• Center for Ethics

  • Pluralism and Public Life

    Issues of religion, pluralism, and democracy are especially important at an institution such as Yeshiva University, deeply committed both to religious study and observance and to the humanistic and scientific pursuits of the modern University. While we are not a Center for Jewish Ethics, a central part of our mission is to bring the religious and secular scholarship at Yeshiva into dialogue, and to examine broader issues raised by religious beliefs, commitments, and practices in a liberal democratic society. In 2009, our third Scholar-in-Residence, Kwame Anthony Appiah, addressed these broader issues in several forums. He gave public lectures on cosmopolitanism, religion, and identity, and led a campus discussion on the challenges of religious states in the modern world. The Center also sponsored two panel discussions for the YU community on respectful disagreement and free expression: one at YC entitled "Talking back", co-chaired by David Wasserman; the other at Stern, entitled "Agreeing to Disagree: Talking about Israel."

    The Center has also sponsored or taken part in several panels about Jewish perspectives on ethical and policy issues. These include a public lecture by Rabbi Yitzhak Blau on "Courage as a Jewish Virtue" and campus panels on "Split Decisions: Separation of Conjoined Twins in Halacha" and "Cognitive Impairment, Judaism, and Philosophy."

    Norman Lamm 

    Online Essay Series Launches With Paper By Chancellor Norman Lamm (pictured left)

    In launching this online series, we hope it will become a lively forum for discussion among various YU constituencies- undergraduates, graduate professional students, faculty, alumni, families, staff and others. It aims to advance several important goals:

    • To show how ethical problems arise in many areas of contemporary society, and how ethical analysis can aid our understanding of crucial issues in our public life.
    • To tap the rich intellectual resources of the Yeshiva University community, including but not limited to distinguished members of the faculty.
    • To promote exchange of ideas not merely across disciplines but across the University's diverse schools, campuses and constituencies, including faculty, students, alumni and others.
    • To demonstrate the unique contributions that Jewish law and ethics can make to broader public discussion of contemporary social issues.

    With these goals in mind, it is a great privilege to inaugurate this series with a paper by Dr. Norman Lamm. Chancellor Lamm's essay is based on the presentation he gave at the Center's January 2008 Symposium on Ethics and Character in the U.S. Presidency. Chancellor Lamm's contribution demonstrates admirably how the ancient tradition of Jewish law and ethics provides us with invaluable tools for understanding complex moral issues in public life today. The Center is grateful to Rabbi Lamm for contributing this essay, and for his steadfast support and sage guidance as a founding member of its Advisory Board. We look forward to continued collaboration with this remarkable man in the years ahead.

    Dr. Lamm's essay (PDF)

    Is the Financial Crisis a Moral Crisis?

    In March 2010, the Center hosted a panel discussion examining this question. The panel featured two YU faculty members, Aaron Levine and Moses Pava, and a prominent financier, Leonard Shaykin, Managing Partner of Lambda Star Infrastructure Partners, LLC. It was co-sponsored by the Sy Syms School of Business. Dean Michael Ginzberg of Sy Syms chaired the proceedings.

    The Center is pleased to present versions of these talks in written form. The essays by Prof. Pava and Mr. Shaykin are based on their remarks at the panel and published here for the first time. Prof. Levine's presentation stemmed from his 2009 article in The American Economist. To view the each article, click on the corresponding link below:

    Essay on Academic Integrity

    Dean Gelman and David Wasserman 

    Third Annual Scholar-in-Residence Program Presents:

    Kwame Anthony Appiah
    • Wednesday, March 11, 7:30 pm. "Citizens of the World? Cosmopolitanism and the Ethics of Identity." Yeshiva University Museum/Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th St., NYC.
    • Thursday, March 12, 6:00 pm. "Religious Identity as a Challenge to Modern Politics." Cardozo Law School Moot Court Room, 55 Fifth Avenue, NYC. (Co-sponsored by the Floersheimer Center for Constitutional Democracy).

    K. Anthony Appiah gave these lectures as the Center's third Scholar-in-Residence. Professor Appiah is a member of the Princeton University faculty, where he holds appointments in the Philosophy Department and the Center for Human Values. His most recent books includeThe Ethics of Identity(2005);Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in aWorld of Strangers(2006), which won the 2007 Arthur Ross Award of the Council on Foreign Relations; andExperiments in Ethics(2008), based on his 2005 Flexner Lectures at Bryn Mawr College. Professor Appiah's major current work focuses on the philosophical foundations of liberalism and on questions of method in arriving at knowledge about values.

