Life is always full of tensions between what one believes and how one is supposed to act in the world. As YU graduates transition from college into the workplace, they have to face these kinds of dilemmas directly: How can one excel professionally while adhering to Torah values? How can conflicts between work demands and religious priorities be resolved?
Over the last year, Sy Syms of School of Business developed a four-course Jewish Values Curriculum to provide students with the preparation they will need to help them live their faith in the world while they pursue their careers.
A course on halachic [Jewish legal] challenges in the workplace, called Practical Workplace Halacha, has a parallel course on the Beren campus called Halachic Challenges in the Workplace, which is taught by Rabbi Aaron Cohen, an instructor of Judaic Studies at Stern College for Women. This semester, two other courses debuted on the Wilf campus, with the aspiration to transfer them to the Beren campus at a future date: Jewish Business Law in the Contemporary Marketplace and Jewish Public Policy. The fourth course, Jewish-World Interactions, is slated to make its debut in Spring 2021.
The curriculum was designed and developed by a task force led by Dr. Noam Wasserman (dean, Sy Syms) and comprised of three experts from outside Sy Syms and three from within the school. The other members of the task force included Dr. Moses Pava (Alvin H. Einbender University Professor in Business Ethics and a former dean of Sy Syms), Dr. Avi Giloni (associate dean, chair of the information and decision sciences department, and professor of operations management and statistics) and Dr. Daniel Rynhold (dean, Bernard Revel School of Jewish Studies) along with Rabbi Dovid Baskevkin (the director of education for NCSY and an instructor at Yeshiva University), Rabbi Itamar Rosensweig (a maggid shiur [Torah lecturer] at Yeshiva University and a dayan [judge] at the Beth Din of America) and Rabbi Dr. Ari Lamm (CEO of Bnai Zion Foundation).
“So far,” said Dr. Wasserman, “the student appetite for these courses has been impressive. For the fall semester, Jewish Business Law has 113 students registered across four sections, Practical Workplace Halacha has 102 students and Jewish Public Policy has 57 students across two sections.”
Dr. Wasserman attributes this intense level of interest to the fact that “the courses cover two broad areas: purely business issues and universal issues with a business lens” in a way that gives students “practical, experiential and actionable information” that they can use to navigate their way “within the Jewish world and between the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds.”
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin, the instructor for Jewish Public Policy, observes that “the curriculum builds an incredible secular offering that prepares students for meaningful careers upon the foundation of the students’ Torah courses.” He added that the courses “unite these two crucial components of the YU experience into a grand conversation that will animate their entire lives. For us, our Torah values and our business values cannot live in a vacuum but must be wed into a cohesive whole. This is, after all, the mission of Yeshiva University.”
Rabbi Itamar Rosensweig, also one of the curriculum’s designers and the instructor for Jewish Business Law in the Contemporary Marketplace, believes that a course of study like this makes Sy Syms stand out among business schools. “If you go to Wharton, you’ll tackle similar questions but not from the perspective of Jewish law and its rich legal and moral tradition. Here, we engage with contemporary questions about markets and economics posed by moral and legal philosophers but from the tradition and philosophy of choshen mishpat [Jewish law pertinent to finance, torts, legal procedure and loans and interest].”
The following descriptions are necessarily brief, but they display how the instructors have crafted compelling courses where students delve deeply into the topic as they build the array of skills needed for a successful engagement with the world outside the classroom.
Jewish Business Law in the Contemporary Marketplace
Rabbi Itamar Rosensweig, Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann
Students taking this course have the double benefit of being taught by two people associated with the Beth Din of America: Rabbi Itamar Rosensweig, a dayan [judge], and Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann, director of the organization. Together, they explore the application of Jewish civil law in the contemporary commercial marketplace.
The course covers the interaction between Jewish law, secular law and commercial customs; contemporary beit din procedure and jurisprudence; and substantive principles of Jewish law in the contemporary marketplace.
“The course offers students an opportunity to develop a Jewish perspective on the marketplace,” explains Rabbi Rosensweig. “Here’s an example of the perspective we take. Consider contracts that couldn’t be performed because of COVID-19, such as a canceled wedding. The common law is inclined to assign the risk on an all-or-nothing basis: there’s a winner and a loser.” However, Jewish law “has a strong tradition going back to 12th-century Germany that in a pandemic affecting both parties, the legal resolution is to split the loss evenly between them. Here, the Jewish legal tradition offers a perspective on justice different from the one offered by the common law.”
Practical Workplace Halacha
Prof. Ari Wasserman, Rabbi Yoni Levin
Prof. Ari Wasserman, assisted by co-teacher Rabbi Yoni Levin (assistant rabbi at Congregation Aish Kodeksh), lays out directly the challenge students face in the modern workplace: “We want to excel in our chosen profession and still remain strong in our commitment to Torah and mitzvos [commandments].”
In the course, students discover how to deal with issues like business meetings in non-kosher restaurants, shaking hands and having meetings with the opposite gender, wearing a kippah to work, social gatherings and holiday parties, personal use of office supplies, setting aside time to learn Torah, mincha [afternoon prayers] during the workday and much more.
