Yeshiva University faces many challenges, some reflective of broader societal trends and some of its own making. But at an intellectual level, the religious leadership of an institution whose motto is “Torah U’Madda” has frozen its conception of religiously permissible Madda at that with which the Rav engaged at the University of Berlin in the 1920s (or, perhaps, with that with which Rav Aharon Lichtenstein engaged at the Harvard of the 1950s.) In this, it is reminiscent of an aging Albert Einstein, whose comfort with modern physics ended with his Theory of General Relativity but never extended to the indeterminism and seeming senselessness of quantum theory. (Einstein’s famous remark that “God does not play dice with the universe” was not an affirmation of his belief in providence, but a statement of his [incorrect] rejection of quantum theory.) We see this often in individuals–it is related to the theory of paradigm shifts advanced by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions–but it is deeply problematic in institutions. The developments in academia of recent decades–in science studies, of course, and also in legal theory, postcolonialist history, feminist studies, and a whole host of other fields and disciplines that question established hierarchies, assertion of merit, authority, and objectivity–have not only not penetrated into the thinking about halakha or the training of rabbis in any serious way; they are regularly dismissed with the epithet “postmodernism” as inimical to authentic Torah study and Torah values. That posture–that the ideas current in the world out there are treif (even if at some time in the past they were not), that they should be steered-clear-of and not studied and applied to our own learning–is certainly a position, one that prevails in the haredi world in which I was educated. And it is tenable, as long as one stays within that world. But we in the Centrist and Modern Orthodox worlds are raising our children and educating our students towards intellectual and practical integration into the broader world, and at the same time the institution that educates most of our rabbis dismisses as “postmodernism” anything that asks these questions. If this persists, we are in for a world of hurt.
Rivka Press Schwartz, “What Are We So Afraid Of?: The Challenge of Torah U’Madda for Our Time”, Tacit Knowledge (5 January 2017) [https://rpschwartz.com/2017/01/05/what-are-we-so-afraid-of-the-challenge-of-torah-umadda-for-our-time]