Recently, Harvard University agreed to establish certain hours for sexually segregated use of the gym and swimming pool. Most of us upon hearing that news would be cheered at an apparently reasonable accommodation to those women who for religious or other reasons do not feel comfortable exercising or swimming in the presence of men.
I do not mean to suggest that that immediate response is not the correct one. But let me add just one wrinkle to the puzzle. Harvard’s decision came not in response to student petition or a request from Orthodox Jewish students on campus, but from the Harvard Islamic Society, whose request was subsequently joined by Harvard College’s Women’s Club.
Orthodox Jews likely outnumber devout Muslims at Harvard. Yet I doubt it ever occurred to Orthodox Jewish students to request separate hours for use of the swimming pool or gym.
And had they made such a request, I not at all sure Harvard would have been so quick to grant it. Recall Yale University’s unwillingness to accommodate the request of Orthodox Jewish students not to be forced to live in sexually mixed dorms (or at least to pay dearly for a room in such dorms) And even before the case of the Yale Five, Wendy Shalit described Williams College’s insistence that all bathrooms on campus be unisex. It is safe to assume that there are no Jewish billionaires with an interest in separate swimming hours likely to contribute $20,000,000 to Harvard, as one Arab sheikh recently did.
Leaving aside those students from Orthodox homes who rush to shed their identity as soon as they hit their Ivy League campus, why didn’t the same request made by the Harvard Islamic Society come from Orthodox Jewish students? The answer to that question sheds a good deal of light on the different mindset of Torah Jews and many radicalized Muslims today.
FOR TORAH JEWS IT IS AXIOMATIC that we are living in galus. No matter how fully we participate in every aspect of national life, we never quite forget that we are here as guests. (There were some in the Orthodox world who were critical of the Yale Five for seemingly forgetting this fact.) Our SAT scores may qualify us for Harvard, but we do not view them as entitling us to admission, and once there we are more or less content if Harvard makes those accommodations necessary for us to succeed academically – e.g., rescheduling tests that fall on Jewish holidays.
The Islamic approach, particularly among more radicalized elements, is much different. Islam does not view England and America as inherently different from Saudi Arabia. The latter already belongs to the realm of Islam; the former fall into the category of not yet Islamic lands. But as the Islamists never tire of proclaiming, the whole world will one day fall to the realm of Islam. That vision of universal conquest is alien to the Torah.
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