Category: Culture

New York Same Sex Marriage Law’s Religious Exemptions

Many thanks to the Loyal Reader(s) to sent over the link to the full text of New York’s same sex marriage law just signed permitting gay marriage in the state of New York. As I wrote extensively, my position on the subject was less about restricting gay marriage than about maintaining religious exemptions. For those interested, here are the relevant passages from New York’s new law.

Sarah Palin’s Tour de Force

I’ve been following the Sarah Palin bus tour “story” with the same cynicism and disdain as Jon Stewart. But the thought occurred to me that perhaps I had seen this sort of thing before somewhere. And after rummaging through the vault of irrelevant data that is my brain, I uncovered what can only be described as a revelation.

Loyal readers, I submit that Sarah Palin is the modern day Lex Luger.

The “Defensible Border” Fallacy

The past two weeks have renewed global interest in the Israeli / Palestinian conflict. Between President Obama’s original reference to the 1967 borders, a modification of sorts to the AIPAC convention, and a response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Jewish and political communities have been arguing over how to make sense of the policies.

One recurring theme has been the repeated call of defensible borders. Under the assumption that peace in Israel must consist of land swap with a forthcoming Palestinian state, parties on all sides have repeated that the border between the two states be “defensible,” without further clarification as to what that would mean in terms of specific borders.

However, a more significant question regarding the “defensible border” requirement is why would it be necessary. The “land for peace” mantra assumes that the Palestinian people are really interested in peace, but are oppressed by their Israeli occupiers. Logically then, if the Palestinians were to form their own nation, then it would be as Mahmoud Abbas stated, “a peace-loving nation, committed to human rights, democracy, the rule of law and the principles of the United Nations Charter.”

But if we were to take Abbas at his word, then why would Israel’s borders need to be defensible. From whom would Israel need defending if not the “peace-loving” nation? For comparison’s sake, the US / Canadian Border is 5,525miles, and yet despite this extremely long border, US is more concerned with illegal border crossings than military attacks. The reason is obvious; the United States is not concerned with having “defensible” borders with Canada because there is no risk of military attack and there is no risk of military attack because the United States is actually at peace with Canada.

The fact that “defensible borders” is still employed in Israeli / Palestinian rhetoric demonstrates that even proponents of a Palestinian state are not fully convinced by the “peace-loving” intentions. Any call for “land for peace” based on “defensible borders” is thus paradoxical to the point of dishonest for it assumes that Israel would still face a military threat despite acquiescing territory.

While I do not have a solution to the conflict, the process would probably be helped if people were more honest about their positions, intentions, and true motivations.

Why Orthodox Jews Should Not Oppose Legalizing Same Sex Marriage

On May 23 2011 several prominent Orthodox Jewish organizations issued a joint statement declaring their opposition to legalizing same sex-marriage. The brief statement is as follows:

On the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage, the Orthodox Jewish world speaks with one voice, loud and clear:

We oppose the redefinition of the bedrock relationship of the human family.

The Torah, which forbids homosexual activity, sanctions only the union of a man and a woman in matrimony. While we do not seek to impose our religious principles on others, we believe the institution of marriage is central to the formation of a healthy society and the raising of children. It is our sincere conviction that discarding the historical definition of marriage would be detrimental to society.

Moreover, we are deeply concerned that, should any such redefinition occur, members of traditional communities like ours will incur moral opprobrium and may risk legal sanction if they refuse to transgress their beliefs. That prospect is chilling, and should be unacceptable to all people of good will on both sides of this debate.

The integrity of marriage in its traditional form must be preserved.

This statement was issued not only by Orthodox institutions considered “right-of center” such as Agudath Israel of America or National Council of Young Israel, but also by more moderate Orthodox organizations such as the Orthodox Union (OU) and the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA).1 Unlike most religious proclamations which are directed towards specific religious communities, this joint statement advocates a political position – though based on religious principles – to the secular world beyond the normal scope of religious influence. To be sure, this joint statement is hardly the first time rabbinic organizations have issued political statements. Across all major denominations, the Orthodox RCA, Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, and Reform Central Conference of American Rabbis have all passed resolutions advocating public polices exemplifying their respective religious beliefs, with few (if any) complaining about the separation of church and state.

But due to the inherent subjective moral arguments against same-sex marriage, I argue that Jews – especially the Orthodox – would be better served in not opposing its legalization.

Eretz Yisrael / The Land of Israel In Rabbinic Thought

In a special class in honor of Yom Haatzmaut, Rabbi Yuter explores Rabbinic perspectives regarding the land of Israel, including those from Babylonian sources.

Eretz Yisrael in Rabbinic Thought Sources (PDF)

Eretz Yisrael in Rabbinic Thought

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law Part 3: Halakhic Labor Laws

In part 3 of his Economics and Social Justice series, Rabbi Yuter addresses the topic of Jewish Labor Laws from a holistic perspective, balancing the rights and obligations of both the employer and the employee.

