Whence Jewish Scholars?

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In the 1960’s, the Orthodox Jewish college scene was intellectually dominated by a student-run organization called Yavneh. Dynamic and stimulating, this organization advocated for Orthodox students and provided classes and lectures to satisfy their religious and scholarly needs. The demise of the organization and the lack of a replacement raises questions about the future direction of the Modern Orthodox community.

In a new book, The Greening of American Orthodox Judaism: Yavneh in the 1960s, Dr. Benny Kraut z”l presents a detailed history of the organization. He describes its origins, functions, controversies, growth and eventual collapse. In doing so, he not only offers a contribution to American Jewish history, he (presumably consciously) describes the maturation of the Modern Orthodox community and the development of some of the problems it currently faces. As Prof. Jonathan Sarna notes in his Foreword, Kraut presents Yavneh as a “microhistory,” a paradigmatic slice that reflects on the greater community of which it is part.

Yavneh is much more influential than one might assume. Many of the students who participated in Yavneh during their formative years are now household names in the Orthodox community. Scholars and educators such as (assume scholarly titles for all) David Berger, Rivkah Blau, Gerald Blidstein, Shnayer Leiman and Joel Wolowelsky are only a few of those who emerged from Yavneh. R. Yosef Blau was even president of the organization for a time. The bulk of lay and academic thinkers of our community were shaped, at least in part, by their experiences in Yavneh.

As Kraut ably describes, Yavneh was full of excitement and creativity. Students led on their own, more or less. While guided by rabbis and scholars, the students still performed all of the planning, administration and execution. On college campuses that were bereft of Jewish scholarship, Yavneh participants taught their own classes. Against many university and Jewish establishment obstacles, they created a vibrant environment of Jewish learning. Additionally, they fearlessly tackled the tough topics that Jewish university students inevitably face — the conflicts between Judaism and secular studies and ethics. With great optimism, energy and scholarship, they boldly went where few rabbis were willing to go.

Eventually, Yavneh dwindled in the 1970’s and then collapsed in 1981. Part of this was due to Yavneh’s success. Universities became more accommodating to students who observe kosher and Shabbos; schools started offering Jewish studies classes. Yavneh became somewhat redundant. Additionally, the scholarly optimism began to fade and divergent theological views created divisions. I suspect that as Orthodox Feminism developed more fully, campus students split over its innovations. The left-right divisions became too sharp to gloss over.

Looking around at the thirty years since Yavneh’s demise, I wonder where else such an incubator exists. In my day in the early ’90s in YU, select honors students took specific course requirements and attended special lectures by R. Norman Lamm. Twenty years later, I’m not aware of any significant scholarship to emerge from those circles. Is it because we are still too young or because the group was poorly chosen or their program lacked a spirit of excited creativity? YU currently has a much more rigorous honors program but will it produce Torah U-Madda scholars?

I look around for the next Drs. Berger, Leiman and Blidstein but can’t find any. Maybe they exist and I know them but, because of the nearness in age, I look right past them. Maybe I am unfairly comparing the achievements of people my age with those thirty years our senior. Or maybe the Yavneh phenomenon produced a unique cohort of scholars that will prove to be a passing historical phase. Perhaps that first generation of Modern Orthodox scholars were shaped by their unique experience of building everything themselves in ways that later students cannot understand and from which they cannot benefit.

(Please note that this is not an invitation to debate any specific individual’s achievements or lack thereof.)

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

68 comments

  1. Gil,
    Do you really think that Orthodox Feminism had anything to do with campus politics in the late 1970’s. Based on my experiences at an Ivy League college in a decade later it still had little to no impact at that level. JOFA wasn’t even founded for another decade after _that_. Feminism really isn’t to blame for all that is wrong wiht (Modern) Orthodoxy.

  2. While I appreciate the sentiment, I guess I always think about it like this: I bet that those who grew up admiring the Dr. Belkins, the Louis Bernsteins, the Michael Bernsteins, the Rabbi Soloveitchiks, the Louis Feldmans, etc., of the world agonized over where the next generation of superstars would come from. And I think it’s fair to say that those people were indeed irreplaceable. The next generation – the David Bergers, the Shnayer Leimans, the Rabbi Blaus – were not better or worse than the previous generation. They were different.

    I think if the goal is to look around for the next generation of Bergers, Leimans, Blaus, etc., we’ll end up being disappointed – those people cannot be replaced any more than they replaced those who came before them. In the end, while they may be harder to spot (mostly because we won’t know what we’re looking for until after the fact), that doesn’t mean the new generation will be any less impressive.

  3. While the students ran things, the spirit of intellectual excitement was sparked, in large part, by the scholars and rabbis who spoke and led sessions. Three that I can vividly remember were Rabbis Greenberg, Hartman and Berkovitz. Sometimes we’d have two of them at the same weekend. Wow! BTW, in addition to all of the intellectual activity going on, socializing was an important part of the program. And I have vivd recollections of that too, but I’ll lave that for another time.

