Yeshiva University News » Religion

Straus Center Presents December 17 Conversation with Columnist George Will and NYU President John Sexton

Yeshiva University’s Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought presents a conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George Will and New York University President John Sexton on “Baseball, Tradition and God” on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at Shenk Community Shul, 560 West 185th Street, New York City. The discussion, moderated by Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, director of the Straus Center, will begin at 7 p.m.

George WIll

George Will

Will is one of the country’s most widely-read political columnists, as well as its foremost conservative voice. His popular twice-weekly column for The Washington Post syndicate reaches nearly 475 newspapers throughout the United States and Europe. Read the rest of this entry…

Comments Off

Mayor Cory Booker: “Use Your Faith to Help and Inspire Others”

On the evening of May 8, students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the greater Yeshiva University community filled Lamport Auditorium to hear Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey, discuss “The Role of Religion in Education and Public Life.” The event was the final installment of this year’s Great Conversation Series of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought.

Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik and Mayor Cory Booker discuss “The Role of Religion in Education and Public Life” at the final Straus Center event of the academic year.

The conversation—led by Straus Center Director Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik—bounced around from discussing how Booker’s personal faith influences his daily life, issues regarding the importance of improving education, and the nature of faith in the public square in America. Throughout the conversation, the mayor sprinkled his words with pointed anecdotes, quotes of important figures like the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, and—to the crowd’s delight—passages from biblical and rabbinic literature in English and in Hebrew. Read the rest of this entry…


Straus Center Presents May 7 Discussion with Newark Mayor Cory Booker

Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik will discuss “The Role of Religion in Education and Public Life” on Monday, May 7, 2012. The event begins at 8 p.m. and will take place in YU’S Lamport Auditorium, Zysman Hall on 2540 Amsterdam Avenue in Washington Heights. It is free and open to the public.

Mayor Cory Booker

Mayor Cory Booker will discuss the role of religion in education and public life at the May 7 Straus Center event.

The discussion is part of YU’s “Great Conversations on Religion and Democracy” series, convened by the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought. Booker’s presentation will mark the fourth and final talk this academic year in the “Great Conversations” series. Previous guests were Senator Joseph Lieberman, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, and former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey.

“Mayor Booker is one of the most inspiring and thoughtful stars on the political scene today,” said Soloveichik. “I am honored that he will be joining us for what is certain to be an exciting, thought-provoking and entertaining evening.”

Mayor Booker, in his second term, is a force for change and urban reform. Reflecting his commitment to education, his administration was recently awarded a challenge grant of $100 million from billionaire and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to improve Newark city schools. Among other recent notable achievements under his leadership, Newark has committed to a $40 million transformation of the City’s parks and playgrounds through a groundbreaking public/private partnership. The administration has also doubled affordable housing production and drastically reduced crime in the city.

The Straus Center is named in honor of Moshael J. Straus, an investment executive, alumnus and member of YU’s Board of Trustees, and his wife Zahava, a graduate of YU’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. The Center’s mission is to help develop Jewish thinkers and wisdom-seeking Jews by deepening their education in the best of the Jewish tradition, by exposing them to the richness of human knowledge and insight from across the ages, and by confronting them with the great moral, philosophical, and theological questions of our age.

Please RSVP to For more information, please visit


Political Experts to Discuss the Role of Religion and its Impact on the Upcoming Presidential Election at April 30 Robbins-Wilf Program

With the presidential election campaign in full swing, Yeshiva University will host a discussion on “Religion and the 2012 Election” featuring PBS political analyst Jeff Greenfield, pollster Anna Greenberg and university professor and religion columnist Peter Steinfels. The lecture, part of the Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf Scholar-in-Residence program at YU’s Stern College for Women, will be held on Monday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Schottenstein Cultural Center, 239 East 34th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.

Jeff Greenfield

“Religion has played a prominent role in the 2012 Republican primaries so far and looks poised to do so for the general election,” said Bryan Daves, clinical assistant professor of political science at Yeshiva University and moderator of the event. “In what many observers expect to be a very close race, issues related to religion could tip the balance. We are fortunate to have three of the keenest observers of American elections and the role of religion and public life to give us insights into how, why, and to what extent, religion will have an impact on how Americans will vote this year.”