Jewish Public Policy
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin wants students to approach the topic of his course in three ways: a particularly Jewish approach to major public policy issues, how general public policy affects the Jewish community and the way public policy has been adapted by the Jewish community to govern their own institutions, organizations and actions. The course will integrate Torah values into a secular framework—and vice versa—in the area of institutional decision-making, specifically for religious populations.
“College students usually focus on personal decision-making,” he notes, “obviously a crucial part of their development. My course builds outwards and considers how religious decision-making considers diverse and oftentimes conflicting populations.”
Jewish-World Interactions [slated to debut in Spring 2021]
This course will explore a range of big questions raised by life in a commercial world, paying particular attention to the ways in which great Jewish ideas helped build society and the practical ways the values of the Jewish mesorah [tradition] can help change lives both personal and professional.
Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann ’01R, ’14R (ordination Yadin Yadin)
Rabbi Weissman serves as the Menahel [director] of the Beth Din of America and received rabbinical ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) in 2001 and advanced rabbinical ordination [Yadin Yadin] in 2014.
He is a graduate of Columbia Law School, where he was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar. Prior to his association with the Beth Din of America, Rabbi Weissmann worked as an attorney at several prominent law firms, including Debevoise and Plimpton LLP.
Prof. Ari Wasserman
Prof. Wasserman is a Torah lecturer, author, attorney and businessman. A member of the bar in New York, California and Massachusetts, he received his undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania and J.D. with honors from Harvard Law School. He began his legal career at Sullivan & Cromwell and subsequently worked in mid-size and start-up companies in a variety of industries.
He is the bestselling author of Making It Work – A Practical Guide to Halacha in the Workplace and Making It All Work: Women Surviving and Thriving at Work (co-written with Miryam Wasserman) about the challenges of being observant in the secular workplace, Welcome to Our Table (two volumes) on the weekly parsha [portion of the Torah] and several sefarim [books] in Hebrew.
Rabbi Yoni Levin
Rabbi Yoni Levin is currently the Rosh Kollel [head of the kollel] of Emek Hamelech as well as the assistant rabbi of Aish Kodesh. Over the past eight years Rabbi Levin has made an annual Siyum Hashas [completion of the Daf Yomi program] with the goal of inspiring people to accomplish feats in Limud HaTorah [Torah study] that seemed beyond their reach. His grasp of Shas [six parts of the Mishnah] and Poskim [rulings of Jewish law] has enabled him to give shiurim [lectures] on a wide range of topics in Gemara [the second part of the Talmud], Halacha and Hashkafa [Jewish worldview].
Rabbi Levin received semicha [rabbinic ordination] from RIETS under the guidance of Rav Hershel Schachter and deals with numerous Shailos [questions] daily. He is also the author of a halacha column in 2.0 Magazine addressing modern day technology and science. Rabbi Levin also runs a summer kollel [an institute of Talmudic study] housed in Aish Kodesh allowing young men to continue their learning at a serious level during their break from school. Rabbi Levin spent a short period of time working as an actuary at PricewaterhouseCoopers before completing his semicha. His firsthand experience in the world of business allows him to appreciate the everyday challenge the working Jew faces in Halacha, Hashkafa and Yiras Shamyim [awe of heaven].
Rabbi Itamar Rosensweig ’13YC, ’13BR, ’14R (ordination Yoreh Yoreh), ’18R (ordination Yadin Yadin)
Rabbi Itamar Rosensweig is a maggid shiur [Torah lecturer] at Yeshiva University and a dayan [judge] at the Beth Din of America. He received his semicha, Yoreh Yoreh and Yadin Yadin, from RIETS, where he was a fellow of the Wexner Kollel Elyon and editor-in-chief of the Beit Yitzchak Journal of Talmudic and Halakhic Studies. He received his BA, with honors, in physics and philosophy from Yeshiva University, an MA in medieval Jewish history from YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School and an MA in philosophy from Columbia University.
Rabbi Rosensweig studied Talmud with Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein at Yeshivat Har Etzion and the history of halacha with Prof. Haym Soloveitchik at Yeshiva University. He studied for many years with his father, Rabbi Michael Rosensweig, a rosh yeshiva at RIETS, and for a decade attended his shiur [lecture]. Previously, he taught an advanced Talmud shiur at Columbia University’s Kraft Center and served as the resident scholar at Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, New Jersey.
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin ’10BR, ’14R
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin is the director of education for NCSY, the youth movement of the Orthodox Union, and an instructor at Yeshiva University, where he teaches courses on public policy, religious crisis and rabbinic thought. After studying at Yeshivas Ner Yisroel, he completed rabbinic ordination at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary as well as a master’s degree under the guidance of Dr. Yaakov Elman at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies focusing on the thought of Rabbi Tzadok of Lublin.
He is currently pursuing a doctorate in public policy and management at The New School’s Milano School of International Affairs, focusing on crisis management. In 2014, Dovid published a sefer on sin in Jewish thought entitled B’Rogez Rachem Tizkor and recently published an English work entitled Sinˑaˑgogue: Sin and Failure in Jewish Thought (Boston: Academic Studies Press).