Yeshiva University finds itself immersed this spring in a tale of two honorees. One, a former president of the United States, is accused of anti-Israel bias. The other, a leading Y.U. rabbi, is accused of racism and a disregard for victims of child sex abuse.
Hershel Schachter, the Y.U. rabbi in question, has also been criticized in years past for suggesting that the prime minister of Israel be shot if he compromises with the Palestinians on Jerusalem, and for appearing to compare women to monkeys.
But while an event organized by Y.U.’s rabbinic school to honor Schachter in May has aroused little opposition, the decision by a student-run journal at Y.U.’s law school to honor former president Jimmy Carter on April 10 sparked swift, furious and widespread criticism.
Indeed, the angry reaction to Carter’s appearance seemed to dwarf even the recent outrage over allegations that Y.U. failed to deal adequately with suspected physical, emotional and sexual abuse of teenage students at its Manhattan high school throughout the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.
The reason for the difference is simple, according to Samuel Heilman, a sociologist of American Jewry, at Queens College. “The Carter problem [exists because of] a very powerful, right-wing, pro-Israel stance within Yeshiva University,” Heilman said. “Whereas opposition to what Schachter said comes more from the liberal side of the spectrum, which is not as well represented at Yeshiva University [just] as it is not well represented these days in Orthodoxy.”
Schachter sparked controversy in March when excerpts of a talk he had delivered a month earlier in London appeared online.