It's just an article, so why does it bother me so much?
I think it bothers me because it is representative of a trend in Modern Orthodoxy on a whole. It is a trend I find disquieting and upsetting, one that troubles me in the extreme. That trend is that whatever I feel or find to be difficult must be spoken about publicly, dealt with publicly and anyone who dares to not accept me or to differ from me must be whipped into line. And I think that this idea is representative of sloppy thinking in our student body, thinking that originates in the heart rather than one's brain.
The thinking is as follows: I am experiencing an issue; therefore others around me must also be experiencing that issue. If we are experiencing that issue together, the best way for us to deal with it is by stating our opinions loudly and publicly. Anyone who doesn't agree with our opinions must be shamed for failing to be sufficiently liberal, modern, tolerant or open-minded. Even those who might agree that the discussion ought to be held but disagree with the format must be accused of being close-minded.
I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like much of a discussion to me.
When the YU Beacon was first founded, I expressed tentative support for it. My concern was that they seemed to be pushing the envelope without actually stating that this was their agenda. In fact, the comment thread included comments from the editors that said that is exactly what they were not doing. One editor stated "We are not trying to create controversy or push the limits with every article (hence the tame Maccabeats one, and many others which are neutral). We would like the paper simply to be a regular student paper which won't cover up anything but will also include more "mundane" articles."
Whether the editors intended it or not, the YU Beacon seems to be read mainly as a scandal sheet, a kind of tabloid rag. A quick look at their Weekly Hits shows you that their most-read articles are the one posted up about premarital sex, an opinions piece about how sex shouldn't be openly discussed which includes the disclaimer that the author is not so close-minded as to tell others how to live their lives or not to discuss it (ironic), a piece about feminism in religion, a piece about how shomer negiah is no longer possible and therefore the lack thereof in committed relationships needs to be discussed lest people feel guilty (the horror, the horror) and a rant against the Hasidic community (among others).
So let me see. The go-to topics for the readers of this paper are: sex, more sex, feminism, shomer negiah (which is just disguised almost-sex) and community-bashing.
I think that a commitment to thoughtfully discussing issues of concern to students of Yeshiva University is really important. That's the reason that I had entire features spreads devoted to sexuality, mental health and sexual abuse. These articles featured student responses but they also included interviews with professionals and rabbis. I wanted a well-rounded perspective on everything that I published. I also wanted to make sure I was clear that I was discussing issues of concern to affiliates of Modern Orthodoxy as a whole rather than the segment comprised by the university.
A discussion about premarital sex is important. There are so many issues to explore: should the mikvah be open to women who are not married? What causes women or men to have premarital sex? What percentage of the student body is engaging in this? Do most people feel guilty about it or are they totally okay with it? But especially when you are a representative of a community, as each member of YU is, you have to think about what the best format to engage in this discussion is.
If the YU Beacon wanted to open up a discussion about premarital sex, then yes, they could have and should have included personal viewpoints. But they should also have included other material focusing on the plethora of issues that are part of this subject. I think it would have been interesting to read an account of a student who had premarital sex and felt guilty alongside an account of one who had sex and didn't. I think it would have been intriguing to see what percentage of the student body admitted to engaging in premarital sex and what percentage didn't. I would have been interested in seeing how prominent scholars or religious figures addressed the issue, assuming that they were willing to discuss it with the paper. Responsible reporting argues for a complete picture, not a skewed one.
By choosing to publish one piece on a Stern girl's one-night stand, the YU Beacon also chose to open up a Pandora's box. And sometimes that would be okay, but this time it was irresponsible. If you are going to make the editorial decision to inflame most of the student body- who choose to attend this university because of the fact that it's Yeshiva University and there are theoretically certain standards that accompany that name- then you better make sure it's worth it. Was this really worth it? Was this one essay about a girl sleeping with a guy and then feeling bad about it so important? Did it really help anyone who was in this position? And if so, what exactly did it help them with? What was the message behind this story?
Was the message that other people sin too, so I'm not alone in sinning?
