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At Robbins-Wilf Lecture, Bob Woodward Offers Behind-the-Scenes Perspective on Obama-era Washington

As public approval ratings for Congress and the Obama administration plummeted to record lows in the wake of the recent government shutdown, veteran investigative reporter Bob Woodward shared his theory about where it all went wrong at a lecture under the auspices of Yeshiva University’s Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf Scholar-in-Residence Program, held at the Center for Jewish History on November 13.

Bob Woodward, left, and Dr. Bryan Daves discuss the political climate in Washington.

Bob Woodward, left, and Professor Bryan Daves discuss the political climate in Washington.

Titled “Washington’s Broken Politics,” the program focused on the origins and impacts of Washington’s dysfunctional politics, using Woodward’s unique experience covering numerous presidential administrations, including Obama’s, as a lens to reflect on the current political climate.

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MK Rabbi Shai Piron Discusses Halachic, Political and Educational Challenges Facing Israel

“The greatness of Yaacov was his capacity to convene the sacred to empower everyday and to realize that without the everyday there is no need for the sacred,” said YU Vice President of University and Community Life Rabbi Kenneth Brander of the biblical forefather before introducing Rabbi Shai Piron, Israel’s current minister of education and former Rosh Yeshivat Hesder Petach-Tikva. “Rabbi Piron’s personal and professional life has always been about bridging holiness to the everyday.”

Shai Piron

Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron addresses social and domestic issues facing Israel.

Rabbi Piron was greeted by a packed room of several hundred students and faculty members in Yeshiva University’s Furst Hall on Wednesday, November 13. His visit came only days after Danny Ayalon, the former Israeli diplomat and politician, was announced as the Rennert Visiting Professor of Foreign Policy Studies at YU for the spring 2014 semester. Read the rest of this entry…

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Lecture Presented by Yeshiva College and Revel Offers Insight into the Linguistic and Cultural Process of Becoming Frum

Dr. Sarah Benor, an expert on the social science of American Jews, discussed several key concepts from her book, Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism (Rutgers University Press, 2012), at an October 15 lecture on YU’s Wilf Campus. The talk was presented by Yeshiva College’s Department of Jewish Studies and the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies.

Dr. Sarah Benor, addresses Yeshiva College and Revel students.

Dr. Sarah Benor, addresses Yeshiva College and Revel students.

Based on her research studying the members of a Jewish community in Philadelphia for a year, Benor explored their distinctive culture and language and explained how ba’alei teshuva [newly religious] acquire those speech patterns as part of the process of joining the Orthodox community. Read the rest of this entry…

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Eruvin Exhibition and Lecture Add Context and Insight to Daf Yomi Study

What purpose do eruvin [ritual enclosures] serve? Where can they be constructed? What makes them kosher?

As Jews around the world delve into the subject of eruvin for daf yomi, the daily cycle of Talmud study, Yeshiva University and the Orthodox Union sought to shed light on an ancient practice that is still very relevant to Jewish life today. An evening of programming on March 13 fused the historical, cultural and practical dimensions of eruvin showcased in a new Yeshiva University Museum exhibition with rich halakhic grounding provided by RIETS Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Hershel Schachter. A leading halakhic authority, Schachter delivered a shiur [lecture] titled, “Eruvin: The Streets, the Strings and the Shabbat.”

“Seeing the issues faced by Manhattan and other Jewish communities in completing an eruv­—when a train track goes up and when it goes down, is the sea wall kosher or not—and hearing from such a wide range of people who struggled to bring klal Yisroel out of their homes on Shabbat takes Torah learning to a unique and different level,” said Edward Stelzer ’90YC, a member of the YU Museum’s board of directors. “Many of us don’t have an opportunity to check an eruv on any given Friday, but this museum has the power to help us internalize the issues of eruvin and experience them almost firsthand by bringing the topic home to us in an immersive, powerful way.” Read the rest of this entry…

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YU and OU Mark Start of Masechet Eruvin in the Daf Yomi Cycle with Special Lecture and YU Museum Tour 

Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) and Yeshiva University Museum will be hosting a special lecture for all audiences by YU Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Hershel Schachter to mark the beginning of Masechet Eruvin in the Daf Yomi study cycle.  The lecture, titled “Eruvin: the Streets, the Strings and the Shabbat,” will be presented in cooperation with the Orthodox Union on March 13 at the YU Museum in Manhattan and complements the YU Museum’s exhibition It’s a Thin Line: The Eruv and Jewish Community in New York and Beyond (on display through June 30).  A curatorial tour and viewing of the exhibition will begin at 6:00 p.m., followed by the lecture at 7:00 p.m.  The YU Museum is located at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W 16th Street, near Union Square. Read the rest of this entry…

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Eliyahu Stern Examines Zionism’s Roots at Rogoff Memorial Lecture

While Zionism has been interpreted in many different ways, it is generally understood as a form of Jewish nationalism promoting the formation of a Jewish nation in the land of Israel. However, in a February 25 talk titled “Zionism and the Battle over Judaism” delivered at Yeshiva University’s annual Hillel Rogoff Memorial Lecture, Dr. Eliyahu Stern questioned a view of the movement he felt was becoming all too common—that an ideology formulated by Jews must be Jewish.

