Skip to main content Skip to search

YU News

YU News

Farewell Seniors! The Straus Program Closing Dinner

Straus Center Seniors Ayelet Brown, Yonatan Kurz, Natan Ehrenreich, Benjamin Gottesman, Penina Spearman, Reuben Hartman, Rebecca Aduculesi

On May 7, 2023, students and faculty of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought convened for the Straus Scholars Program's Closing Dinner at Congregation Shearith Israel in New York. At the dinner, graduating seniors reflected on their most memorable experiences at the Straus Center and presented their graduating theses, sharing novel insights drawn from Torah and Western thought.

Penina Spearman (SCW' 23) spoke about her recent experience accompanying Yeshiva University professors to a landmark Jewish Studies Conference in Dubai. Penina noted that, as an American, she had always been uneasy with the prominent role of monarchy in Jewish thought. However, her encounter with the UAE's unique system of elected monarchy encouraged her to consider forms of limited monarchy that could facilitate a restoration of Jewish kingship in a democratic context.

Reuben Hartman (YC' 23) presented his final thesis exploring solutions for the revitalizing of civic engagement in America. Drawing from the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville (1805 — 1859) and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Reuben argued that fortifying local communities and creating new spaces for civil discourse would reinvigorate America's enterprising spirit.

Ayelet Brown (SCW ’23) referred to the worrying decline in the number of close friendships among Americans and illustrated the varying degrees of friendship proposed by Maimonides, Seneca and Aristotle. As characterized by the Biblical heroines Ruth and Naomi, the strongest bond of friendship, Ayelet argued, is based on shared values and purpose.

Benjamin Gottesman (YC' 23) examined the classical metaphor of "the Ship of State" as portrayed in Western literature and in Talmudic tradition. In particular, Benjamin compared Walt Whitman's (1819 —1892) poem O Captain! My Captain!, depicting Abraham Lincoln as a ship captain, to a similar portrayal of the Biblical patriarch Abraham in the Babylonian Talmud.

Rebecca Aduculesi (SCW' 23) offered a stirring rendition of The Lanyard by Billy Collins (b. 1941), a poem describing a child's struggle to repay his mother's kindness. Drawing from the writings of Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner (1906 — 1980), Rebecca demonstrated how in Hebrew, the term used to denote gratitude, Modeh, communicates an admission of inability to repay God's infinite kindness. Only in emulating that kindness, by "paying it forward," can human beings express gratitude toward God.

Natan Ehrenreich (YC' 23) reflected on the use of the Biblical covenant as a model for civil compacts in Western political thought. Natan identified British philosopher Edmund Burke (1729 — 1797) as the first to consider the covenant as distinct from a social contract. Whereas a social contract delineates the rights of a polity's citizens, a covenant establishes the obligations said citizens have toward each other and to their nation. 

Natan Ehrenreich Presents at the Straus Center Closing Dinner Natan Ehrenreich Presents at the Straus Center Closing Dinner

"The covenant," Natan explained, "is about our shared values and our mutual responsibility towards each other."

Yonatan Kurz (YC' 23) discussed revitalizing the art of homiletics in Jewish writings and oration. Citing the writings of Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Rabbi Emmanuel Feldman and Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, Yonatan demonstrated emphasizing the role of aesthetics in presenting and conveying important ideas in Jewish Thought. "As Jews, we don't wrap our tefillin in brown paper bags," Yonatan said, paraphrasing Rabbi Feldman. "We must appreciate and utilize all the colors and hues of the world in order to convey ideas in a memorable way."

Straus Center Director Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik concluded the program by thanking the graduates for their role in shaping the curriculum and values of the Straus Center. The Straus Scholars Program, Rabbi Soloveichik asserted, "is not merely an act of transmission… each of you has expanded the boundaries of what we think about." Rabbi Soloveichik noted how Straus Scholars have played an active role in course development and programming to encompass Torah and Western approaches to economics,  psychology and even computer science.

You can learn more about the Straus Center by signing up for our newsletter here. Be sure to also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Instagram and connect with us on LinkedIn. To learn more about the Straus Scholars program, click here.