One of America’s most respected political analysts, Jeff Greenfield has spent more than 30 years on network television and currently serves as an anchor on PBS’ Need to Know. A four-time Emmy Award-winner and columnist for Yahoo! News, he is known for his quick wit and savvy insight into politics, history, the media and current events. Greenfield has served as anchor booth analyst or floor reporter for every national political convention since 1988 and reported on virtually every important domestic political story in recent decades. Greenfield has authored or co-authored 12 books, including national bestselling novels Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics—JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan, The People’s Choice, The Real Campaign and Oh, Waiter! One Order of Crow!, an insider account of the contested 2000 presidential election.

Anna Greenberg

Anna Greenberg is a leading pollster and an expert in survey research methodology with nearly 15 years of experience. Since joining Greenberg Quinlan Rosner in 2001, Greenberg has worked with many elected officials and a wide range of NGOs and advocacy groups. Her areas of expertise include women and politics, LGBT rights, religion and politics, healthcare policy and drug policy reform. Greenberg is an active participant in the advanced analytics community; she leads the company’s advances in micro-targeting and understanding the impact of social media on public opinion.

Peter Steinfels

Peter Steinfels is a professor and co-director at the Fordham University Center on Religion and Culture, former religion columnist for The New York Times, and a former editor of Commonweal, an independent biweekly journal of political, religious and literary opinion. A two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, he created and penned his biweekly column “Beliefs,” dealing with religion and ethics from 1990 to 2010. He is also the author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America, The Neoconservatives, and co-edited Death Inside Out with Robert M.Veatch. Steinfels has contributed chapters to 17 other books and written articles and reviews for The New Republic, Esquire, Harper’s, Dissent, Le Nouvel Observateur, The Nation, Partisan Review and many other distinguished journals.

Dr. Robbins-Wilf, a founding member of the Stern College Board of Directors, established and funds the Scholar-in-Residence program, which brings top scholars, authors, artists and opinion makers to Stern College—offering students unique perspectives on the world. Admission is free and open to the public with valid photo ID and ticket, which can be reserved at


New York Times Columnist Explains How and Why Media Distort Religion at Honors Program Event

On February 29, Yeshiva University undergraduates and professors filled a lecture hall in Belfer Hall to hear New York Times columnist Sam Freedman discuss “How and Why the Media Distort Religion” as part of Yeshiva College’s Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program Luncheon Series.

Sam Freedman

Sam Freedman discusses the media's challenges when reporting on religion at the Feb. 29 Honors Program event.

A tenured professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Freedman—an observant Jew—currently pens the “On Religion” column for The Times. For this function, he described how quirks within the journalism industry, the role of belief in American culture and the amorphous nature of religious observance all contribute to the challenges the media face when reporting on religion.

Dr. Sam Gellens, assistant director of the Honors Program, coordinated the lecture and introduced the event. “Last summer I read Sam Freedman’s piece in The Times regarding the release of [captured Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit,” said Gellens. “He described [the prisoner exchange in the light of the Jewish concept of] pidyon shvuim (redeeming captives) that really moved me. I later e-mailed him and he replied that he was happy to share his thoughts with us.”

Freedman opened his lecture with a parable that encapsulated the difficulty in reporting on religion. He described a Roman Catholic family of eight who were childhood neighbors of his in Highland Park, New Jersey. Of the six children, one became an environmentalist and another, a soldier. The oldest became involved in pro-union politics, the youngest moved to Peru to offer aid. And of the remaining two, one advocated for the Vietnam War while other protested against it.

“How could they all come from the same household and the same parents?” Freedman asked rhetorically. “Why do they act out their belief in such different ways?” He described how this quality of religion to inspire people in very different ways often trips up reporters who lack sufficient familiarity into the nature of a given faith.

“You cannot understand so many elemental parts of American culture and American history if you do not have a supple understanding of religion, an understanding that so many journalists lack,” he said.


To add to this confusion, Freedman noted that the legacy of the Enlightenment’s view of religion as a “retrograde force that cannot be reconciled with reason and should thus remain out of the public discourse,” deeply affects journalists.

“As journalists we are trained to report on what we can observe and what we can verify,” said Freedman. “We are told that if your mother says she loves you, check it out. But religion is in a realm where not everything is empirically provable by secular means, so newsrooms tend to skew toward the secular because of this and religion remained a low profile beat for years.”

Making matters worse, as the conventional media struggles with the twin challenges of accommodating the new digital age and the recession, seasoned columnists and reporters on religion frequently found themselves out of work as newspapers and magazines were forced to triage their staff. This loss of veteran journalists has led to more amateur and less aware reporting on religion over the past five years, according to Freedman.

