bronspigel, Rabbi Yosef Blau, Yoni Graber, and Ira Kukin

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Original Site: YU Commentator

Published: Tuesday, February 3, 2004

The Church Visits YU

In a study hall filled with the hubbub of Talmudic debate, the men wearing scarlet sashes and large crosses made their way between tables, sometimes sitting to chat with the young scholars, sometimes marveling at the intensity of study.  – NY Times Wed Jan 21 04

As an alumnus of YU and a former Rosh Yeshiva of RIETS, I was shocked to read the above description of a visit by Roman Catholic cardinals at my Alma Mater.  This is a perfect example of what Chazal (our sages) call: “He-emid tzelem b-hachal” (Ta’anit 26b), to “place an idol (a cross) in the Temple.”  And what the Prophet Yechezkel states “U-ba-u bah Paritzim V-Chililuhah” (see Avodah Zarah 52b and Rashi), “The evildoers entered the Temple and desecrated it.”  The church that has so much Jewish blood on its hands should be hosted by YU!  What is even more grievous is the fact that Cardinal Lustiger, a me-shumad (a convert to Christianity), was among them.  A me-shumad is considered a traitor to Judaism.  Is this what we are trying to teach our students?  Have we lost our bearings? Do we know where this road is leading to?

Many years ago a group of Modern Orthodox Rabbis met with the Rav (my Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik z’l) and tried to explain to him that the priests of today are not the priests of the past and therefore we should create some sort of relationship with them.  The Rav did not buy it.  He told them then, that when he sees a galach (priest), he sees a murderer.

This is one big outrageous Chillul Ha-Shem (a desecration of G-d’s name) and a distortion of the teachings of our Rebbe, the Rav.

Rabbi Abba Bronspigel

Brooklyn, NY

Editors’ Note: Hebrew words appearing in the original letter have been transliterated.

The Derech Etz Chaim Controversy

In the article “Yeshiva Countersues Derech Etz Chaim” one of the quotes in my name reflects a misunderstanding.  The decision made to end Yeshiva’s relationship with DEC was based on reports about earlier behavior of a Rabbi, who lectured at the school, and was the mentor of many of its teachers.  There was concern about his relationship with current students and recent graduates.  Clearly, subsequent to the decision, we became aware of additional relevant information.

Yeshiva contacted students at DEC who were on the Y.U. program and also informed feeder schools of our decision.  In conversations that followed many questions were asked and answered.  To the best of my knowledge these conversations were initiated by parents of students and not by Yeshiva.

Rabbi Yosef Blau

New York, NY


Re “Yeshiva Countersues Derech Etz Chaim” by Michael Rosman, January 5, 2004:

I’d like to comment about one of the accusations YU has against DEC: YU claims that “many students, upon returning from DEC, refused to take part in Yeshiva’s Judaic studies programs. Instead they engaged in independent study and consulted only DEC regarding their religious pursuits.”

First, I don’t see the big deal about students of a Yeshiva developing a close relationship to a Yeshiva and the Rabbeim within, and continuing the relationship afterwards. Is that not the whole point in “asei lecha rav”?! Just like Sha’alavim students who excel there would probably keep close contact with their rabbeim, so too, DEC students who excel there would also want to keep a close relationship to their rabbeim — for years to come! Since so many students from DEC keep this relationship, it just goes to prove how successful DEC is!

Second, as a DEC alumnus who is still in close contact to the Yeshiva, I have attended ALL my Judaic studies classes and have been to just about every shiur. I have many friends at YU who are also former alumni and also attending all classes. I also know people who rarely attend classes — if at all. This is common of all alumni from all Yeshivas in Israel. It’s wrong to single out DEC as the “refusenicks.”

The issue boils down to learning methods or “Derech HaLimud.” YU is the “Brisker” way of learning. We, at DEC were taught another option — a more “On-The-Daf” and/or “Bekiyus” approach. I was taught that this will work the best, just like people who are “Briskers” were taught that THEIR way works the best. I was taught that I WILL gain from other approaches, but our way is one in which I will gain the most, for whatever reasons.

Unfortunately, not many people learn in this fashion anymore. Since YU can’t offer an approach we are used to, learning becomes a bit uninteresting. Conversely, if someone was coming from rigorous learning at YU and really connected with a rebbe there, learning at DEC might also be uninteresting. If YU, a university, was totally honest about the learning in the morning, they should try to accommodate everyone! But since each Yeshiva has pride in their style of learning, this seems to be impossible. A larger place like YU should go out of its way to help us learn better and in our own style.

To the DEC alumni who has to sheepishly answer “Derech Etz Chaim” — shame on you! Just like the KBY or Sha’alavim guys, you can answer with pride and dignity, “Derech Etz Chaim!” This is where you went to Yeshiva and gained a tremendous amount. You should always answer proudly. I always answer proudly.

Yoni Graber

DEC Alumnus

The Kukin Lecture Series

Re “Kukin Lecture 2003: Does YU Care About Science?” by David Wise, January 5, 2004:

I read with considerable interest your article that appeared in The Commentator, Monday, January 5, 2004.  I shall bring this situation to the attention of the Academic Affairs Committee of YU of which I am chairman.

The connection between the Ira Kukin Chemistry Lecture series and the science curricula at YU is not coincidental.  This was indeed our intent — i.e., to bring outstanding scientists to YU.  As you may have noted in the program handed out at the lecture, a majority of our speakers have been Nobel Laureates.


By way of personal background, I am a scientist, Ph.D. in chemistry, formerly a director of research at Witco Chemical.  I started Apollo Technologies International to commercialize my ideas and inventions so that these discoveries could be put to practical use to reduce air pollution from electricity-generating boilers of high megawatt ratings.


Regarding YU, when I joined the board over 25 years ago, it was my intent to assist in activating science education at YU.  Without going into details, many of which I am still unaware of, approximately 30 years ago YU made a big investment in science and, if I recall, approximately three floors at Belfer Hall were exclusively utilized for the science curriculum.  This did not work out, and I can only speculate as to the reasons for this failure.  YU may not have attracted true science majors, the faculty did not have research facilities which limited the caliber of the science faculty, and it was a tremendous expense at a time when YU was almost bankrupt.

These are official reasons.  Intuitively, I have the feeling that a majority of highly motivated Jewish students were more interested to go into business than into the sciences.  The success of the Sy Syms School attests to this speculative thought.  Also a majority of the enrolled science majors are pre-med students.  Accordingly, there was little incentive to maximize the opportunities for scientific teaching and scientific curricula at YU.  Things are changing at YU.

I appreciated your comments regarding the excellence of the biomedical research facilities and faculties at our Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  This has not impinged on the undergraduate YU/Stern College students, but this too is changing.  The recipient of the Doris Kukin Chair in Microbiology is an outstanding scholar, Dr. Jeffrey Weisberg.  He spends time at Albert Einstein but also teaches at Yeshiva and Stern Colleges.  It is part of the new trend in scientific awareness at YU.

Dr. Morton Lowengrub, VP of Academic Affairs and an outstanding mathematician, is most interested to advance the scientific capabilities for teaching and research in the sciences at YU.  It is only a matter of time before his thoughts and policies will be incorporated into our curriculum.

Likewise, our new president, Mr. Richard Joel, is totally committed to improving all aspects of Yeshiva University.  Increasing the scientific curriculum is high on his list of priorities.

In summary, you are going to see changes in the curricula at Yeshiva University and I am optimistic that the changes you seek as described in your article will be put into practice in the near future.

Again, thank you for your insightful thoughts about the pursuit of science at Yeshiva.

Ira Kukin

Livingston, NJ