  4. ih – thanks for the link with an interesting yet different perspective.

    hirhurim – “Additionally, the scholarly optimism began to fade and divergent theological views created divisions. I suspect that as Orthodox Feminism developed more fully, campus students split over its innovations. ”

    is this a viewpoint extrapolated from the book or based on something else?

  5. R. Student,
    Speaking as a young Orthodox Jew (I’m in my late 20s), who was very involved with Jewish life on a secular campus from 2003-2007 I look around at my contemporaries, and see a remarkable number of people who are heading down the path towards serious scholarship. I have friends doctoral students at Yale, Harvard, Penn, UCLA, The University of Toronto, as well as studying in both yeshivot and institutions where women are involved in traditional lernen in a serious way in the States and Israel. I can (but won’t, as you asked us not to) list many names of people of my generation whom I don’t know, but whose names I have heard, and whose writings I have read and whose shiurim and lectures I have heard. Will any of these people become scholars and leaders on the level of the people you mention? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t count any of them out.

  6. Gil-
    Of the students (not related!) who were with you in the first half of the 90’s in YU- i can think of numerous roshei yeshiva, administrators and teachers on highschools, ramim and teachers in Israeli yeshivot and seminaries, a few porofessors, Orthodox “thinkers”, and a few shul rabbis. (of course, none of the above titles are mutually exclusive!)

  7. Gil, like the others, I can think of a few scholars from our era. Remember that not every Yavneh product became a Dr. Leiman. (Whose Shabbat classes at his home, which continue to this day, began in just the form you describe.)

  8. ” Scholars and educators such as (assume scholarly titles for all) David Berger, Rivkah Blau, Gerald Blidstein, Shnayer Leiman and Joel Wolowelsky are only a few of those who emerged from Yavneh.”

    They were all well known at a younger age than I believe Gil is now.

    .” In my day in the early ’90s in YU, select honors students took specific course requirements and attended special lectures by R. Norman Lamm. Twenty years later, I’m not aware of any significant scholarship to emerge from those circles. Is it because we are still too young or because the group was poorly chosen or their program a spirit of excited creativity”

    YU started offering superior academic background students free tuition with requirement to take certain courses-thus it is at least possible the attendance at a R Lamm seminar was part of a financial deal. Those involved were largely not interested in Jewish studies as a career.
    Lets compare valedectorians of YU from 64-69 they included D Berger, L Kaplan and D Schatz-all who are now involved in academic areas that involve Jewish studies of some sort. Those extremely bright people came to YU wo being told by the administration publicly you are superior to everyone else etc. Probably a much better system than the Stern/Belkin scholar system etc.

  9. David Berger, Rivkah Blau, Gerald Blidstein, Shnayer Leiman and Joel Wolowelsky
    =========================
    the interesting question to me is if these folks had grown up 20 years later would they have followed similar interests or would the system discouraged it?
    KT

  10. Is the issue that there are no people younger then David Berger, Rivkah Blau, Gerald Blidstein, Shnayer Leiman and Joel Wolowelsky doing what they do or that there are such people but they have not become well known in the community, which many of these accomplished. Maybe Yavneh was simply effective at getting their names “out there”?

    In addition, based on Joseph Kaplan’s description, it appears that a certain part of Yavneh’s leadership are not considered Orthodox rabbis in good standing today. So Gil, if we are speculating, maybe it was the communal move to delegitimize those to one’s left in a way never done to those on the right that led to the lack of known scholars today. After all, why would a LW person want to put their name out there so that they can be attacked as non-Orthodox. (Even if they are talking about a sociological issue, ala feminism.) As so many LW scholars are today. (I would name names but in the interest of not starting critiques on people I will not.)

  11. Mycroft,
    Your cynicism knows no bounds, and, as a former Stern scholar, I find it quite offensive.

  12. What is all that cynical in what Mycroft wrote? It is factually correct that YU offers/ed free tuition to those it deemed the brightest. Are you saying he is cynical for saying they (you?) had to take additional required work? All the rest of what he wrote was by his own admission speculation, making it at least as valid as Gil’s comment that feminism blew up Yavneh. Personally, I disagree with Mycroft’s assesment simply because one would expect free tuition to not harm those who would be scholars, even if they did not get the free tuition and even free tuition were to have failed to get additional scholars.

  13. No, I am saying he is cynical because he says that we went to YU only because we were publically announced to be brighter than everyone, and that there is a good reason we did not produce any scholars like the Yavneh group, namely, because we really weren’t intellectually engaged but rather after money and glory.
    Full disclosure, I did not stay at YU until the end. Neither my decision to go or my decision to leave had anything to do with money or accolades.
    “Full disclosure” #2, my Stern Scholars class includes a current professor of Modern Jewish literature and also probably the leading expert in his generation on the thought of the Rav.