To solve some of these issues, Freedman recommended that news organization cease viewing religions in the template of politics, viewing each denomination or faith as a homogenous silo. “There is no ‘Jewish’ view regarding stem cells or President Obama,” he said. Instead religions should be viewed “horizontally to perceive how alliances form on issues across denominational lines,” such as the example of Evangelical Christians and politically conservative Jews both agreeing on issues regarding Israel. “This would signify a real improvement toward the public discourse on religion.”

Upon exiting the lecture, Yaakov Tuchman, a freshman in the Honors Program, shared his positive review. “It was great to see someone from the inside describing how the media misrepresents religion and how this determines how the press reports the facts.”


Research Led by Dr. Eliezer Schnall Correlates Regular Religious Service Attendance to Outlook on Life

A new study shows that attending religious services regularly can mean a more optimistic, less depressed, and less cynical outlook on life.

Eliezer Schnall

Dr. Eliezer Schnall, clinical assistant professor of psychology at Yeshiva College, headed the research.

In a follow-up to its 2008 report that found that attending services increases life expectancy, the Women’s Health Initiative observational study based this report on a survey of 92,539 post-menopausal women over 50. The participants made up an ethnically, religiously, and socioeconomically diverse group.

According to the report, to be published this week in the Journal of Religion and Health, those who attend services frequently were 56% more likely to have an optimistic life outlook than those who don’t and were 27% less likely to be depressed. Those who attended weekly were less likely to be characterized by cynical hostility, compared with those who did not report any religious service attendance.

“We looked at a number of psychological factors; optimism, depression, cynical hostility, and a number of subcategories and subscales involving social support and social strain,” said Eliezer Schnall an associate professor of psychology at Yeshiva University in Manhattan, who headed the initiative. Read full article on

See additional reporting at Reuters, CBSJTA, TIME and The Washington Post.


Jeffrey Gurock Discusses the Conflict Observant Athletes Face when Choosing Between their Religion and Competition

When 7-year-old Amalya Knapp took the beam at the New Jersey state gymnastics finals last month, her excellent performance symbolized a far more complicated balancing act.

Although she would have ranked fifth in her age group, eligible for a medal, her individual scores were discounted. She was unable to compete on a Saturday because of her Orthodox Jewish family’s observance of the Sabbath.

“I was upset,” Amalya said, “but my mother told me there are decisions you have to make.”

USA Gymnastics made an effort to accommodate her and let her compete the next day, Sunday, Feb. 13, and permitted her scores to factor into her team’s overall rankings.

But the national governing body held that because she hadn’t competed at the same time as girls of her skill level and age group, her scores — 9.7 on vault, 9.575 floor, 9.5 beam and 8.75 bars — would not count toward individual medals or rankings.

The news disappointed the second-grader, a member of the US Gym team of the United States Gymnastics Development Center in Leonia, N.J. She had placed first in the all-around category in five previous competitions.

The article continues…

Jeffrey S. Gurock, a professor at New York’s Yeshiva University and author of the book Judaism’s Encounter with American Sports, said Orthodox Jewish athletes or religiously observant athletes of other faiths can only reach a certain competitive level before running into conflicts.

“Can you be fully observant Jew and compete, and also observe the Sabbath? The answer is no,” Gurock said. “America is making it easier, but in the end, if you’re an Orthodox Jew, your religion will trump the sport, and if you want to be fully observant, you’re only going to rise so far unless you can devote 365 days to your sport.”

He said the sports world had increasingly recognized, and embraced, America’s diversity and pluralism compared to decades past.

“It’s still a difficult issue, and if you’re going to be a top-flight athlete, you have to make a choice,” Gurock said. “They’re not going to postpone Wimbledon.”

Other major sporting events have been postponed, however, for religious considerations, Gurock said. It’s the reason major sporting events are rarely broadcast on Christmas Eve or that ESPN and Major League Baseball agreed, after complaints from die-hard Jewish baseball fans, to switch the starting time of a Yankees-Red Sox game on Sept. 27, 2009, so it wouldn’t conflict with the beginning of Yom Kippur.

“Sports is the metaphor, but the real story is how do you live and integrate into American culture and maintain your own tradition,” Gurock said. “It’s a Jewish story, a Muslim story, a Mormon story.” Read full article at


Jul 7, 2004 — If a journey begins with the first step, for Rachel Milner the path to world peace begins in Boston. In two simultaneous master’s degree programs-at the Harvard Divinity School and the Fletcher School at Tufts-the 1998 Stern College for Women alumna is studying religion’s impact on resolving international conflicts.

