The Beit Midrash is Not a Study Hall

To the Editor,

I’m a pretty outspoken individual, but it’s not at all my personality to come out so strongly against someone else’s opinion so publicly. I prefer to express my positions in articles or during conversations with friends.

However, last week as I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed I came across an article, “The Eight Best Study Spots at Stern,” and it immediately piqued my interest. As a student frustrated by the lack of group study space on the Beren Campus, my first thought was “Hey, maybe they’ll tell me something I don’t know, after all I’ve only been on campus for a semester and half.” That thought however, proved fleeting, and was immediately replaced by, “Oh no, I hope they didn’t list the Beit Midrash.” My worry was quickly confirmed, to my dismay: the second location on the list was “The Stanton Hall (245 Lexington Avenue) 7th floor beit midrash.”

There are a lot of reasons that putting the Beit Midrash on this list bothered me, and the caveat “It is advised that students working in the Beit Midrash be working on Jewish-related subjects, though it is disputed whether this is a Torah U’Madda conflict of interest” did not settle my discomfort. Rather, it made my disdain toward the piece all the more intense. The insertion of this stipulation made it clear that the author was well aware of the issues with using the Beit Midrash as a study hall but chose to include it anyway. It also grossly misconstrued the philosophy of Torah U’Madda, and presented it to mean that Maddah is in fact Torah. Even if one were to disregard my last statement on the grounds that the Rambam’s philosophy insists that almost anything can be related to as Torah, we need to acknowledge that this is more about maintaining a communal environment and less about the personal hashkafic approaches one might take when studying calculus.

I want to address a couple of issues with promoting Beit Midrash as a study hall.

Ignoring the possible problems of Bitul Torah, or the potential halachik issues involved with learning secular studies in the Beit Midrash, entering a space designated for one thing and preventing that thing from being accomplished is discourteous. I have on many an occasion sat in that room and tried to focus on a chavruta or on figuring out a tough paragraph in a sefer and found myself completely distracted by the talk of biology going on behind me. I have found myself scheduling chavrutot in my room during midterms and finals, out of fear that I won’t find a seat or be able to focus in a Beit Midrash packed with people panicking about their upcoming tests. Imagine what were to happen if any of us were to walk into the Stern Library and host a group study session, or take over all the seats to paint our nails. We wouldn’t dare do it because we are all well aware that we would be disrupting people who were there to study. Why is it that we have such a high degree of respect toward the sanctity of the library’s silence and such a low level of respect for a place designated for holy activity?

This lack of respect for a Makom Torah leads me to my second point. There is an intense hypocrisy inherent in studying secular studies in the Beit Midrash. We, as a student body,  constantly lament the fact that Yeshiva University takes the Judaic Studies program much more seriously for the men at Wilf than it does for us at Beren. How can we actually expect YU to take our request for increased emphasis on serious Torah learning downtown seriously, if we can’t even show the tiniest amount of respect for the Torah we do have? Actions speak louder than words and our behavior in the Beit Midrash is indicative of our attitude toward Torah learning—namely that it comes second to our grades. We essentially beg the administration to give us more while showing a complete thanklessness toward what they have already given us—a beautiful space to learn in. I am aware that the relationship is cyclical, and that it is also true that if the university intensified the emphasis they place on Judaic studies, the attitude of the student body would follow. But, there’s still a lot to be said for demonstrating the attitude we tend to claim already exists on our campus.

So before you point fingers at the administration for letting our Torah learning come second to that of the men, I’d like you to find a chem study session going on in the Gluek Beit Midrash—because I assure you, you will not. Start treating the Beit Midrash like what it is, a place to learn, discuss, and grow with Torah.

There are a some great study spaces at Stern. The Beit Midrash is not, and should not, be ranked among them.

Avigayil Adouth, SCW 19’