How Do They Get It So Wrong?

by | Jan 18, 2024 | Other News

Noach Gruen
Why was it so hard for the university presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT to offer the most obvious directive of safety and stability to students of all faiths?

How did college campuses become such tense places for Jewish students?

I think the answer goes beyond antisemitism, although there definitely is plenty of that (especially considering most donors lack Ross Stevens’ backbone).

To get a clearer picture of the ethical failures of secondary and tertiary education, it would be instructive to contrast it with traditional Jewish education.

Traditional Jewish education celebrates and perpetuates values received by Hashem at Sinai. Religious Jewish students, as a whole, are proud of their heritage.
By contrast, many elements of so-called higher education look to jar the public’s sense of right and wrong with avant-garde cause célèbres. The unspoken philosophy of the “new normal” is:Old is dead. Traditional values are boring.

We, with the wisdom of high-brow ivory tower training, have discovered ethical causes no one but us have the sophistication to appreciate.

The moralistic veneer of these counter-culture messages has a certain appeal. But unfortunately, they reveal a hopelessly hypocritical weltanschauung.

Let’s assume that the “hot” causes (like alternative energy sources, Palestinian nationhood, etc.) are legitimate efforts to invest in.

But why not also emphasize being nice to your mother?

Why constantly reaffirm tolerance of some, yet stand idly by as peaceful Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn are verbally and physically harassed?

Why protest belligerently against Israel’s “war crimes” and not protest the chemical warfare, ethnic cleansings, etc. that Bashar al-Assad visits upon hundreds of thousands of Syrians?

Universities have the right, even obligation, to broadcast awareness of moral causes to the global community. But when they largely ignore other egregious moral catastrophes, they are revealed as, at best, hypocritical, if not clearly antisemitic.

I am proud to teach Torah to my young charges in Portsmouth. In my classroom, like thousands of Torah classrooms around the world, we teach the classic pillars of our faith: Torah study, lovingkindness, and service of G-d. The pictures of great rabbinical figures hanging on the walls serve as a springboard to recount special stories of their sensitivity and righteous dedication to G-d and His people. They are the heroes in my classroom, not pop-culture celebrities.

To restore society’s faith in the moral compass of university education, the global college community must promote kindness and tolerance for every cause, including one’s own family or religious Jews – and do so as fiercely as they do for Palestinians in Gaza.

I’ll put my money on traditional Jewish education.

Rabbi Noach Gruen, MSEd, a Ghent resident, teaches Torah at Toras Chaim in Portsmouth.