Ms. Milner is breaking ground in a relatively new field that affects many current world conflicts. “Religious leaders have incredible influence, which can be harnessed in good or bad ways,” she said. “They should be empowered so they feel they have a stake in the outcome of negotiations.”

Her interest in mixing religion and peacemaking reflects her strong attachment to the ideals of Torah Umadda. At Stern she majored in music and English communications, played in the YU Jazz Ensemble, and supported women’s participation, within the confines of Halakhah, in religious activities traditionally reserved for men, for example an expanded role in tefillah (prayers). “Combining religious and secular studies was a way of life and I wanted to continue that,” Ms. Milner said.

Juggling the demands of YU’s dual curriculum also prepared her for finding a niche in the world of global politics. “It helped me understand people in conflict overseas who have similarly merged interests and who are being sidelined by diplomats in political negotiations. It built a sensitivity in me,” she said.

A native of a Washington, DC, suburb, she grew up with an awareness of different people. She was raised in a traditional Jewish home and attended an Orthodox synagogue, but went to the interdenominational Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, MD. Her mother, a social worker, runs camps and programs for people with disabilities, while her father is a computer scientist for the US Department of Defense. “My father got me interested in civil service, my mother in recognizing the differences in people,” she said.

Her education in resolving conflicts began at the Program on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution (PICAR) at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for nternational Affairs, where she worked as the program coordinator for one year. PICAR, which disbanded recently, brought together politically active and influential Israelis and Palestinians for conflict resolution workshops, and also focused on other areas of ethnic tension, such as Northern Ireland and Cyprus.

She said she gained much from the program’s emphasis on root causes rather than specific outcomes, such as borders. “The Israeli-Palestinian workshops gave both parties a forum to speak freely and identify roadblocks to improving the situation,” she said.

While working for PICAR, Ms. Milner tried out her own peace making skills as a court-appointed mediator in the Cambridge small-claims court. There she learned the power of talk. “The point was to open dialogue between the parties, rather than arrive at a bottom line,” she said. “An apology was often more important than money.”

Ms. Milner first became interested in conflict resolution when she witnessed a cultural clash between German Jews and Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union while working in Berlin as a Ronald Lauder Fellow in 2001. “We all like to believe that Jews are Jews, and it doesn’t matter,” she said. “But the Russians spoke a different language and came from a less traditional Jewish culture. The Germans were overwhelmed by their numbers-Russians made up 80 percent of the Jewish community.”

She found that the adult Jewish education program she created for both groups bridged some of the language and culture gaps. “They were all in the same boat, learning about Judaism together,” she explained. As an outsider, she could see both perspectives, but she also gained something more from her work abroad-a new awareness of the complex world of international affairs. “As an American who had traveled only to Israel, I had a narrow view of the world,” she said. “You don’t get a sense here of the world beyond our borders, but I think it’s important for America to be part of the international community.”

And so for now, all roads have led her to Boston-for Ms. Milner the
gateway to the world.


Apr 22, 2004 — How democracy and theocracy coexist will take center stage at a May 2 lecture sponsored by Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women. The discussion, “Democracy and Religion: Fighting for Israel’s Soul,” will take place at 8 pm at the Teaneck, NJ, home of Leora and Jonathan Kukin.

The event is the third in a seven-part lecture series celebrating Stern College’s 50th anniversary.

Rabbi Seth Farber, a graduate of the YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, will speak.

Rabbi Farber is the founder of ITIM: The Jewish Life Information Center, an organization that advises unafilliated Israelis on Jewish life cycle rituals, such as marriage, conversion, and burial. He received a PhD from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem and has taught at Maimonides School in Boston and at the graduate schools of Touro College and the Overseas School of The Hebrew University. In 1992, he co-founded Ma’ayan, a Boston-based adult education program for Jewish women. He is the author of An American Orthodox Dreamer: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Boston’s Maimonides School (Brandeis University Press, 2004), a member of the Israel rabbinate, and the spiritual leader of a congregation in Ra’anana, Israel.

The lecture is co-sponsored by Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf, founder of Stern College’s Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf Scholar-in-Residence Program and a founding SCW board member.

Upcoming lecture topics include medical ethics and Halakhah (Jewish law), and the challenges confronting modern Orthodox families and women.

Co-chairs of the lecture series are Stern College alumnae Debbie Niderberg ’86 and Cali Orenbuch ’85. Sharon Herzfeld, MD, ’88 and Susan Ungar-Mero, MD, ’87, also Stern graduates, are co-chairing the college’s yearlong celebration.

