Yeshiva University News » Meir Soloveichik

Straus Center Programs, Seminars and Lectures Promote Interdisciplinary Study of Jewish and Western Thought

What happens at the intersection of faith and reason?

It’s a complicated question whose depths have fascinated Jewish and gentile thinkers alike for thousands of years. Is it possible to be a religious intellectual? How does faith inform the scientific and philosophic discoveries of our time, and how do those discoveries in turn affect religious beliefs and lifestyles? Yeshiva University’s Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought is committed to providing forums for Jews in the modern era to continue that conversation and arrive at their own understanding of the concept of “Torah Umadda”: the balance of Judaic and worldly values.

Naom Safier

Noam Safier, a Straus Center Fellow

“In undergraduate courses, seminars for semicha [rabbinic ordination] students, adult education and public events, the Straus Center has brought about the bridging of Torah with the world in every part of Yeshiva,” said Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, director of the Straus Center. “In just the past year, students in our classes have approached, though a Torah lens, the fields of political thought, American history, law, Zionism, philosophy, art and medicine. We are so proud of having made the vision of Moshael Straus a reality: for Torah Umadda to never be merely a motto, but rather something that can be experienced throughout Yeshiva and the larger Yeshiva University community.”

This fall, that includes a new undergraduate fellowship directed by Dr. Aaron Segal, assistant professor of philosophy at Yeshiva College; a semicha seminar for select YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary students taught by Rabbi Dr. David Shabtai, a fellow of RIETS’ Wexner Kollel Elyon; and multiple courses at Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women exploring the Center’s themes. Read the rest of this entry…

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Interdisciplinary Seminar on Art History and Jewish Thought to be Offered at YU Museum in October 

Yeshiva University will present a Community Beit Midrash program at the Yeshiva University Museum in the fall. The Image and the Idea is a six-week interdisciplinary seminar on art history and Jewish thought taught collaboratively by Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, director of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, and Dr. Jacob Wisse, director of the Yeshiva University Museum and associate professor of art history at Stern College for Women.

Model of the Beth Alpha Synagogue (early sixth century C.E.) Displaycraft, 1972, Collection of Yeshiva University Museum Endowed by Erica and Ludwig Jesselson

Model of the Beth Alpha Synagogue (early sixth century C.E.) Displaycraft, 1972, Collection of Yeshiva University Museum Endowed by Erica and Ludwig Jesselson

The course will explore the process through which art and artists use physical means to achieve spiritual or intangible ends and the ways that Judaism and Jewish sources deal with the tension between the physical and the spiritual and between the visual and the intellectual.

“The course offers a unique opportunity to explore the compatibility of and tension between traditional Jewish thought and traditional art and art history,” said Wisse. “We will address the ways that Judaism is sensitive and responsive to the power and character of art, and also the ways the greatest artists channel ideas that we associate with Jewish ways of thinking. Read the rest of this entry…

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At Straus Center Event, Author Daniel Gordis Discusses The Life and Legacy of Menachem Begin

A fiery revolutionary and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, a beloved founder of the State of Israel reviled by its first prime minister, a proud Jew but not a conventionally religious one: Menachem Begin, Israel’s sixth prime minister, was all of this and more. On April 1, Yeshiva University’s Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought hosted an intimate evening of conversation at the Yeshiva University Museum with Straus Center Director Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. Daniel Gordis, author of the recent book Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel’s Soul (Nextbook, April 2014), to discuss the complexities and contradictions of Begin’s life and legacy.

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Left to right: YU President Richard M. Joel welcomes guests to an evening of conversation with Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Dr. Daniel Gordis

“The two words that probably meant most to Menachem Begin were ‘Israel’ and ‘Jewish,’ and in his mind they were inextricably linked,” said YU President Richard M. Joel as he introduced the evening’s speakers. “At Yeshiva University, we reinforce the notion that Israel and Jewish identity have to be absolute, indivisible twins. We begin tonight by celebrating this year as the hundredth anniversary of Menachem Begin’s birth.”

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YU Faculty Offer Insight into Historical, Political and Religious World of Esther

It’s the only book in the Bible to omit all mention of God, the Torah and the land of Israel. Aside from Genesis, it’s also the most written-about biblical work in the Talmud. Throughout the ages, the unique tension in the Book of Esther has made it one of the most fascinating books in Jewish tradition, and also one of the most deeply complex. On March 10, in honor of the upcoming festival of Purim, scholars from schools across Yeshiva University came together to discuss those complexities and their implications for Jewish thought and experience.

"Exploring Esther: The Origins, Values and Power of Purim” at the YU Museum

Dr. Aaron Koller and Yael Leibowitz

Co-hosted by the Yeshiva University Museum, Yeshiva College, Stern College for Women, the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, and the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, the evening, titled “Exploring Esther: The Origins, Values and Power of Purim,” focused on the historical and political context, religious significance and gender roles in Esther. Panelists included Dr. Aaron Koller, assistant dean and associate professor of Near Eastern and Jewish Studies at Yeshiva College; Yael Leibowitz, instructor in Bible at Stern College; Rabbi Dr. Meir Y. Soloveichik, director of the Straus Center; and Dr. Daniel Tsadik, assistant professor of Sephardic and Iranian studies at Revel.

