Thoughts on Yeshiva University

I finished reading Jeffrey Gurock’s history of Yeshiva University, The Men and Women of Yeshiva, which was written in 1988.  A few points from his work stuck out to me which I thought I would share. 

1. Rav Soloveitchik doesn’t play a central role:  There is a dearth of material on Rabbi Joseph Baer Soloveitchik, also known in the YU world as the Rav.  In fact, it was not just Rabbi Soloveitchik who was missing, but rather there was little about the RIETS Roshei Yeshiva.  I highlight Rav Soloveitchik because the common YU lore places him as the central figure in post WWII YU.  Gurock limits his discussion to two parts.  The first is the hiring of the Rav.  He spends a short amount of space to the topic (which will also come into play in my second point).  The second is during the Vietnam era and how the students looked to Rav Soloveitchik for support and guidance.  Guidance he provided, and support he gave even though he did not agree with the opinions of the students.  I think Gurock leaves Rabbi Soloveitchik out either because his role was not as expansive as is commonly shared or because being that the book was written in 1988, Rav Soloveitchik was still alive and it would have been inappropriate at the time to go into more details. 
2.  The short section of Rabbi Norman Lamm’s appt. as President and Rosh HaYeshiva of YU:  Dr. Gurock also doesn’t go into details about the appointment of Rabbi Lamm.  This struck me as odd because he does provide a detailed description of the process and appointment of Rabbi Samuel Belkin, second head of YU.  I think the same that applies to Rabbi Soloveitchik must surely apply to Rabbi Lamm.  Dr. Gurock does not discuss the process and choice because he was writing during the formidable years of the Rabbi Lamm presidency.  Nevertheless, knowing some of the background story, I felt somewhat short changed, especially because Rabbi Bernard Lander, the other primary candidate, plays a role in the future of American Orthodoxy in his founding of Touro College.  Perhaps this wasn’t much of an issue during the mid 1980s.

2. YU-RIETS always concerned for the right wing:  The third observation to me is the most telling.  There is all this talk about shift to the right in Modern Orthodoxy and specifically Yeshiva University.  Yet, when reading Gurock’s account of the history,  YU leaders have always looked behind their right shoulder to see what the Aggudat HaRabbanim or other such organizations would think.  For example, part of the reason for hiring Rabbi JB Soloveitchik was to appease the Agudah crowd.  Yet, even his hiring was not so appeasing, and YU even went so far as to offer at first a trial one year contract before offering him the post permanently.  The school has always wanted to be accepted by the black hat world, and while one could not foresee the future after the death of the Rav, clearly the agudah got some of its wish, for the school is definitely more “right wing.”

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