'The Torah Was Given to Us to Live in this World'

YU President Richard Joel explains why a Torah lifestyle is a balanced and meaningful lifestyle - without giving up on the world at large.

Yoni Kempinski and Tova Dvorin,

President Richard Joel
President Richard Joel
Screenshot/Yoni Kempinski

Arutz Sheva conducted a special interview with Yeshiva University President Richard Joel. 

"If we stand for anything as a people, first of all, it's for the yeshiva, which is about understanding Torah, understanding Jewish tradition, and understanding how it defines our lives - and frankly, gives us a covenantal mandate to make a difference in the world. And if we understand university, it's about the integrity of ideas, and knowledge that G-d also gave to the world - that we have to use, to channel, to make the contributions that we can, and help build the lives that we want to build."

"The great challenge at the great pleasure of Yeshiva University is not compartmentalizing that, and say[ing] I have my Jewish life, and I have my intellectual and academic life, and to say that we're really looking to create young people with a sense of shalaymut, a sense of wholeness."

President Joel noted that the purpose of the University is not only to help students become professionals, but to live a nuanced and meaningful life. 

"We live with an enormous tension when you want to live a life of nuance - when things are not black and white, it's not Torah U'Maddah, it's not yeshiva or university [. . .] we really believe that life isn't black and white, but it's color, and that doesn't happen easily. That requires work. And how wonderful to have an institution, a great university, which provides a cauldron for that kind of creation that models for young people how to live their lives." 

President Joel defined Orthodoxy as a balanced way of life - not of "picking and choosing" between Torah and the modern world, but as a natural way of thinking which synthesizes both. 

"I believe Modern Orthodoxy is not a default term. I actually don't know why we need the term 'Modern,' we are Orthodox without adjectives. But what that means, is that the Torah was given to us v'chai be'hem, to live in this world. I think the wisdom of the world was given to us as well. And I think the great opportunity of what we call 'Modern Orthodoxy' is what I like to call Torah U'Maddah Li'Chatchilah, not b'diavad."

"I think we believe that Torah is a launching pad, and we get to look at all the gifts of the world through the lens of Torah - and, through doing that, fulfill our mandate of being a light unto the nations." 

Leaders, according to President Joel, take this message and use their power to take responsibility for making the world a better place. 

"I think that leaders are not [defined as] someone who has followers, but as someone who takes responsibility," he said. "And I think this is a generation which, in some ways, has been gifted and burdened with an entitlement culture. And also with a culture that says, 'don't believe in anything, if it feels good, do it.'"

"I don't think that's what young people want," he continued. "I don't think this is what this generation wants. Particularly in a world where mass communication and technology has made the world very small, it has also made each individual feel somehow anonymous."