On Thursday, March 28, 2019, Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman gave a Memorial Shiur to honor the yahrtzeits of two Torah visionaries: the 123rd yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yitchak Elchanan Spektor, for whom the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary is named, and the 43rd yahrtzeit of Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin, former president of Yeshiva University.
The yearly yahrtzeit shiur continues a tradition begun by Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, president emeritus of Yeshiva University, and one that Rabbi Berman enthusiastically continues, to celebrate the lives of two men who made Yeshiva University what it is today and who have had deep and lasting impacts on the Jewish world.
After acknowledging his fellow rebbeim [rabbis] in the audience along with faculty, staff, students and family members, such as Rabbi Belkin’s granddaughter Tammy and her husband Steve Wagner, Rabbi Berman spoke about the tractate Baba Kama, exploring the laws of reshut ha-rabbim [public domain] that deal with civil matters such as damages and torts and which this year forms the focus of the Yeshiva University’s batei midrash [study halls].
In Be–Inyan Petur Shel Shen ve-Regel be-Reshut ha-Rabbim, Rabbi Berman discussed the presupposed legal exemption from two categories of damages inflicted in the public domain, noting that exemption is not so simple and tracing that debate through the classical sources while sharing his own spin on the discussion.
Asserting that Talmudic tort law is eminently relevant in the modern day, Rabbi Berman articulated a vision and mechanism to look towards our religious mentors—past and present—to inform our lives and how to create a society that promotes human flourishing.
Looking towards rabbinic discussion throughout centuries of discourse, Berman posited that we could look to the Talmudic legislation around liability in the public domain—both its leniencies and stringencies—and made clear that we have a religious responsibility to both enter broader society and consider the needs of all who join us there.
Rabbi Berman stressed that “human beings are complicated and communities even more so. In order to flourish together, in order to create a virtuous reshut ha-rabbim, we need to recognize how our choices impact others, both in terms of the decisions we make and the decisions we wish others to make.”
Speaking directly to the students in the audience, Rabbi Berman connected the laws of reshut ha-rabbim to the students’ experience at Yeshiva University and emphasized how one of the primary goals of YU is to prepare students for a life of positive impact on their communities. “YU is a bridge and an accelerator to the rest of your life. Our goal is to elevate your Jewish life to have a great impact on the world and be an eved Hashem [servant of G-d],” said Rabbi Berman. “You have this opportunity to be surrounded by Torah, with caring, learned mentors and to train yourselves for a life in the reshut ha-rabbim. It is not a challenge. It is a gift.”