Last week, The New York Times broke the story about a letter dated January 11, 2023, sent by three committee heads in the New York State Senate – all of whom are Jewish – to the President of Yeshiva University. One of the three signatories is longtime Queens County State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky. Although The Times referred to portions of the letter, I did not want to rely on their description of its contents and thus obtained a copy.
The allegation in the letter is that YU misled DASNY (Dormitory Authority of the State of New York) by claiming that it is an educational institution while arguing in the case of “Yeshiva University v. YU Pride Alliance” that it is a religious corporation under New York law. (The legislators mixed up each party’s status. The correct case title is “YU Pride Alliance v. Yeshiva University.” Pride is the plaintiff and YU is the defendant.) The conduct involving DASNY relates to bonds issued in 2009 and 2011 by DASNY, which total over 230 million dollars. The legislators are requesting that YU account for the use of the funds within 30 days to establish that it did not violate the terms of the agreement.
They cite a portion of the agreement, which is not the clearest paragraph ever written. However, part of it states that “any portion thereof shall not be used for sectarian religious instruction or as a place of religious worship or in connection with any part of a program of a school or department of divinity for any religious denomination provided; however, that the foregoing restriction shall not prohibit the free exercise of any religion.” YU can rely on the language that any funds that may have been used for religious purposes is valid since it is for the free exercise of religion. Another exemption is that Bond Counsel can allow the exception. There is no indication in the letter whether Bond Counsel took a position.
Moreover, YU can refer to the fact that DASNY had the right to make inspections to see if its funds were properly used. DASNY had to be well aware that YU in its undergraduate division provides religious instruction and that there are places on campus where there is religious worship, yet they allowed the funds. Nothing changed on the ground when YU put in a defense to the Pride suit. Therefore, the chairs, using one of YU’s arguments in court to justify requiring YU to now explain the use of the funds, is a red herring.
Furthermore, those who are writing the letter had to also know that part of Yeshiva University provided “sectarian religious instruction or a place for religious worship.” It is incredulous to believe that State Senator Stavisky did not know that Yeshiva College provides religious instruction and that they have places to pray on campus. Ms. Stavisky, besides being on the education committee, was previously a teacher and is Jewish. The other two signatories, Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger, are also Jewish and have districts in Manhattan, the borough where YU’s main campus is located.
Although they claim that this is nothing more than making sure it is about proper use of taxpayers’ funds for non-religious purposes, the last two sentences in the letter indicate their true intention: “We will not abide the use of state funds to support discriminatory behavior that excludes LGBTQ students from their right to equal education.” (The issue relates to clubs and not equal education.) “We urge Yeshiva University to immediately reverse course and cease its anti-LGBTQ policies.” In other words, they would have no problem with YU using the funds for sectarian religious instruction or as a place of religious worship as long as they do not engage in anti-LGBTQ policies.
This is nothing more than pandering to one community at the expense of another. It is even worse that they are Jews attacking a renowned, respected, longstanding Jewish institution. This is not only an attack on Yeshiva University, but an attack on all communities of faith that have schools with religious instruction in their curriculum. Thus, it is important for the frum community to stand together and tell the gang of three that their approach is unacceptable. Orthodox Jews also vote and also donate to campaigns. We will support those who support our values and, when necessary, oppose those who do not.