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Menachem Begin Heritage Center Grant Supports YU Programming Honoring Former Prime Minister’s Legacy

Yeshiva University’s Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought received a $100,000 grant from the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem to sponsor a series of programs on Zionism and the Begin Legacy in honor of the former prime minister’s 100th birthday, which was commemorated in August.

Hart Hasten, right, with Menachem Begin

Hart Hasten, right, with Menachem Begin

Hart Hasten, president of US Friends of the Menachem Begin Heritage Foundation was instrumental in securing the grant for YU. Phil Rosen, vice chairman of the Yeshiva College Board, and Hasten’s son Bernard, a member of the Yeshiva College Board, also played significant roles.

“Menachem Begin became my hero and my mentor, a role model and an icon,” said Hasten, who along with his wife, Simona, were close friends of Begin for 25 years. Read the rest of this entry…

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Stern College for Women Course Places Art and Jewish Thought in Conversation

In some ways, a recent meeting of “The Image and the Idea,” a new course offered at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women this fall, looked like many other art history classrooms across the country.

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Dr. Jacob Wisse, left, speaks to students in the course about the Sistine Chapel.

Projected on the whiteboard was “The Creation of Adam,” the classic fresco painting by Michelangelo that graces the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Dr. Jacob Wisse, associate professor of art history and director of the Yeshiva University Museum, discussed the religious and historical context of the painting, Michelangelo’s sculptural style and his goals as an artist. Then, pausing for comments, he took one—from Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, assistant professor of Judaic studies and director of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, sitting at a desk near the front of the room.

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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Renowned Attorney Nathan Lewin Discuss Landmark First Amendment Cases at Straus Center Event

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution begins with a bold statement: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” How that statement shapes the interaction of religion and the public sphere in modern-day America, however, has been the subject of heated debate throughout American judicial history.

President Richard M. Joel, right, introduces Straus Center conversation with Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Nathan Lewin

President Richard M. Joel introduces Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, center, and attorney Nathan Lewin, second from right. Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik (left) moderated the panel.

That question and others like it were the focus of a conversation between United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and renowned attorney and Yeshiva College graduate Nathan Lewin, hosted by Yeshiva University’s Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought and attended by a crowd of more than 1,200 in Yeshiva University’s Lamport Auditorium on November 6.

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Straus Center Presents November 6 Conversation with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Attorney Nathan Lewin

Yeshiva University’s Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought presents a conversation with United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and renowned attorney and Yeshiva College graduate Nathan Lewin on “Synagogue and State In America: The Landmark First Amendment Cases of our Age” on Wednesday, November 6, 2013 in YU’s Lamport Auditorium, 2540 Amsterdam Ave., New York City. The discussion, part of YU’s “Great Conversations on Religion and Democracy” series, begins at 7 p.m. and will be moderated by Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, director of the Straus Center. Read the rest of this entry…

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Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks Discusses The Merchant of Venice, Modern-Day Anti-Semitism 

Hundreds gathered on the morning of November 30 to hear Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik in a conversation on Torah, law and literature titled “The Merchant of Venice: A Jewish and British Reflection.” The event was the second one of the year hosted by Yeshiva University’s Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, and marked Sacks’ second visit as a Straus Center guest.

Chief Rabbi Sacks and Rabbi Soloveichik discuss The Merchant of Venice at YU’s Straus Center event.

Sacks and Soloveichik, director of the Straus Center, began their discussion focusing on Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. In the play, Shylock’s obsession with justice is juxtaposed with Portia’s compassion, epitomized by her line: “The quality of mercy is not strained,” and continuing: “Therefore Jew, though justice be thy plea…we [Christians] do pray for mercy.”

“Shakespeare here is expressing the medieval stereotype of Christian mercy against Jewish justice,” said Sacks. “[However,] justice and mercy are not opposites. The false contrast between Judaism and Christianity in The Merchant of Venice is testimony to the cruel misrepresentation of Judaism in Christian theology until recently.” Read the rest of this entry…

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From O.J. Case to Gaza War, Alan Dershowitz Confronts Moral Complexities at Straus Center Event

As Israel grappled yet again with the complex strategic and moral challenges of self-defense, Alan M. Dershowitz delved into a nuanced analysis of the obligations, merits and dangers of human justice in a conversation presented by Yeshiva University’s Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought on November 20.

Alan Dershowitz and Rabbi Meir Soloveichik at the November 20 Straus Center event

Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, director of the Straus Center, drew on many recent publications by Dershowitz, a world-renowned lawyer and political commentator and the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, in juxtaposition with the biblical travails of Abraham to frame the discussion, which addressed topics as far-reaching as capital punishment, post-Holocaust Germany and Dershowitz’s own part in the defense of O.J. Simpson against murder charges.

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