For more information on future lectures and other Stern-at-50 events, call 212-340-7862, or e-mail Admission to the lectures is free, although advance reservations are required. Online registration is also available at


Nov 11, 2003 — Almost a half century ago, C.P. Snow delivered his famous “Two Cultures” lecture lamenting the void between scientific and literary intellectuals. A similar case could have been made for scientists and theologians, two cultures that had been growing apart since at least the Renaissance.

Today, however, it appears this gap is shrinking. A small but growing number of academicians are forging new links between science and religion in the belief that answers to many questions lay in neither culture but in a combination of the two.

One of these scholars is Carl Feit, PhD, who holds the Dr. Joseph and Rachel Ades Chair in Health Sciences at Yeshiva College. “It has become academically acceptable to look at both science and religion,” says Dr. Feit, an ordained rabbi. A biologist who received his bachelor’s degree at YC, he has been waiting a lifetime for these two cultures to begin a serious dialogue.

“For the majority of my academic career,” he says, “my two interests had to reside separately. If you wanted to be taken seriously as a scientist, you couldn’t talk about religion.”

But things have changed. “From Newton in the 1600s to the 20th century, we thought that science would always progress and would eventually answer all the questions about the world,” says Dr. Feit. “That assumption has certainly been brought into question by modern physics. For example, if the Big Bang (simultaneous appearance of space everywhere in the universe) model applies, then you can provide a new context for a discussion of a created universe. Topics like this have become a legitimate area of thought for scientists.”

Part of his genetic makeup

To Dr. Feit, these topics were always legitimate intellectual pursuits. Brooklyn-born, he grew up in a household that prized learning. At a young age, Dr. Feit found a calling in both science and rel

“For the majority of my academic career, …if you wanted to be taken seriously as a scientist, you couldn’t talk about religion.”


“When I was five years old, I would steal the afikomen [the matzah eaten at the end of the Seder meal on Passover] and then ask for a microscope or a chemistry set. My heroes were people who made contributions that changed humanity, largely in medicine. My earliest memories are of sitting in my father’s lap, looking at the books he was studying and learning the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. And so both the world of Jewish learning and the world of science are part of my genetic makeup; they have always co-existed.”

The two cultures rarely rubbed shoulders in the outside world, however.
After studying at Yeshiva College, and Yale University Dr. Feit enrolled in a doctoral program in microbiology and immunology at Rutgers University in 1967. Science, for the time being, was his top priority, but religion wasn’t far behind. “I made time for learning every day,” he says.

Perhaps too much time, in the eyes of one high-profile faculty member, who questioned Dr. Feit’s commitment to science when he applied for a postdoctoral fellowship.

This came as a shock to the budding scientist. Science, to him, was ultimately a means to understanding himself, the human organism, and the world in general. Religion also played an integral part in that quest, and it made no sense to him to abandon one for the other.

Inwardly, he clung to both cultures. But professionally, he was all science. In 1975, Dr. Feit went to work for the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, earning a stellar reputation for studies of monoclonal antibodies and human tumor antigens. A decade later, he returned to YU as an associate professor of biology, the rare refuge for academics with feet in both science and theology.

The wall begins to crumble

Over the years, the wall dividing the two cultures began to crumble and erode, and science began to lose its veneer of infallibility. “Certainly after WWII, with the trauma of the atomic bomb, the idea that there is something value-free and neutral about science went out the window,” says Dr. Feit.

Finally, as the 20th century ended, outsiders were invited into the ivory towers, and Dr. Feit found himself in demand at scientific meetings and symposia, not for his expertise on cancer immunology but for his religious perspective on ethical issues in science, such as cloning and stem cell research.

For several years, Dr. Feit has been involved with Science and the Spiritual Quest, a program of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, that promotes dialogue among leading scientists on the connections between their scientific pursuits and their religious or spiritual practices.

And in 2002, he helped found a new learned society, the International Society of Science and Religion, a think-tank for scientists with a religious bent, including several Nobel laureates and National Academy of Science members.

“It is very important that there be a rational Jewish voice as part of public policy discussions,” says Dr. Feit. “We have a long and ongoing history of analytic and profound thought on the interface of science — or at least technology — and religion. It tends to be in a technical and insular language — rabbinic Hebrew — for our own community. But a lot of what we say is of universal interest.

“And one of the things I can do is to take this world of rabbinic scholarship and put it into modern and contemporary parlance — not as a way of telling everybody what is right and wrong, but of exposing them to thoughts and ideas and pros and cons that are not out there in the literature. I see myself as an ambassador to the world at large who is interested in science and religion.”