The leaders of several major American universities underscored the moral decay of much of academia this week, according to a leading rabbi in this country, when they failed to condemn publicly the threats of genocide occurring on their own campuses.
Many "once-great institutions" of higher education in America "have shown what they truly believe in," Rabbi Pinchas Taylor of Plantation, Florida, said in comments to Fox News Digital.
"Like the [Ancient] Greeks, they are devoted to reason, but devoid of morality — and thus have become cesspools of antisemitism and hedonism," said Taylor.
The strong comments were in response to testimony on Capitol Hill on Tuesday by Dr. Claudine Gay of Harvard University, Dr. Sally Kornbluth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Liz Magill of the University of Pennsylvania.
Each of the academic leaders caused outrage when they appeared flummoxed at the microphone and failed to condemn threats of violence against Jews and calls to destroy Israel emanating from their campuses.
Gay was asked by Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., if calling for the genocide of Jews on campus violates the university’s codes of conduct related to bullying and harassment.
It would depend on the "context" of the incident, Gay replied.
Stefanik again pressed Gay to provide a simple yes or no response.
"Again, it depends on the context," Gay said.
The fact that the statements came just hours before the arrival of the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah this fall made the outrage even more poignant, said Rabbi Taylor, who is executive director of the American Faith Coalition.
Hanukkah, he said, celebrates a triumph by the Jews during a similar battle of morality and faith vs. amorality and reason.
"There is an ancient conflict known as Athens vs. Jerusalem," said Taylor. "Athens favored the idea of reason, a pre-ordered natural universe, whereas Jerusalem incorporated faith in an involved supernatural God."
He added, "Wicked King Antiochus and Greek Hellenists … wanted to replace the faith of the Jews with Greek rationalism, so they defiled their temple and forbade the observance of the super-rational biblical commandments."
The Jews reclaimed their temple, however, after a miraculous victory in which the ragtag Maccabees defeated a larger, more well-equipped army of Syrian Greeks.
That stunning battlefield victory was followed by a second miracle when a small jug of oil at the temple, large enough to last one day, instead provided celebratory fuel for seven more days, Taylor detailed.
"The oil lasting for eight days symbolized the triumph of the supernatural over the natural, Jerusalem over Athens," said Taylor.
"By annually lighting the menorah each night of Hanukkah, it symbolizes the eternal triumph of spirit over matter and of light over darkness."
The human conflict that inspired Hanukkah parallels the battle being fought today, the rabbi said, on college campuses and in the hearts and minds of students and academics.
The three university leaders have each back-pedaled and issued apologies since Tuesday, after facing anger, dismay and even disbelief over their apparent failure to provide a moral vision.
"Let me be clear," Gay said on social media after her appearance before Congress.
"Calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group are vile — they have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account."
On Thursday, she said in an interview with The Harvard Crimson, "I am sorry. Words matter."
She added, "When words amplify distress and pain, I don’t know how you could feel anything but regret."
She also told The Crimson, "I got caught up in what had become at that point an extended, combative exchange about policies and procedures. What I should have had the presence of mind to do in that moment was return to my guiding truth, which is that calls for violence against our Jewish community — threats to our Jewish students — have no place at Harvard and will never go unchallenged. Substantively, I failed to convey what is my truth."
Rabbi Taylor said he hopes that the moral failures displayed by academic leaders this week serve as a catalyst to reset the agenda for American academia to include a moral code of conduct.
American academic institutions appear to have drifted dramatically from their foundational purposes of teaching faith and morality, in addition to logic and reason, many have said.
Harvard University was founded to educate the "youth of this country in knowledge and godliness," according to its 1650 charter.
The University of Pennsylvania charter, for its part, calls for the nation’s youth to be educated in the "principles of morality and religion."
Said Rabbi Taylor, "When their true colors finally come out like this, we can start to have a productive conversation. It demonstrates that actions and beliefs on campuses such as antisemitism are not coming from some fringe groups — but it’s something at the very least tacitly endorsed by the heads of these institutions."
Nikolaus Lanum of Fox News Digital contributed reporting.