    Pluralism and Public Life
    Photo courtesy of Princeton University Office of Communications

    Slavery Unshackled

    On Wednesday, November 19, the Center for Ethics, the Social Justice Society and the Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf Scholar-in-Residence Program presented a panel discussion entitled "Slavery Unshackled: An Exploration of Modern-Day Slavery." The event included talks by Simon Deng, a former child slave; Mary Temple, from Free the Slaves; and Rabbi Shalom Carmy of Yeshiva College.

    Living an Ethical Professional Life

    On Monday, January 26, 2009, a panel of experienced professionals discussed ethical and religious issues they have encountered at work and suggested ways that Jewish values and education can guide, enrich, and complicate a professional career. The moderator was Samuel Levine (YC '90), a professor at Pepperdine Law School, and the panelists were Howard Trachtman, of Long Island Jewish Hospital; Judith Berman (SCW '84), of Shearman and Sterling LLP; and Leonard Shaykin, of LambdaStar Infrastructure. The event occurred at 8 pm at Furst Hall 535. It was sponsored by the Center for Ethics, the Career Development Center, and Academic Advising.

    Talking About Israel

    On February 26th in Koch Auditorium, The Center for Ethics and the Israel Club sponsored a dinner and discussion among YU students and faculty. "Agree to Disagree: Talking About Israel" was led by Rabbi Saul Berman and Professor Bryan Daves of Stern College. Students were asked to prepare for conversation by reading excerpts from Traditional Alternatives by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Democracy and Disagreement by Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson.

    We hope that this was the first of many such student-initiated events.

    Ethics and Character in the Presidency: Is Ethical Leadership Possible in the 21st Century?

    A day-long symposium sponsored by The Center for Ethics at Yeshiva University

    January 30, 2008
    9:45 a.m.-9:15 p.m.
    The Center for Jewish History
    15 West 16th Street
    New York, NY

    9:45 a.m. - 10 a.m.
    Welcoming Remarks

    10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
    Panel One:
    What qualities and conduct are required for ethical presidential leadership?
    Moderator: William Galston (The Brookings Institution)
    Panelists: Joanne Ciulla (University of Richmond); J. Patrick Dobel (University of Washington); Norman Lamm (Chancellor, Yeshiva University); Dennis Thompson (Harvard University)

    12:00 a.m. - 1:15 p.m. Lunch

    1:15 p.m. - 3:15 p.m. Panel Two

    What institutional and social factors promote or undermine ethical presidential leadership? Moderator: David Rudenstine (Dean, Cardozo Law School, Yeshiva University) Panelists: Eric Alterman (City University of New York; The Nation); Fred Greenstein (Princeton University); Nicholas Lemann (Columbia Journalism School; The New Yorker); James Pfiffner (George Mason University)
    3:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Panel Three: How should we apply criteria of ethical leadership in evaluating presidents and candidates? Moderator: Ellen Schrecker (Yeshiva University) Panelists: Shalom Carmy (Yeshiva University); John Patrick Diggins (City University of New York); Bruce Fein (American Freedom Agenda); Barbara Kellerman (Harvard University); Sean Wilentz (Princeton University)
    5:40 p.m.-6:10 p.m. Concluding Remarks on the Panels: Points of Consensus and Controversy William Galston (The Brookings Institution)
    6:10 p.m.-7:45 p.m. Dinner Break
    7:45 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Featured Address Robert Dallek (historian and author, Nixon and Kissinger) Co-sponsored by the Dr. Marcia Robbins-Wilf Scholar-in-Residence Program at the Stern College for Women
    8:30 p.m.-9:15 p.m. Discussion

    President Joel was joined by several Yeshiva College and Stern College students for a screening of an episode of TV hit series "The West Wing" and a lively discussion on presidential ethics. An article about the event appeared in The Riverdale Press.

    "There are very few jobs that compare to mine, so I identify with Jed Bartlett," [President Joel] said, speaking of the fictional president. "Only, my office is rectangular."

    "Dirty Hands and Politics"


    Dirty Hands and Politics A lecture by Professor Daniel Statman, University of Haifa October 24,2007

    Most people view politics as a dirty business-why? Is it because of the nature of politicians, or because of the nature of politics itself? Could politics be cleansed of deception, disloyalty, and corruption? Is the political realm condemned to remain morally dirty? What do Jewish sources teach us about these issues?

    Daniel Statman is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Haifa. Widely published in both Hebrew and English, his books include Moral Dilemmas and Religion and Morality.

    In October 2007, Professor Statman was visiting scholar at Yeshiva University, under the auspices of The Center for Ethics at Yeshiva University and the Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. On October 24th, Daniel Statman, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Haifa and author of the books Moral Dilemmas and Religion and Morality, gave a lecture at Yeshiva University's Furst Hall. Professor Statman examined the nature of politics and the notion of "dirty hands" as manifested in the political world and in other domains, and led a thoughtful discussion with YU students and faculty on what Jewish sources teach us about these issues.

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