Sunday, October 28, 2007

Are College Newspapers a Waste of Time?

There is a full-page editorial by Zev Eleff in the latest issue of The Commentator in which he argues for the utility of a college newspaper in the life of a Yeshiva University student (link). His main point is that YU is a busy place and the various interested parties do not always have the time or opportunity to become aware of issues that require resolution. The student newspaper is the place to raise such issues and bring them to the attention to the students, faculty and administration so conversation can begin and problems can be resolved.

OK. But then is there any point for students who have little role in such problem resolution to read the newspaper? I think there is. There is a tendency among yeshiva students to see everything in the world in black and white, and not just because of the color of their shirts and hats. This is not surprising because they are, after all, teenagers and students in their early 20's. Reading other views is very helpful at that age to learn to respect people with different ways of looking at things. Seeing the world as yes or no, assur or mutar, treif or kosher, is immature. The real world has, in addition to yes and no, in-betweens, judgment calls, some say yes and some say no. It is important for a student's maturity to be able to recognize this. Those who fail to learn this, and I sadly know a few people like this, remain emotional children for the rest of their lives.

I remember when I was at YU, there was an issue of Hamevaser in which a semikhah and graduate student named Hayyim Angel wrote an article about women learning Gemara. Believe it or not, he wrote, there are people today who oppose women learning Gemara, and they aren't crazy. Here's what they believe and why. And here is why I disagree.

I found it amusing because I was from the side of the beis midrash that was uncomfortable with women learning Gemara. So of course there are people who oppose it. But there was something in Hayyim Angel's tone that struck me. He was from one side of the beis midrash and he was not only trying to understand the other side but even defend them and present their view in a respectable way. That is something that happens in no yeshiva other than YU. Only in YU are you exposed to fellow students with very different outlooks and approaches. This alone is a huge argument in favor of learning at YU rather than another yeshiva. You may have your derekh (approach), but by learning side by side with people who have a different derekh you learn to respect them even while you disagree with them.

People who learn seriously in the beis midrash do not often shmooze with the people sitting next to them. Yes, you'll notice that they have yarmulkas with different colors and that they wear different kinds of clothes. But when you're in the beis midrash you're focused on learning.

One place where dialogue opens is in the cafeteria, during meals. But people tend to eat with their own clique. A student newspaper, though, is an important vehicle for dialogue. It is an item that can help students mature emotionally and intellectually by opening up discussions and allowing students to see that multiple approaches are possible.

This, of course, assumes that the newspaper is run responsibly. If not, it is potentially forbidden and embarrassing to the institution.

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