Was the message that premarital sex leads to guilt?
Was the message that Stern girls are just like other girls on secular campuses, and that they too have sex?
Was the message that because of their guilt-complexes, Stern girls can only sin after they've quashed their conscious by deciding to get drunk?
In short, what was the point of the article? Why was it so incredibly important to publish it? What was it that we as a student body were supposed to learn from it, take away from it or otherwise gain from it?
This wasn't a discussion that actually helped someone deal with an issue. If I was a girl who had sex before marriage and I read this article, the only thing I would have learned is that someone else out there had done the same thing as me. I assume this is something I would have known before reading this article as well.
To me, therefore, this suggests that the only point behind this article was to say, hey, we at YU aren't so different from people at other college campuses. We're also a university; we also have rights. We have freedom of the press and we want to show it. So let's publish an article about a girl's one-night stand and let's claim we're doing it in the name of our ideals, in the name of talking about important issues because people need to talk about the things they are doing behind closed doors. Surely if they don't, they'll explode. And a public forum such as a newspaper is certainly the best place to do it, rather than a blog or a Facebook.
A friend of mine said that he had read an article which stated that "colleges are where students have their own mini-state." Thus, they think they are citizens exercising their right to free speech, consequences be damned. And if you look at the majority of comments on the article, people were outraged and upset that there might even be a request to pull the piece. They immediately deemed this censorship and got on their high horses.
What we think, what we say and what we write is a reflection of who we are and what our values are. It doesn't surprise me that many at YU were uninterested in being represented by one girl's one-night stand. The word 'Stern' was even tagged in the article.
If the point of the article was to say hey, we at YU aren't so different from people at other college campuses, boy, do I have some news for you. We are different. We are religious Jews. As a nation, we have been chosen by God to represent Him and to act as His ambassadors on this earth. Our view of sexuality is one that consists of giving, of true intimacy, of devotion, of sharing. As the Rav writes in Family Redeemed, it is a view that focuses upon the I-Thou relationship, not the I-It.
So when a student writes about how she acted exactly like a typical college student, having a one-night stand in a hotel after getting drunk, feeling love for her boyfriend who doesn't seem to be emotionally reciprocating in any way...yeah, that shocks us. It should shock us. Because there's a student who has allowed herself to be objectified, to believe the myth that putting out is what keeps her together with her boyfriend, and who is in a position which truthfully comes across as extremely sad.
And once shocked, a lot of students responded by saying, in effect: This is not what we choose to represent us. This is not what we want people to think when they hear the words Yeshiva University. This is not what we want people to think when they hear the words observant Jew. This is not what or who defines us and we don't want it up there for people to think this is what defines us.
But the editors of the paper said: Your opinions be damned and your reactions be damned. We don't care what should represent religious Jews; we only care about what some religious Jews actually are doing. We have free speech and we're not afraid to use it. And we don't care if this becomes a huge Chilul Hashem and a scandal dragged across the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and so on; we don't care if we make Yeshiva University out to be some sort of evil overarching censorship committee. We only care about ourselves and the fact that we should have the right so say what we want.
And you have to wonder: Is that a Machloket L'Sheim Shamayim or a Machloket She'Lo L'Sheim Shamayim? Are these students selflessly defending the tenets of Judaism or are they selfishly determining that once they've made a decision, their decisions ought not be questioned?
I agree that premarital sex is an important issue to address within the Modox community.
What I question is the forum, the format, the lack of responsibility and the focus on one's rights rather than one's obligations that took place here. In a world where editors say we are accountable to no one, not even God, what Judaism is being defended, exactly?
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says he doesn't respect 'road rage' atheists, the ones who write about caricatures of religion rather than the real deal. I feel like the same applies to editors of a paper who chose to grant interviews to major media outlets and drag YU through the mud rather than admit to the possibility that maybe their decision was wrong. Not the decision to talk about premarital sex in the first place! But the way they chose to introduce it as a subject- not as a question but as definitive, not under analysis but as narrative.