Yeshiva University is under fire for dropping its longtime motto — Torah u-Madda — and replacing it with the non-sectarian slogan “Bring wisdom to life.”
This week, one prominent Y.U. alumnus, Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, launched an online petition calling for the old motto to be incorporated into the school’s new logo. Ganchrow, a past president of the Orthodox Union and former member of the board of the Y.U.-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, announced the petition drive on his blog and directed people to sign up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The phrase Torah u-Madda — meaning Torah and knowledge — served for more than half a century as a motto for Y.U., as well as a rallying cry for Modern Orthodoxy. For both the university and the movement, the motto reflected a commitment to studying and engaging with both the religious and secular realms.
“We, the Orthodox community, the Torah community, have put… our children, and our blood, our money, our tears into building a yeshiva that has a weltanschauung of Torah u-Madda,” Ganchrow said in an interview with the Forward. “Going to Yeshiva University… and practicing a certain life, this is with you day in and day out. And if Yeshiva sends you a message, ‘You know what, it’s really not that important to tell the world we’re Torah u-Madda, we’re like everyone else,’ this is like a slap in the face. This is something unacceptable.”
The flap comes as university president Richard Joel, now in his third year, is launching a campaign to attract 1,000 new students to the colleges and attempting to formulate a coherent vision for the various arms of Y.U., an educational network that includes the affiliated seminary, a men’s college and a women’s college, an undergraduate business school, a Jewish-studies graduate school, a social work school, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.
Through a university spokesman, Joel declined to comment. Y.U. insiders say that the decision to adopt a new logo and slogan reflects the reality that most of the professors, students and board members at most of Y.U.’s graduate schools are not Modern Orthodox and do not identify with the old motto.
Yeshiva’s new logo — a simple design of two flames rising up from the university’s initials — does not include the traditional motto or any other religious symbols that had marked earlier Y.U. emblems.
Several critics noted that the image of the interwoven flames resembles the logo of Hillel, the international campus organization which Joel headed before coming to Y.U.
The new logo was created in 2003, after Joel became president. But it was only after the recent introduction of the new slogan that some students and alumni raised concerns.
Ganchrow said he first became aware of the logo and motto changes after attending a dinner commemorating the university’s 75th anniversary that was held at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York on September 23. A gift basket given to guests included a baseball cap bearing the words “Yeshiva University,” as well as the new logo. The gift basket also included a copy of the September 20 issue of the Yeshiva College newspaper, “The Commentator,” which featured an opinion essay by senior Yechiel Robinson criticizing the school’s new logo and motto. He called for Torah u-Madda to be incorporated into the new logo.
“I hope,” Robinson wrote, “that the Joel administration will choose to imbue the beautiful blue logo with the meaningful motto that it deserves, in order to lead us forward in the future, while steadfastly clinging to the timeless values of our past.”
Ganchrow, who as president of the O.U. tapped Joel to lead a commission examing charges of sexual abuse at the organization, said he has spoken to a number of alumni and other members of the Yeshiva community who also were unaware of the new motto and were concerned that they had not been consulted.
“I keep asking more and more people [and] not a single person knew about it,” Ganchrow said. “It’s a stealth change.”