Yeshiva University, which likes to cite its consistently high ranking in the U.S. News and World Report annual assessment of the nation’s top colleges, now has another bragging point — its men’s basketball team last week made the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division III Top 25 ranking for the first time.
The Maccabees, 18-1 following Monday’s victory over Williams College, placed at No. 24, one spot ahead of Brandeis University, another Jewish institution. YU is in first place in the Skyline Conference with a 10-0 league record.
“I knew this [level of success] would come,” said the team’s head coach, Elliot Steinmetz, who has stepped up the recruiting of talented Jewish athletes through social media and contacts at Jewish schools around the country. “The culture has changed at Jewish high schools. Kids are taking [sports] more seriously at an early age.”
Steinmetz said some members of the 2019-20 team “have had Division I offers.”
The NCAA accomplishment comes two years after the Maccabees’ first Skyline title and Division III playoff appearance.
The team’s record is a sign of secular success at a religious school.
“The coalescence of religion and sport … has not stood in the way of YU, Brandeis or Catholic schools like Notre Dame and Georgetown from retaining their own forms of religious identity and pride,” said historian Rabbi Zev Eleff, chief academic officer of Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Ill.
The Modern Orthodox community seeks “synthesis,” said Rabbi Eleff, author of “Authentically Orthodox: A Tradition-Bound Faith in American Life” (Wayne State University Press). Some “highbrow” community members are at home in Western philosophy or the natural sciences, the rabbi said, but most “have always had an easier time coalescing Torah with more readily obtainable ‘cultural commodities.’”
The Maccabees, who were to play Wednesday at Mount Saint Mary College, next play at home Saturday night against Mount Saint Vincent.
Rabbi Eleff, ordained at YU, also studied at Brandeis.
Where would his loyalties lie if the two schools meet in the 2020 NCAA playoffs?
“Should they one day face off against one another,” the rabbi said, “I see myself sitting beside the Maccabee faithful. Then again, if it’s a blowout for the Judges, don’t be surprised if I escape to the other side of the bleachers by halftime.”