yeshiva university

Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman’s investiture speech at YU


Here is a portion of the investiture speech delivered by Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at Yeshiva University in Washington Heights.

What is Yeshiva University? What does it stand for?

In my mind, there are five values that personify Yeshiva University, which I would call the Five Torot or the five central teachings of our institution.

The first is Torat Emet — we believe in Truth.

We believe that G-d gave the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai. We believe that in that Torah there are eternal values, not subject to the vagaries and vicissitudes of history. It is this pursuit of truth that animates our intense study of Torah during the day and deep into the night which, in turn, deepens our relationship with G-d.

But we also believe that our goal is not simply to sit, study and live in some ivory tower but that we must be fully engaged in the world and responsible to the world.

We do not just believe in Torat Emet but also Torat Chayyim — that our truths and values must live in the world.

Who are our graduates? They are rabbis and Jewish educators and they are lawyers and doctors, accountants and financial analysts, social workers and psychologists, mothers and fathers, community leaders and leaders of industry — all of whom are out in the world, acting daily as productive citizens of society. …

Here in Yeshiva University our students have the opportunity to not just learn about Judaism but to experience Judaism, to appreciate that Shabbat is not just something we keep, it is something we treasure, and that living a life of faith adds great meaning and joy to one’s life.

Moreover, at this moment in time, as cultures shift and as moral intuitions inevitably adjust, all parents know how difficult it is to help their children navigate the tension between tradition and an increasingly complex world.

Yeshiva University, located at the nexus between heritage and pioneering, provides the students of the next generation with the tools for critical critique and self-reflection so that they can not only weather the storms and tempests of contemporary moral discourse but also leave here both rooted and nimble, anchored in our values and equipped with the language and sophistication necessary to succeed as leaders in the world of tomorrow. …

The educational philosophy of Torah u-Madda is based on Maimonides’ directive to accept the truth from whatever source it comes. We know that there are great truths to be discovered in the study of the human mind, the physical world, literature, legal interpretation and more. Our belief in the higher purpose of education is true for all of humanity.

In addition, Torat Chayyim requires everyone to be engaged in the project of applying these values and truths to the world, and we look to all of our faculty and intellectual leaders to guide us in this effort. As such, by utilizing our vast, interdisciplinary resources, Yeshiva University is uniquely positioned to address the most pressing moral issues of the day. In an era in which there is a breakdown of civil and civic discourse, we stand proud as educators, thought leaders and moral voices for our generation.

These are our first two values: Torat Emet and Torat Chayyim.

But Yeshiva University does not only believe in truth, it also believes in humanity. Our tradition teaches us that each individual is created in G-d’s divine image and that it is a sacred task for each individual to hone and develop their unique talents and skills. In addition, we are charged with the obligation to use these unique gifts in the service of others; to care for our fellow human beings; to reach out to them in thoughtfulness, kindness and sensitivity, and form a connected community.

These two values, humanity and compassion, are our next two Torot: Torat Adam and Torat Chesed.

One of the aspects of YU that simply amazed me when I was walking around the university in the spring is the way in which these themes of Torat Adam and Torat Chesed manifest themselves in each of our schools.

For example, in Cardozo Professor Jocelyn Getgen Kestenbaum leads the Ferencz Human Rights and Atrocity Prevention Clinic, which fights against human rights violations and genocides around the world. Dr. Bill Salton heads the Pardes Clinic of the Ferkauf School of Psychology which provides low-cost, high-quality psychological treatment for a Bronx population that would not otherwise be able to afford it. The Wurzweiler School of Social Work is launching a new innovative mental health clinic, which will help people from all walks of life cope with life stress issues.

When I was visiting the Albert Einstein College of Medicine I encountered a group of people sitting around a table who were introduced to me as super-scientists. I asked them about their research and each shared with me their work on some matter crucial to the betterment of humanity. One was a leader in the fight against AIDS, another the Zika virus, a third, breast cancer.

