Yeshiva University Strips Newspaper Of Funding For Standing Up For Journalistic Principle and Refusing To Retract Article

Yeshiva University has taken a step that appears to affirm that it is religious first and a university second. The school’s study body stripped an online student newspaper of funding over a column that discussed a sexual encounter between two students. The attack on free speech and free press occurred after the students rightfully refused to censure their own newspaper and writer. It is a shameful act by Yeshiva that puts the university squarely in the category of intolerant, orthodox institutions — a blow to many faculty and students who have struggled to make Yeshiva something more than a school teaching Jewish values.

The column was published this week on December 5th by the YU Beacon. The article titled “How Do I Even Begin to Explain This” is written by an anonymous female author who describes a sexual tryst with a young man inside a Manhattan hotel room. She identifies herself as a 20-year-old modern Orthodox Jewish woman who attends Stern College for Women. Stern is one of the university’s three undergraduate schools.

What is fascinating is that the article is a soulful exploration of faith and guilt with the writer saying “The only thing I learn is how to do the walk of shame the day after.”

To their credit, Simi Lampert said she and coeditor Toviah Moldwin refused demands to change the article or retract it.

Matt Yaniv, Yeshiva University’s associate director of media relations, insists that the school did not pull the funding because they receive their funding from the school’s student government.” However, the university admits to facilitating and “mediating” the meeting on retracting or censuring the article. I would have expected the university instead to make clear that it consider content-based restrictions to be anathema and take a stand in favor of free speech. I fall to see the distinction between having the students make the decision to pressure the newspaper as opposed to the University itself. Free speech should be protected from majoritarian retaliations.

Regrettably, editor Toviah Moldwin, YC ‘13 has resigned, stating “[t]he publicity surrounding this incident was a result I neither desired nor anticipated, and I fear that some of this publicity may have put YU in a negative light.” I can’t say that I understand that decision because I fail to see (as does Moldwin) “both sides of [this] issue.”

The Editor-in-Chief Simi Lampert published a response that is well-reasoned and a credit to the school that no longer wish to be associated with them:

his article does talk about sex. Yes, sex. And the premarital kind, too. Yes, this is assur (a sin according to Jewish law). No, we don’t encourage or promote the act of premarital sex. However, it happens. It happens in our community, and we as a community prefer to pretend it doesn’t happen. This much can be ascertained by the amount of comments objecting to a public discussion of a Stern woman having sex. The only way we can address the issue in any way—to fix it, to make sure it doesn’t happen, to make sure if it does happen, protection is involved, etc—is to talk about it. That is why we posted the article—so people would talk about it. And talk they did. . . .

To all those upset by the article, I apologize. But I do not regret the decision to post it. This is the reason the Beacon was founded in the first place– to be a platform for every student, not just the majority. The Beacon will continue to adhere to this mission and welcomes writers and topics from across the board. Conservative or liberal, frum (right-wing religious) or atheist, we want you to have a place to say what you believe, in a way that will help start conversations.

While the university insists that the newspaper agreed to go independent, it is hard to believe that the newspaper preferred not to receive funding. It is clearly the restrictions suggested on its content that led these student journalists to take this step. There is no condemnation from the University or promise to support the newspaper in the interests of free speech. There is nothing but conspicuous silence. It is equally distressing to see students playing such an ignoble role in limiting free speech. It is not the newspaper but this governing student body that has tarnished the reputation of their university.

What is astonishing is that the column actually speaks of the regret from the encounter. She tells a cousin “I made a stupid mistake.” Not as big as her fellow students — and the University.

11 thoughts on “Yeshiva University Strips Newspaper Of Funding For Standing Up For Journalistic Principle and Refusing To Retract Article”

  1. @ Spindell. You are walking on eggshells here in your comment. For my part, as a formerly Orthodox Jewish person, know a little bit more on this subject and I will not tiptoe among the tulips. Premarital sex is hardly a topic that invites blushes nowadays. This holds true in Modern Orthodox circles as well. The so called “Ultra” Orthodox still regards premarital sex as taboo. I really don’t see what the big deal is. There are 5000+ Modox as I call em singles in Manhattan and the majority of them do have sex. This is an open secret. The old fashioned ways have gone and the new age morality has set in. The Beacon just flaunted it a little and angered some on the far right.


    Comparing Modern day Orthodox Christianity or Judaism to Modern day Islamo-Fascism is as idiotic as it is false. I also do not believe that you know anything about modern Orthodoxy in any religion, especially Judaism. I challenge you to cite one horrifying detail about the so called “Ultra” Orthodox. The fact that they find pre-marital sex wrong? How is that horrifying?

  2. Right up there with the repressive’ orthodoxies’ of a couple of other religions that come to mind. Typical Americans would be horrified at the ‘offenses’ that occur according to ultra-orthodox Jews, as they are horrified at repressive Muslim beliefs. I think.

    Might just have to make a contribution to the YU Beacon.

  3. When you speak the truth…. It sometimes offends the very dignity that needs dealing with…

  4. @OS

    I am glad to hear you are concerned with reality. Good for you, it isn’t always so clear.

    I am glad to know your preference for being reality-based has helped you in this (other) thread to know when to keep your mouth shut.

  5. anon, I could try explaining it to you, but I can’t understand it for you.

    So, I am not even going to try, because I have a strong preference for being reality-based and know when some cases are hopeless.

  6. There is a strain of Jewish Orthodoxy that believes an admission and then discussion of things sexual is offensive to the community. This is “the head in the sand” strain of Judaism. People who feel this way, believe that discussion of the topic in public is wrong because a person should be careful not give offense to religious belief.

    I was surprised to learn a few months ago the Rabbi Schmuely Boteach, an
    Orthodox Rabbi who has a TV program about healing relationships, was castigated by a portion of the Orthodox community for writing a book called
    “Kosher Sex”. The book emphasized the Orthodox view that sex should occur only in marriage, but also in that context discussed the important role
    sex plays in a relationship and that it involves mutual pleasure of the partners.

    My own view as a Jew who would be considered less than pious, is that YU should not have taken this action, foremost because this is about a struggle that faces many young Jews. That the writer was admitting what to her was a major indiscretion and expressing her feelings of regret. By opening this topic up, in a University atmosphere, from my perspective she was actually performing a service for Orthodox Jewry at YU. This it seems was a cautionary tale and as such would have been instructive for those having similar temptations.

    Secondly, but of equal importance is that College should be a place where young people growing into adulthood can explore their ideas and ideals. In that direction lies growth and a promise of responsible adulthood. Censoring a student newspaper, that is fairly mainstream for the milieu, is not being educationally responsible.

    Having said that I think it is important to make clear that I don’t personally believe that pre-marital virginity is something to be desired. This would certainly put me in disagreement with some who are close to me. It is after all only my opinion and people need to decide for themselves just what it is, or isn’t, what they believe in. I don’t hold myself to be a moral compass for anyone, opinionated as I might appear.

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