Freedom, Human Rights and Jewish Values: The War in Ukraine

In the fourth of a series of events where YU faculty bring their expertise to bear on the war in Ukraine, Rabbi Yosef Blau, Prof. Suzanne Last Stone and Dr. Joseph Luders spoke about “Freedom, Human Rights and Jewish Values: The War in Ukraine” on March 15, 2022, in a discussion introduced by Dr. Selma Botman, provost and vice president of academic affairs, and moderated by Dr. Ronnie Perelis, director of the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Program for International Affairs.


freedom rights value ukraine
Clockwise: Dr. Selma Botman, Rabbi Yosef Blau, Dr. Joseph Luders, Dr. Ronnie Perelis, Prof. Suzanne Last Stone


Rabbi Yosef Blau is Mashgiach Ruchani [spiritual supervisor] of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary; Prof. Suzanne Last Stone is University Professor of Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law; Professor of Law; Director, Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization; and Dr. Joseph Luders is David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in Political Science; Associate Professor of Political Science; Chair, Department of Political Science.

In a wide-ranging discussion that lasted well over an hour, the three discussants spoke eloquently and knowingly about the ethical gantlet that the war in Ukraine has throw down to people of faith and good will.

All agreed that no one can justify the depredations visited upon the Ukranian people by the Russian army, many of whose actions can be considered war crimes. As Prof. Stone pointed out, “the way war is waged is important,” and the fact the Russians make it difficult, if not impossible, for civilians to leave the theater of war violates those aspects of Jewish law dealing with war that advocate for allowing people to leave the battlefield if they so choose and not be entrapped by the violence being visited upon them.

Prof. Stone even went so far as to promote several times during her remarks that along with the establishment of safe corridors for exit, countries should also carry out a humanitarian airlift, a point somewhat supported by Rabbi Blau, who noted that according to Jewish law and teachings, a situation like this calls upon Jews and non-Jews alike to protect the vulnerable, even if a price has to be paid. “We must accept our responsibility as citizens of society, accept the notion of human dignity and that humans have infinite value, that whoever saves one life saves the world—concerned about justice, concerned about caring for the weaker and the vulnerable. Both justice and compassion clearly come out on the same side.”

Dr. Luders took a different angle on this situation, noting that how a complacency about the resilience of democratic norms has allowed a process of erosion to undermine these norms and weaken them considerably, demonstrated not only in the United States by the events on Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C., but also in other countries around the world, where tribalism and autocracy threaten democratic rule.

Dr. Luders suggested that this erosion, coupled with the U.S. withdrawal from global leadership, led Putin to believe that he could undertake a war in Ukraine without any, or very little, collective action against him. But it seems, according to Dr. Luders, that “he misread the situation” and that the actions of Europe and NATO and other nations show that there is still a “reservoir of respect for democracy.” The challenge, he noted, is finding the balance between resisting Russia’s aggression without provoking responses and reactions “that would exceed our worst nightmares.”

Here are the upcoming events in the series, and you can read about all of YU’s efforts to address this topic, including the student relief mission to Vienna, Austria.


Elegy for Odessa

Monday, March 28, 2022 | 8 p.m. |

Moderated by

  • Dr. Jess Olson: Associate Professor of Jewish History


  • Dr. Jacob Wisse: Associate Professor of Art History
  • Dr. Val Vinokur: Associate Professor of Literary Studies, the New School
  • Dr. Amelia Glaser: Associate Professor, Russian Literature, University of California, San Diego

Trauma and Repair: Psychologists and Social Workers
Reflect on the Ukraine Crisis

Monday, April 4, 2022 | 8 p.m. |

 Moderated by

  • Dr. Jess Olson: Associate Professor of Jewish History


  • Dr. Jordan Bate: Assistant Professor, Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology
  • Dr. Vera Békés: Assistant Professor, Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology
  • Dr. Nancy Beckerman, LCSW: Pofessor, Chair Advanced Clinical Practice, Director of Faculty Mentoring, Wurzweiler School of Social Work
  • Dr. Lisa Henshaw, LCSW: Assistant Professor, Chair Trauma Curriculum, Wurzweiler School of Social Work