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law – Halakhic Labor Laws Sources (PDF)

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law – Halakhic Labor Laws

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law Part 2: Halakhic Market Controls

In part 2 of the Economics and Social Justice series, Rabbi Yuter discusses some examples of market controls in Jewish Law.

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law – Halakhic Market Controls Sources (PDF)

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law – Halakhic Market Controls

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law Part 1: Free Market Ethics in Torah

Rabbi Josh Yuter begins his special lecture series on Economics and Social Justice in Judaism with an introduction to methodology and a demonstration of a free market ethos existing within the Rabbinic legal tradition. Audio and sources included.

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law Part 1 – Free Market Ethics Sources (PDF)

Economics and Social Justice in Jewish Law- Free Market Ethics in Judaism

Episode 8 – Encountering Avoda Zara

The first Tuesday of every month I lead a Beit Midrash session at the Stanton St. Shul. These topics vary from month to month, often coinciding with the Jewish or secular calendar. This month, I chose to deal with some issues of Avoda Zara due to some questions which kept coming up lately in shul.

This class is by no means comprehensive; covering this topic properly would probably take at least a year. Still the point is to raise certain issues and hopefully lead people to ask better halakhic questions.

Episode 8 – Encountering Avoda Zara

Making Sense of YU’s Finances

The Chronicle of Higher Education released its financial report of universities, focusing on compensation packages for university presidents. In this data collected from tax records, The Chronicle found that no fewer than 30 presidents of private universities earned over $1m in total compensation for the 2008-9 fiscal year. In a public article the Chronicle reports that the highest salary went to the late Rabbi Dr. Bernard Lander, though due to unusual circumstances:

Nearly four decades after Bernard Lander founded Touro College with a class of 35 students, the trustees decided that he had been underpaid during his tenure as president. To make up for the difference, they awarded him more than $4-million in deferred compensation in 2008.

Mr. Lander, who died in February at age 94, received a total compensation package of $4,786,830, making him the highest-earning private-college president, according to The Chronicle’s review of federal tax documents from the 2008-9 fiscal year. The review, which included 448 chief executives, found 30 private college leaders who received more than $1-million in total compensation. In the previous year’s report, 23 chief executives earned over $1-million. [Emphasis added]

Aside from Lander’s compensation numbers, the other point of interest is the financial state of Yeshiva University. According to The Chronicle’s numbers (available upon registration):

Institution2008-9 Institution revenues2008-9 Institution ExpendituresEmployee2008-9 Total compensation package
RU/VHYeshiva University$541,179,646$722,192,458Richard M. Joel



First note the “Carnegie classification” field in the table. According to The Chronicle YU’s designation is as follows:

Research Universities
Included among these institutions are those that award at least 20 doctoral degrees per year (excluding doctoral-level degrees that allow recipients to enter professional practice, such as the J.D. or M.D.). Research institutions, which are differentiated based on an explicit measure of their amount of research activity, are divided into three categories: Research universities (very high research activity); Research universities (high research activity); and Doctoral/Research universities.

The Chronicle considers YU to be a “Research University” of “Very High Research Activity.” Thus it is important to consider how YU compares to other institutions in this class, regardless of the accuracy of this designation (i.e. stop laughing).

Furthermore, in the 2008-9 fiscal year, YU ran a deficit of $181,012,812. This number may be misleading due to the Madoff scandal in that funding which was supposed to have come from now depleted endowments would have to be charged directly against revenues.

Finally in considering President Richard Joel’s $1,211,429 compensation (apologies if the number got cut off in the table), it is important to consider the entire package of benefits. In President Joel’s case this would likely include housing, driver, health insurance (non-trivial expense) and other perks which might have previously not been included in the total value.

Also consider how other universities fared during this same year:

InstitutionRevenueExpendituresTotal NetPresident’s Compensation<
Brandeis University$289,873,136$338,603,908-$48,730,772$830,643
Columbia University$3,088,224,119$3,285,962,702-$197,738,583$1,753,984
Duke University$1,634,274,136$2,294,516,114-$660,241,978$824,755
Harvard University-$2,524,933,646 [sic]1$3,991,293,191-$6,516,226,837$822,011
New York University$2,970,318,554$3,142,484,709-$172,166,155$1,366,878
Princeton University$2,396,611,800$1,325,636,000$1,070,975,800$881,151
Stanford University$2,231,172,246$3,394,846,813-$1,163,674,567$1,091,589
University of Chicago$1,680,383,914$2,032,554,291-$352,170,377$1,162,213
Yale University$2,687,725,962$2,801,521,857-$113,795,895$1,530,008

In making such comparisons, keep in mind the following

  1. Compensation packages are usually contractually defined in advance and not a percentage of a university’s profits.
  2. Responsibilities of the position will vary based on institution, compensation may vary accordingly.
  3. The resources of each university also vary greatly, some presidents have more to work with than others.

1. I don’t know why they listed Harvard as having negative revenues, but I’m just copying/pasting what I found.