Most Jews at Harvard are very loyal to the university and they find it difficult to admit that fair Harvard, which gives them so much, is not willing to accept them as Jews. Instead, many argue for the preservation of the status quo. But this constitutes a sanctification of Harvard's history including its errors. It would seem to me that loyalty to Harvard, an institution dedicated to "Veritas," should lead us rather to an impartial, critical attitude so that we may make it a better institution for all people in it.
The time has come for Jews to acknowledge that the university is not and never was a religiously neutral community; that its calendar, like the calendar of this state, is the Christian calendar; that its holidays are Christian holidays; that there is a Christian church in the heart of this university both recognized and supported by the university; that Judaism is outside of the university, neither recognized not supported by it; that this constitutes a blatant act of favoring one religion over another; and that this situation has had and continues to have a corrosive effect upon the religious devotion and cultural attachment of Jews in the university.
To those among us who say, "this is a Christian university within a Christian country," I affirm that America is the country of all the people who live in it, and what the people who live in this country believe in is American religion; whether its roots go back to Sinai or to Jerusalem year one, or any other any other year, or to any time or place on earth. I believe that the intent of the first amendment to our constitution was to prevent any one religion from attaining the power to dominate any other religion; it was meant to allow for the free development of religious pluralism in America. Hence I affirm that being Jewish in America is as American as being Christian. What is un-American is exclusivism, discrimination, and lack of appreciation for the cultural and religious institutions of any segment of the population of this country.
More and more people now recognize the dignity and worth not only of individuals within the context of a monolithic American culture, but also the dignity and worth of the cultural religious traditions and institutions that have sustained those individuals.
This new orientation--this new climate of acceptance--is also evident at the university. But you and I know that institutions tend to resist change and the older they are the more resistant to change they become. There is now a great deal of good will toward Jews at this university, but good will by itself will accomplish little. It is our task as the interested group to indicate to the university that the separation between Jews and Judaism is undesirable because it is offensive and harmful to Jews, and therefore to the university.
There is much that will have to be done to change the present university policy which is a left-over from a period when the university as a whole was hostile to Jews. One affirmative act in this direction would be for the university to avoid conflicts with High Holidays by postponing registration or the first day of classes when they coincide. I know that this creates a problem, but in the scale of problems the university deals with, it is a minor one and can be solved easily, provided it is recognized as a problem.
On Kol Nidrei night, which is the time of tshuvah--repentance--I urge you, the Jewish community of the University, to reject all rationalizations that support this policy, and to view the amelioration of this prejudicial situation as our communal act of repentance. I further urge the freshmen present here tonight who might have considered registering tomorrow to defet doing so out of regard for this holiday which is so sacred to all the Jews in the world.