January 19, 2020

Former Yeshiva University student: YU not safe for LGBT people

Yeshiva University (YU), the preeminent educational institution of the Modern Orthodox, is not safe for LGBT people, according to a gay former student who wrote about his experiencing at the school in a Jan. 4 essay.

“I am gay, and I left because I no longer felt safe at Yeshiva University,” Joshua Tranen wrote in the YU student newspaper.

“While at YU, I wasn’t out and was terrified of what such a public identity could mean,” he wrote. “Each morning, when I awoke, I forced myself to gather the strength required to learn, for yet another day, alongside rabbis that had publicly called gay people an abomination, blamed them for natural disasters, and advocated for conversion therapy—a pseudoscience so dangerous it has been outlawed in many states.”

The essay represents the latest flaring up of a controversy stalking Modern Orthodoxy. The movement, which seeks a lifestyle grounded in Jewish law but compatible with the secular world, has struggled to update old mores stigmatizing gay relationships.

In September, Ari Segal, head of school at Shalhevet High School, which is aligned with Modern Orthodoxy, wrote in Shalehevet’s newspaper that acceptance of LGBT people is the “biggest challenge to emunah [faith] of our time.”

“This may surprise many adults, but the reconciliation of the Torah’s discussion of homosexuality represents the single most formidable religious challenge for our young people today,” he wrote. “More young people are ‘coming out’ than ever before, and that repeatedly puts a face to this theological challenge.”

As one of those young people, Tranen’s essay lends pathos to Segal’s call to action.

He writes about how his roommate, whom he’d grown to trust, moved shortly after Tranen came out to him. Tranen transferred to Yale University a short while later.

Nearly two years after transferring, he published the essay, which he had started but never finished during his time at YU.

“I decided to return to this essay because as a young boy in an Orthodox day school, I was taught that Orthodox Jews are supposed to be a moral light in the world, and I want to believe–despite so much evidence to the contrary–that sentiment can still be true,” he wrote. “But mostly, I’m writing because there are real lives at stake.”