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Yeshiva University

YESHIVA UNIVERSITY, institution of higher education in New York City. The Rabbi Isaac Elhanan Theological Seminary (RIETS, named for R. Isaac Elhanan Spektor), the nucleus around which Yeshiva University grew, was founded in 1897 by Rabbis Moses Matlin and Yehuda David Bernstein, and David Abramowitz, as a small institution for the advanced study of Talmud, attracting primarily immigrant youth. RIETS was the first advanced yeshivah in the United States. However, Yeshiva University dates its inception from 1886, when Yeshivat Etẓ Chaim, an elementary school which was merged with RIETS in 1915, was formed. Following student turmoil over the question of secular studies in 1906 and 1908 the school's administration was reorganized and some secular studies were permitted. Early presidents of the institution included Rabbi Moses Zebulun (Ramaz) *Margolies, Rabbi Bernard *Levinthal, and David Cohen. In 1915, Bernard *Revel became president and head of the faculty. In 1916 an accredited high school which combined talmudic and secular studies was opened. In 1922 the institution absorbed the Teachers Institute, which had been founded in 1917 by the Mizrachi Organization of America. In 1928 Yeshiva College accepted its first students. The high school, the college, RIETS, and the Teachers Institute were now all subdivisions of one institution, located in the Washington Heights section of New York City, which was to continue to expand its number of divisions as well as students. In 1970, RIETS was reincorporated as an "affiliate" of the university, a distinct legal entity with its own board.

Since its inception RIETS has devoted itself almost entirely to the teaching of Talmud and codes, the basis of the religious tradition, in a manner no different from any traditional yeshivah. The course of study culminates in a four-year program leading to semikhah ("rabbinical ordination"). For students of exceptional ability there are several kollelim (advanced study programs) that provide training in deciding complex issues of Jewish law. There were over 300 students in the rabbinical program in 2006, whose entrance requirements include a college degree in addition to extensive preparation in Talmud. Some courses in practical rabbinics were given for many years. From 1955 rabbinical students were also required to take courses in such subjects as Bible, Jewish history, philosophy, and Hebrew literature, and in recent years additional requirements have been instituted in the area of practical rabbinics. Yeshiva University has ordained about 2,600 rabbis since its inception. Over 70 percent of its active rabbinical graduates serve the Jewish community today in some formal capacity – as rabbis, teachers and educators, or communal workers – although the number entering the pulpit rabbinate has declined.

At the undergraduate college for men (Yeshiva College) and at the college for women (Stern College), which opened in 1954, students pursue a dual program of studies, taking courses in Jewish subjects as well as a normal load of secular subjects. Both colleges, with their combined enrollment in 2006 of 3,000 students, seek to impart mastery by the students of two intellectual worlds, the religious world and the secular one. There have been periods in the past, especially in the 1960s, when the emphasis was on integration within the curriculum of both worlds so that the content from one area of study may shed light or direction on the other. The talmudic faculty of Yeshiva University has always included some of the outstanding rabbinic scholars of the world. Preeminent among its faculty was Rabbi Joseph B. *Soloveitchik. An increasing number of the talmudic faculty are graduates of the institution. In 1943 Samuel *Belkin, a talmudic authority and Semitic scholar, succeeded to the presidency, left vacant by the death of Bernard Revel in 1940. Under Belkin's leadership the institution greatly expanded. In 1945 it was elevated to university status. It includes such specifically Jewish divisions and programs, in addition to those already mentioned, as the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education, the Belz School of Jewish Music, and two high schools.

There are four alternative Jewish divisions in which all Yeshiva College students must also be enrolled: the Mechina Program (formerly called the James Striar School, for students with little background in Jewish studies); the Isaac Breuer College (which stresses Hebrew language and literature); and two that concentrate on Talmudic studies – the Irving Stone Beit Midrash Program and the Mazer School.

The secular, nonsectarian divisions of Yeshiva University have undergone the greatest expansion since 1945. These divisions now include the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology; the Wurzweiler School of Social Work; the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law; and probably best known of all, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and its affiliated Albert Einstein College Hospital. While these divisions include a diverse student body and a distinguished non-Jewish as well as Jewish faculty, they do, in varying degrees, reflect Yeshiva University's orientation to Orthodox Judaism. All divisions observe the requirements of Jewish law and offer courses that explore the Jewish dimension of the field being studied. The Wurzweiler School requires all students to attend courses in Jewish sociology and in Jewish social work values. On the undergraduate level, the Sy Sims School of Business enables students both at Yeshiva College and Stern College to major in business-related areas.

In addition to its educational and other scholarly activity, the university plays a major role in the Jewish community through its Community Service Division. This division is responsible for rabbinic and teacher placement, conducts adult education and extension courses, provides educational services to many Talmud Torahs and youth groups, and sponsors seminars throughout the United States. The approximate enrollment in the various schools and divisions of Yeshiva University in 2006 was 6,000.


G. Klaperman, The Story of Yeshiva University (1967); idem, in: AJHSP, 54 (1964), 5–50, 198–201; AJYB, 68 (1967), 367, index; C.S. Liebman, ibid., 66 (1965), 62–65; 69 (1968), index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Gurock, The Men and Women of Yeshiva University (1988); V. Geller, Orthodoxy Awakens: The Belkin Era and Yeshiva University (2003).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.