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Torah values would mean supporting LGBTQ students at YU

A law student responds to news that the Supreme Court will temporarily allow YU to refuse support of LGBTQ student club

Re “YU can block LGBTQ club for now, Supreme Court rules” by Louis Keene

To the editor:

Last Friday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued an order in Yeshiva University v. YU Pride Alliance allowing Yeshiva University to (at least temporarily) refuse to recognize the university’s LGBTQ student club. While “wrong” in a moral sense, at least Justice Sotomayor’s stay of the state court injunction seems in line with past Supreme Court precedents.

Rather, what outrages me is the President of Yeshiva University’s understanding of “Torah values.” While Dr. Rabbi Ari Berman claims YU is committed to a welcoming environment for LGBTQ people, the university’s position in the case reflects his belief that an LGBTQ student club is not “in accordance with our Torah values.”

My understanding of Torah values could not be more different.

Pikuach nefesh, literally “watching over a soul,” is the halachic principle that the preservation of human life overrides nearly any other commandment. Professor Eugene Walls has found that the presence of a gay-straight alliance at a school is correlated with fewer suicides among members of the LGBTQ community. Certainly, pikuach nefesh overrides Dr. Berman’s Torah values.

B’tzelem Elohim, literally “in the image of G-d,” refers to the Jewish belief that every human is divinely created and hence worthy of dignity and respect. Refusing to allow an LGBTQ student organization on campus denies queer students the dignity and respect inherent in defining their own lives on campus.

But these aren’t just Jewish values. They are Jewish duties. Tikkun olam encompasses the idea that Jews do not just have a responsibility to their own Torah values, but to the betterment of society as a whole. Exclusion is antithetical to this and to justice itself. After all, the Torah commands “tzedek tzedek tirdof,” justice, justice you shall pursue.

— Henry Raffel

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