Prominent Rabbi David J. Wolpe announced that he had stepped down from Harvard’s antisemitism advisory group in a Thursday post on X, citing University President Claudine Gay’s Tuesday testimony before Congress and an ideology that “places Jews as oppressors” at Harvard.
“With great respect for the members of the committee, the short explanation is that both events on campus and the painfully inadequate testimony reinforced the idea that I cannot make the sort of difference I had hoped,” wrote Wolpe, a visiting scholar at the Harvard Divinity School.
Gay — whose response to the Oct 7. Hamas attack against Israel faced severe backlash from alumni, donors, and national politicians — announced the formation of the advisory group in late October at a speech at Harvard Hillel, the University’s Jewish center.
During her speech, Gay said the group would focus on “eradicating antisemitism from our community,” and later said it would work with Harvard administrators to implement antisemitism training for affiliates.
But Wolpe, in his statement, suggested the group was ill-equipped to combat an antisemitic and “evil” ideology which he said “grips far too many of the students and faculty” at the University.
“Battling that combination of ideologies is the work of more than a committee or a single university,” Wolpe wrote. “This is the task of educating a generation, and also a vast unlearning.”
In a statement, Gay wrote that she was “grateful for Rabbi Wolpe’s advice, perspective and friendship.”
“With thoughtfulness and candor, he has deepened my and our community’s understanding of the unacceptable presence of antisemitism here at Harvard,” Gay wrote. “We have more work to do and his contributions will help shape our path forward.”
“Antisemitism has no place in the Harvard community, and I am committed to ensuring no member of our Jewish community faces this hate in any form,” she added.
Wolpe also addressed Gay’s testimony during the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s Tuesday hearing on antisemitism on college campuses.
Over the course of more than five hours, Gay defended the University’s response to the Oct. 7 attacks and the school’s commitment to free expression. But her responses — particularly during a testy exchange with Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (R-N.Y.) over whether calls for a genocide of Jews would violate Harvard policies — only intensified furor against Gay and the University, sparking a denunciation from Harvard Hillel leadership and calls for her resignation.
In a Thursday evening interview with The Crimson, Wolpe declined to comment on calls for Gay to resign but said her testimony was “very painful.” Nonetheless, he said the problem of antisemitism extended beyond Gay as an individual.
“I both like and respect Claudine,” Wolpe said. “But I think that the kinds of changes that would be required are really deep and fundamental, and I’m not sure that my being on the antisemitism committee is, in one way or another, going to accelerate the pace of such change.”
He said that a more concerted effort is necessary to address antisemitism at Harvard.
“The problems at Harvard, however considerable they are, are solvable by the resources of Harvard, which are even more considerable,” Wolpe said. “But it’s going to take an enormous amount of will, and intention, and focus, and rethinking to make that happen, and I hope that it does.”
Asked whether he felt Harvard administrators are exhibiting such willingness to combat antisemitism, Wolpe responded, “We’ll see.”