On the south end of the second floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art hangs Study for “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”. Georges Seurat painted this piece in preparation for his masterpiece by the same name. On the left-hand side of the painting is a vague red object that looks in part like a headscarf and in other ways like a keyhole.
I remember standing around the painting as part of a 300 level art history class in my Junior year at Yeshiva University.
Our professor asked us to consider the vague object and the role that is played in the painting. After few a minutes of dialogue amongst the close knit class, one student asked, “Well, what did Seurat intend?”
“All artist know,” Professor Hogan swiftly answered, “that they are unable to follow around their art in order to explain their intentions.” In other words, once an artist puts his art out into the world it is up to the viewer to interpret the significance of each component.
I was reminded of this memory when reading Rabbi Hershel Schacter’s decisive response to the fanfare surrounding Ryan Turrell’s basketball stardom. Turrell, a 2022 graduate of Yeshiva University, has made the admirable decision to wear his kippah while playing professional basketball.
There are many that see Turrell’s pride in his Judaism, and his painstaking efforts to observe Shabbat, as greatly sanctifying Gods name (kiddush Hashem). Rabbi Schacter categorically rejects this idea, determining that, in fact, Turrell’s actions are denigrating God’s name. Rabbi Schacter goes so far as to say that Turrell’s actions are so embarrassing that “ it probably would be better if he would not wear the yarmulka.”
What is particularly troubling to me about this response is that it comes as a fast follow to YU’s recent quarrel with its LGBTQ community.
YU, and it’s Rabbinic leadership, seems to like to go out of its way to say who doesn’t belong under its tent. YU, they like to say, is for you but not for you or you.
I’d love to know who YU is for. Who should be wearing the yarmulka?
It seems that Rabbi Shacther, Yeshiva University’s leading Rabbinic figure, has yet to learn Prof. Hogan’s lesson that an artist cannot follow their art in order to explain their intentions. And perhaps that is the crux of the issue here.
Should YU have such a narrow definition of what its product (read students and alumni) should look like? Should they feel that they have the auspices to follow around esteemed alumni, critiquing their decisions and the reflection it has on the institution?
It is possible that YU’s goal is to narrow its scope, focused on a tiny sliver of the global Jewish community that fit their standards. And, maybe that is ok. But then play that role, don’t pretend to be something bigger, more meaningful, or more inclusive.
However, YU, if you choose to pursue this path then don’t come knocking on the doors of large institutions that truly embrace diversity. Don’t ask to be accepted by those you reject. Don’t ask graduate programs to accept your aspiring acamedics, don’t ask corporations to recruit your aspiring professionals. After all, they won’t let you in to explain your true intentions.