The year was 1991. My best friend and I were looking for a Yeshiva to attend after high school. The trend at the time was a year in Israel and return home for college. We all heard wild stories about the fun time American youth were having in Israel. The Rova. Ben Yehudah Street. Geulah on Erev Shabbos.
But we were afraid of going to Israel because we had made friends in America and were nervous about leaving them. The local Yeshivahs weren’t fit for two 17 year olds that were not cut out of Yeshivish stock. So we applied to YU.
We took the faher with Rabbi Bronspiegel, and after he spoke favorably about our prospects in YU he told us that we could not attend as full-time Yeshiva students without any college coursework because there was no such provision in the university. You can only attend the Yeshivah program if you were taking college classes. The only way to learn exclusively in YU would be to attend BMT in Jerusalem.
We told the rabbi that the following year we would enrol in the college. No go. We offered to pay tuition equal to matriculating college students. No go. There was no provision for what we wanted to do.
Flashback to the mid 1980s and I have a vague childhood memory of a senior faculty member at YU stating that there is no Yeshiva without college at YU, and even if Rabbi Moshe Feinstein would apply to the Yeshiva he could only be accepted if he enrolled in the college. I might be fabricating this, but it rings so familiar that I think it happened, and I think the irreverence of the hyperboly was protested at the time.
So YU and Modern-Orthodoxy could have had me as their own. But it wasn’t meant to be. Sometimes institutions are dogmatic.
Were they wrong? No. Firstly, because they don’t need me. They were created to absorb MO youth and not to create new ones. And more importantly, and this is my point: Sometimes an institution needs to be dogmatic to maintain its identity, even if that policy might occasionally backfire.
Our Kehilla (Breuers) rejected the work of an “outsider” who made a significant contribution to the world of piyutim. Piyutim are important to us. But maintaining some oversight of what and who can add to the canon of literature that comprises our legacy is something that we treasure too.
The author is an impeccable Talmid Chochom. Nevertheless, he is the student of a strain of Orthodox wissenschaft, that is, while important and unique, strange to our mesorah, and was even considered suspect in the eyes of Hirsch.
Furthermore, in the hallowed halls of the institution that espouses what is perhaps the most notable example of organized Orthodox Wissenschaft today, there roam several personalities that are anathema to our ideals.We can reserve the right to be dogmatic too. Even if our Kehilla doesn’t boast giant towers on Amsterdam Avenue or depleted hedge-funds.