Dr. Eliyahu Stern

Dr. Eliyahu Stern offered an in-depth look at Zionism’s roots at the annual Hillel Rogoff Memorial Lecture.

“In recent years it has become fashionable in both academic and political circles to attribute religious, messianic origins to the modern Jewish nationalist movement called Zionism,” said Stern, a graduate of both Yeshiva College and YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and an assistant professor of modern Jewish intellectual and cultural history at Yale University. Citing scholars such as Columbia University’s Gil Anidjar, who see racial overtones in a movement founded on religious principles, Stern said, “The assumption behind Anidjar’s claims is a kind of guilt by association—since Zionism draws on religious motifs, either Jewish or Christian, its goals must be inherently messianic, and thus exclusionary, anti-ethical and racist.” Read the rest of this entry…

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Yair Lorberbaum to Discuss the Concept of the Decree of Scripture in the Thought of Maimonides on February 6

The Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization (CJL) at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law will present their Seventh Annual Ivan Meyer Lecture in Jewish Law on Wednesday, February 6 at 6 p.m. in the Jacob Burns Moot Court Room, 55 Fifth Avenue at 12th Street, New York City. Dr. Yair Lorberbaum, the Ivan Meyer Visiting Scholar in Comparative Jewish Law will discuss “The Concept of the ‘Decree of Scripture’ (Gezerat Ha-Katuv) in the Thought of Maimonides.”

Yair Lorberbaum is the Ivan Meyer Visiting Scholar in Comparative Jewish Law

Lorberbaum is a professor of law at the Bar-Ilan University, specializing in Jewish law, Jewish thought, jurisprudence and philosophy. He has also been a member of the Shalom Hartman Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem since 1991. Lorberbaum has previously served as a visiting professor at University of Pennsylvania, Yale, Princeton, and Cardozo, and was a research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

He is the author of Subordinated King: Kingship in Classical Jewish Literature and the forthcoming Apples of Gold in Silver Settings: Maimonides on Parables, Philosophy, and Law. In 2007, his book, Image of God: Halakhah and Aggadah, was awarded the prestigious Goldstein-Goren Award for best recent book in the field of Jewish thought. Read the rest of this entry…

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Rabbi Eliakim Koenigsberg and Rabbi Assaf Bednarsh to Deliver Annual High Holiday Lectures

Rabbi Eliakim Koenigsberg and Rabbi Assaf Bednarsh will be the featured speakers at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary’s (RIETS) 28th Annual Hausman/Stern Kinus Teshuva lectures, a special edition of the Arbesfeld Kollel & Midreshet Yom Rishon. The lectures, given between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, will take place in New York City and Jerusalem on Sunday, September 23, the seventh of Tishrei. Read the rest of this entry…

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Political Experts Discuss the Role of Religion in the Presidential Race at Robbins-Wilf Program

While religion has sharply divided voters in recent elections over issues related to same-sex marriage, abortion and separation of Church and State, and despite a Mormon heading the ticket of a major political party for the first time, religion appears less likely to affect the upcoming presidential election between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. That was the consensus among three veteran political and religious analysts who came together on Yeshiva University’s Beren Campus to discuss the impact of religion on the 2012 presidential race as part of Stern College for Women’s Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf Scholar-in-Residence Program on April 30.

Prof. Bryan Daves, Jeff Greenfield, Anna Greenberg and Dr. Peter Steinfels discuss the impact of religion on the presidential election at the YU Robbins-Wilf Scholar-in-Residence Program.

The event, which took place at the Schottenstein Cultural Center, addressed the role religion has played historically in presidential politics and the way that role has evolved in recent years. The panel included Jeff Greenfield, anchor of PBS’ “Need to Know”; Anna Greenberg, leading pollster and senior vice president at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research; and Dr. Peter Steinfels, co-director of the Center for Religion and Culture at Fordham University and a former religion columnist for The New York Times.

According to the panel, two factors seemed to explain the diminished impact of religion on this election: the struggling economy and the public’s tiring of religion’s role in previous elections. The group also discussed media coverage of religion in politics, with a focus on Romney’s candidacy as the first Mormon to run for president. “Mass media’s coverage of religion is not necessarily to be celebrated,” said Greenfield. “It’s very simplistic. Anyone who has a set of religious beliefs which is not familiar to most Americans is in for a tough time.” However, he felt Romney’s faith would ultimately make little difference to Americans at the voting booths. “The economy so overhangs everything else,” said Greenfield. “People will vote for Romney thinking, ‘He’s going to get the economy going, he knows how to put people to work,’ or Obama thinking, ‘He’s going to protect the middle class from those crazy Republicans.’ ”

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Greenberg agreed that religion would play a diminished role, but warned the audience to look for its influence at the margins. She referenced recent controversy about the Obama administration’s proposal to include birth control coverage in health insurance policies. “In this kind of election, some of these seemingly random issues can play an important part in shifting a small number of people in critical ways,” said Greenberg.

