Brandeis is ‘Anything But’ Bad for Observant Jews

July 5, 2023

by Rabbi Seth Winberg (’11) for The Forward

“Brandeis was founded by Jews. But, it’s anything but Orthodox.”

A double-page advertisement from Brandeis University bearing these words ran in June 25’s issue of The New York Times Magazine, to the dismay of many observant Jews. Thankfully, the university president sent a written apology to Orthodox students less than a week after the ad ran.

I am one of the observant Jews who found the ad poorly worded and unfortunately, insensitive. I also proudly serve as rabbi and Hillel director at Brandeis. The ad was doubly surprising — almost shocking — to me as someone intimately involved in Jewish life at Brandeis, given how inclusive and comfortable the university is for Jews, including observant Jews.

Brandeis was a trailblazer in making Jewish observance comfortable. It was the first university in the country to have strictly kosher dining under university auspices, thanks to the pioneering efforts of its first Hillel director, Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, in 1957. Today there is kosher food (and plenty of other food) available in both dining halls.

Brandeis has had an eruv to make Sabbath observance easier for the last 40 years. In fact, another predecessor at Hillel (a Reform rabbi) joined with local Orthodox rabbis and the university to construct it. For many students today, checking the eruv is a social highlight of the week.

More recently, I helped the athletics center offer an option for separate swimming hours for women and men, which benefits both observant Jews and Muslims.

There is a strong culture of communal Shabbat dinners at Brandeis, and significantly for the observant, Shabbat lunches. Students coordinate Orthodox services, extracurricular Torah learning, and plenty of social activities. We also offered Sephardic High Holiday services and cultural events this year for a steadily growing community.

In a partnership between Hillel and the Orthodox Union, students have had the Torah guidance and home hospitality of two Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus educators for the last 23 years. Leading Orthodox educators from Israel and the U.S. often visit to teach Torah.

A popular Chabad House is just off campus, and many students move between all these opportunities comfortably.

On most major Jewish holidays and for all of Passover, there are no classes. When the current university administration determined in 2021 that it could not allow travel off campus during the pandemic, it undertook — at great expense — to make sure Passover could be observed on campus for the entire week. It was a remarkable achievement of what can be done when students, professionals, professors and the administration work together.

Read more here >

A Year of Strong & Steady Growth: YCT Highlights of ’22-’23
Poster for YCT's Disabilities Inclusion Torah Reader. Image with a mostly white background with YCT's dandelion pattern in faded purplish grey on the top and bottom. The pattern is 13 circles of varying size with a line of the same color attached to each of the two middle circles on the bottom. The pattern on the top is 9 circles of varying size with a line of the same color attached to the middle circle, this is the repeated on the second page of the image on the top of the right page. The right half of the image is a table of contents, starting with the words "Table of Contents" in large indigo block letters. Below this, in smaller font it says "Introduction" in bold, the topic, and a 1 on the opposite side, the page number, and "Rabbi Dov Linzer", the author, below the bold. The next topic is "Vision and Values" with the first sub-topic being "The Problem with Perfection" by "Rabbanit Devorah Zlochower" page "3". The next subtopic is "Inclusion Doesn't Happen by Accident" by "Rabbi Dov Linzer", page "7" and the last sub-topic under this topic is "A House of Hopes" by "Mrs. Chava Willing Levy z''l" page"10". The last topic is called "Halakha". The first sub-topic is called "The Mandate of Inclusion" by "Rabbi Dov Linzer" page "13". The second sub-topic is "Disabilities and Judaism: A Study in Halakhic Responsivness" by "Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Lou" page "26". The last sub-topic is "Vibration-Sensing as a Way to Fulfill the Mitzvah of Shofar" by "Rabbi Ben Greenfield" page "32" with "Winner of the 2023 Zakheim/ Robinowitz Prize for Excellence in Talmudic Scholarship" underneath Rabbi Ben Greenfield. In the middle of the left side of the poster in small indigo block letters it says "YCT Presents" followed by much larger font below in two rows that reads "Disabilities Inclusion Torah Reader" and below that in slightly smaller font is "July 2023 Av 5783" divided into two lines. On the bottom right corner of the left side is the YCT logo. The left half of the logo is a circular radius of 54 circles moving out from the center. 27of the circles are radiating outward directly from the middle by attached lines (one per circle). All of the circles in the radius vary in size from significantly smaller to slightly larger then the average circle in the image. The center of the symbol and where the circles are radiating out from is a empty space in the shape of an implied circle (to match the shape of the radius but much smaller). The circles and lines fade in color from indigo blue on the top left, they then become a dark bluish-purple followed by a brighter indigo purple on the middle right and then a light blue at the upper right. The light blue section is disconnected and further towards the top right corner away from the rest of the image. There are 3 circles with attached lines in that corner and the two closest to the corner have there lines overlapping. The rest of the radius is made up of a repeating pattern of circles with 3 circles with attached lines followed by a larger line connected to a circle touching the edge of the radius. This pattern repeats 5 times and ends with the disconnected section that is then followed by one short line attached to a circle and one long one. On the right half of the logo, in indigo blue bubble letters are the letters "YCT". Below YCT are light blue block letters that says "VIBRANT TORAH" and below that in the same color and font is "LEADERSHIP". Underneath the light blue letters are the words "ישיבת חובבי תורה" in blue indigo block letters.Disabilities Inclusion Torah Reader