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Joseph Kaminetsky

KAMINETSKY, JOSEPH (1911–1999), director of Torah Umesorah. Kaminetsky attended public school for one year, when his father realized that this would not do. He sold their home so he his son could attend Yeshiva Chaim Berlin in Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York. The boy then attended Talmudical Academy High School on the Lower East Side and was a student in the first freshman class of Yeshiva University. He graduated magna cum laude in 1932.

While working toward his doctoral degree in education at the Teacher's College at Columbia University, he was the founding principal of the after-school learning program of the Jewish Center Synagogue in Manhattan. Later, he was the congregation's assistant rabbi under Rabbi Leo Jung. After earning his degree, Rabbi Kaminetsky was appointed executive director of Manhattan Day School.

In 1946, he was handpicked by Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, founder of Torah Umesorah, the National Association for Hebrew Day Schools, to be its educational director, and then two years later, its national director. Upon his retirement, 36 years later, he was appointed director emeritus. Dr. Joe, as he was affectionately known, served Torah Umesorah for 41 years.

Kaminetsky was the key figure in the explosive growth of Orthodox day schools in the United States and Canada since World War II. When he began his tenure at Torah Umesorah, his goal was that every town or city with a Jewish population of at least 5,000 would establish a Jewish day school. As Kaminetsky put it in his memoirs, Memorable Encounters, his job was to create "a national bureau of 'doers' who could help communities establish all-day Jewish schools of their own."

Dr. Hillel Goldberg of the National Council of Synagogue Youth, recalls that in the post-Holocaust 1940s, there was almost no American Jew who had all of Kaminetsky's qualifications to become executive director of Torah Umesorah.

Goldberg wrote that

Dr. Kaminetsky could sell Jewish education, not just because he believed in it, understood it, or cared. He did not found scores of Jewish day schools on these qualities alone. Still less, on these qualities alone did he persuade others to give up potentially lucrative careers to found hundreds more day schools. The secret… his secret? Dr. Joseph Kaminetsky convinced you that you were building the school, you were the leader, you were the doer, you were making the sacrifice, you had the abilities, you were making the difference.

Today there are well over 600 yeshivah day schools in the United States and Canada with over 170,000 students.

Marvin Schick wrote of Rabbi Kaminetsky as an educator who bridged three worlds.

Torah Umesorah represented a coming together in common cause of a remarkable group of Roshei Yeshiva, lay leaders and staff. The Roshei Yeshiva set the over-all policy and decided difficult questions. Led by Rav Aharon Kotler, the transcendent Torah leader of American Orthodoxy in the post-Holocaust years, their involvement in day schools was remarkable in view of their personal histories and the character of the institutions which they headed. Their Torah Umesorah activities entailed, in a certain way, a measure of compromise, for they were sanctioning schools whose standards were at times more than a notch below what they ordinarily would be willing to accept. Yet they all knew that the building of Torah in America required nurturing.

In the mid-1950s, most lay leaders were Modern Orthodox, while the roshei yeshivah, generally, were also the leaders of the more stringent Agudath Israel. As Shick says, "There were strains, some serious, in the tripartite arrangement. Dr. Joe served as the mediator between the yeshivish world of Torah Umesorah leadership and the Modern Orthodox community."

In his memoirs, Dr. Kaminetsky wrote

Although I felt sympathetic to the ideals of both the pure yeshivish and Modern Orthodox worlds, I was typed as a "modern" by some of the Torah Umesorah kehillah… In truth, in those early years, I did indeed find myself living ideologically in two worlds: the Modern Orthodox milieu of Yeshiva University and the more traditional yeshiva world of my early Brownsville days and of Torah Umesorah… I was criticized now and then by… religiously conservative people who objected to any hint of ideological flexibility on the day-school initiative – while at the same time, many of my former friends at Yeshiva called me a "black-hatter." Yet the L-rd was good to me and enabled me to maintain a careful equilibrium between the two worlds and to work with both for the sake of Torah.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.