And this spirit exists not only in our graduate schools, but in our undergraduate schools as well. I was walking in the library one night and saw two students with YU t-shirts. I asked them where they were coming from and they replied: the START Science Program. This is a program in which every week over one hundred Yeshiva University undergraduate students go to the local Manhattan public schools to teach children about science and technology.

When I heard this I was very impressed, but it was only later that I discovered that this program was actually launched by undergraduate students at Yeshiva University seven years ago and has subsequently spread to chapters in countries across the world. And this is emblematic of our student body, as hundreds of our students participate in these kinds of programs throughout the academic year, channeling their unique talents into extraordinary acts of kindness. Just last week our Student Life Department initiated student-led missions to Houston to help our fellow citizens recover from Harvey. Within minutes our sign-up sheet had over a hundred students volunteering to go. …

These are our first four principles: Torah that is True and Torah that is alive; a belief in human capacity and the need to reach out to others.

And there is a fifth: Torat Tziyyon, the Torah of Redemption.

Torat Tziyyon of course directly relates to the project of building the modern State of Israel. And this is very important to us as proud Zionists.

We certainly encourage students to move to Israel and we encourage those who live outside of Israel to devote their time and resources to help Israel further its role as a shining light to humanity. But it is also much more than that, because the return to Israel in Jewish theology is, in and of itself, part of a much greater narrative. Torat Tziyyon tells us that we are not accidents of history, nor even simply participants in history, but we are drivers of history.

Torat Tziyyon requires us to understand that as human beings we all have one common, overarching goal, and that is: to redeem the world, and transform it for the better; to birth a world suffused by justice, goodness, prosperity and transcendence. If, as Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice,” then Torat Tziyyon charges us with the task of moving history forward.

This directive applies to all of humanity. And at this moment in time — more than at any point in the entire span of Jewish history — the Jewish people are capable of partnering with the full breadth of humanity to move history forward. …

We live in an era that is miraculous and wondrous.

The Jewish people are no longer lost in exile but have once again returned to their homeland. Torah study is open and accessible throughout the world. Where once we might have looked at our neighbors and saw only persecutors, today we may look at them and see potential partners. And this presents us not only with great opportunities but also great responsibilities.

As Rabbi Soloveitchik taught us in 1956, in this very room, from this very podium – some of you may even have been in this room — kol dodi dofek, the voice of G-d is metaphorically calling to us, knocking at our door. He has placed us in this incredible time, and he beckons us to respond.

Yeshiva University represents the kinds of thinkers and dreamers who have always believed in embracing history and its opportunities. Now more than ever before it is time to think bigger, to think beyond our individual selves, to move history forward, to spread positive values to the world and to fight for peace and prosperity for all of humanity and with all of humanity.

Torat Emet, Torat Chayyim, Torat Adam, Torat Chesed and Torat Tziyyon — Truth, Life, Humanity, Compassion and Redemption.

These are the Five Torot that differentiate us and are our identity. They root us deeply within a structured value system while providing moral guidance and direction in living our lives. They propel us to develop our talents and skills while directing us to reach outwards and connect to others in kindness. And they inspire us with a grand, historic purpose to make a difference, and impact the world.

This is what we believe Judaism represents and what G-d wants from all of us. This is not just about Modern Orthodoxy, or even Orthodoxy. These are our messages to the Jewish people and to the world at large.

This is who we are — this is our philosophy of life.

And now that we have discussed the idea of Yeshiva University, we can focus on outlining the future of Yeshiva University as an institution. Once we have established who we are, we can now lay out where we are going. And I have to tell you that the future of Yeshiva University as an institution is bright and it is exciting.

When Yeshiva was founded in the early twentieth century, it met the needs of an Orthodox Jewish immigrant population with limited higher education possibilities. Over the generations, our specific form and structure has shifted depending on times, needs and circumstances, but the core mission has always remained the same.

At this point, the world has changed greatly but our task of educating the next generation of students and future leaders has not changed, it has just shifted to be in synch with our new realities. Today, perhaps more than ever before, there is a need to raise generations of students who are both deeply rooted and forward focused. And Yeshiva University will continue to look ahead into the future to open up new worlds for them. …