Speakers also noted that the way in which religion affects voter choice has changed.  Today, it is not denomination but rather religiosity that influences how Americans vote. The more religious a voter is the more likely they are to vote Republican, the less religious the more likely to vote democratic. “Religion has always been an important factor in presidential elections,” said Steinfels. “What has changed is that religious practice has become an identifier. Once upon a time, if you were a Catholic, you were more apt to vote Democratic, and it didn’t make a difference if you were a regular church-goer or not… now it does.”

“This year is poised to be a very close election with the electorate sharply divided on their choice for president,” said Professor Bryan Daves, director of the Robbins-Wilf program, a member of the political science department at YU, and the event’s moderator. “In recent elections, matters of faith and social issues have played an important role in determining the outcome. Yeshiva University, with its dual mission of Torah U’madda, is a perfect venue to host a discussion with three prominent experts on religion and politics.”

“The topic was so relevant because many students are voting in their first presidential election and this is no doubt going to be a defining election in American history,” said journalism major and political science minor Yaelle Lasson, a Stern College sophomore. “Hearing from Anna Greenberg, a revered and prominent woman making a difference in the public sphere, was especially meaningful for me. I find her social media research fascinating and hope to implement social media use in advocacy law after college.”

Though panelists shared a sense of surprise that religious issues didn’t seem to be a focus in the 2012 election, they didn’t all feel that was necessarily bad.

“This is a country where not so long ago, religious differences were not just profound but debilitating,” said Greenfield. “They served ill purposes. The fact that the country has opened up virtually any civic job you can think of to the point where they really don’t care what religion you are—I think that’s a healthy thing.”

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Harvard Economist Details the Positive Impact of Cities at Annual Brody Lecture

A sizable crowd filled the seats in Weissberg Commons on the evening of May 2 to hear Harvard Economics Professor Dr. Edward Glaeser discuss the importance of cities at the annual Alexander Brody Memorial Lecture.

Citing economic and historical data, Prof. Edward Glaeser makes the case for the expansion of cities.

Delivering a fact-filled and fast-paced address accompanied by detailed slides of graphs and pictures, Glaeser’s lecture, titled “Triumph of the City: Why Cities Are Our Best Hope for the Future,” offered selections of his research as found in his recently published and similarly titled book Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, ­Greener, Healthier, and Happier (2011, The Penguin Press).

Using a host of economic data along with historical and personal anecdotes, Glaeser delved deeply into an explanation of how cities help move humanity forward in beneficial ways.

He began by showcasing how at the turn of the 21st century, more than half of humanity lived in cities. Additionally, countries that have large cities are far more prosperous. Commenting on this, he mentioned how he sees no reason to be saddened by the demise of diminishing country life. “Some people will mourn a bucolic lost world,” he said. “But they have never been to rural India with its unending cycles of poverty and disease.”

The reason for success following the growth of cities might at first seem puzzling since urban centers originally sprung up to serve a very specific need of easing transportation concerns. This is why cities like New York and Boston grew around rivers and ocean harbors, because transporting goods by water proved significantly easier than doing so over land, he explained.

“Nowadays, cities are a paradox because the Internet has made proximity obsolete,” said Glaeser. “So why don’t we all just live in rural Montana and leave the congestion of cities behind?”

To answer this question, he offered the examples of Detroit and Seattle in the 1970s. Both northern cities suffered massive job losses in that decade because of factories moving to warmer climates or out of the country, and both suffered large population declines. Yet Seattle has bounced back while Detroit still suffers. The reason for this is because Seattle had a more educated workforce with many more bachelor degrees while Detroit’s workforce was less so. So Seattle fostered an entrepreneurial atmosphere from which came Starbucks, Microsoft and Costco, reviving the city, according to Glaeser.

To further illustrate this example, he discussed how artistic innovation was nourished in the area around Florence during the Renaissance and how the development of the first skyscrapers in Chicago in the late 19th century was a truly collaborative effort.

Through his study, Glaeser has concluded that for cities to truly flourish, “human capital is more important than physical capital”—meaning creating an educated and inquisitive population is more important to the success of a city than tall buildings and cutting-edge transportation infrastructure.

He closed by describing how the future of the planet depends on the proper growth of cities across the world, saying if China and India—with their increased urbanization—do not build cities vertically with proper public transportation, then the resulting rise in gas prices and carbon emissions could be calamitous for the planet. In essence, the future of our world depends on the proper growth of cities.

“The lecture was very informative,” said Yoni Bardash, an economics major at Yeshiva College. “It gave a very detailed description of the role of the city in relationship to the development of the country and the world economy.”

The Alexander Brody Memorial Lecture is held in memory of YU’s first economics professor, who was well-respected for his scholarship in both secular and biblical studies.

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