  14. What he actually wrote was that those in the program took specific classes because they got free tuition in return. And if money was not a consideration for you in where to go to college you were fortunate.

  15. MDJ: Orthodox feminism matured in the 1970s, particularly on college campuses. That is when and where Women’s Prayer Groups began, among other innovative practices.

    Jerry: Good points.

    Joseph Kaplan: Thanks for the personal recollection.

    ruvie: The first sentence was based on the book. The second sentence (“I suspect”) is my own speculation, which I ran by a Yavneh participant who agreed.

    Jesse A: Maybe I’m wrong.

    YU’90s: Of course there are people who are active educators and community leaders. The issue is whether they excel.

    HAGTBG: Or maybe the world was smaller and it was easier to be a groundbreaker because they were doing something new.

  16. maybe it was easier for these yavne scholars to assume their positions of prominence because they they faced less competition among the the older cadre when compared to the competition younger scholars today face against the yavne cadre? (this doesn’t mean the older cadre that the yavne scholars competed with were inferior, but that there were fewer of them and the yavne scholars were essentially slipping into a void)

  17. Optimistically I write- When I look around at the young academics both inside and outside the beis medresh/ both men and women I am impressed.

    Cynically- we get the leaders we deserve.

  18. Lawrence Kaplan

    Mycroft: FTR I was not the YC valedictorian.

    When I graduated RJJHS 50 years ago–we are having our class reunion this Sunday–almost all our class went on either to YU or to a Yeshiva at day and a City College at night.
    Only one student went to Columbia. It never even occured to me to apply to Columbia. Th point is that YC did not face then the same competition from the Ivies and the better universities than it did later on, owing to the growing acculturation of the MO community and the more welcoming atmosphere for MO students on secular campuses. All this is background for the setting up of the Stern scholars program.

  19. Lawrence Kaplan

    Jeremy Simon: Re full disclosure #2 : Who are the individuals in question?

  20. >They were all well known at a younger age than I believe Gil is now.

    They were known, but they were not superstars. Leiman was born in 1941; Gil is . . . 40? Was Leiman considered a superstar yet in 1981?

  21. I’m not sure how we got YU focused, the sense I had was that the whole point of Yavne was about organizing Orthodox life in the non-Jewish Universities?

    Indeed, there seems to be some evidence that the YU Roshei Yeshiva were indifferent (ref: the Michtavim blog post to which I referred earlier).

    In regard to the question of “where else such an incubator exists” — there are programs such as the Wexner Graduate Fellowship/Davidson Scholars Program; but, of course that is not exclusively Orthodox.

  22. “Rabbis Greenberg, Hartman and Berkovitz”

    Would they be welcome today at a Yavneh-like organization?

  23. Prof. Kaplan – Mazal tov on your 50th class reunion. But, I think the attitudes that led you to YU were due to a number of sociological issues beyond religion, although that too was a factor. To see: Charles Silberman’s 1985 “A Certain People”.

    The Jewish return to the Ivy League started in the 1960s and was mainstream by the 1970s, which presumably is what fuelled the need for organizing MO life on these and other campuses. By the late 1970s, Ivy League acceptance metrics were used by Yeshiva Day Schools in their marketing.

  24. On re-reading: I should have said “led your cohort” rather than “led you”.

  25. Over a period of years RIETS increasingly began to view Jewish studies as antagonistic, even dangerous. People interested in creative scholarship pursued academic careers and those interested in community leadership generally stayed on the rabbinic track, and this, among a number of other factors, contributed to a dearth of intellectual creativity in Modern Orthodox leadership.

  26. While we’re on the subject of Yavneh, does anyone have any information on Yavneh in Israel?

    The only reason I know it existed is because of a journal – Deot – which they published from 1958-1982.

    This journal was a hotbed of religious intellectual ferment. This was the platform where R. Breuer first introduced his Shitat Habehinot. It was here that the Israeli religious left’s “poster boy” philosopher, Eliezer Goldman (Dov Schwartz and Avi Sagi were his students), laid out many of his ideas. Leibowitz published many of his ideas about religion here, long before he became a national celebrity after 1967. Even better, there was a lot of intellectual debate. (Unfortunately, Hebrewbooks does not have all the issues…)

    Shabbat Shalom

    aiwac

  27. Michael Feldstein

    Speaking as a young Orthodox Jew (I’m in my late 20s), who was very involved with Jewish life on a secular campus from 2003-2007 I look around at my contemporaries, and see a remarkable number of people who are heading down the path towards serious scholarship. I have friends doctoral students at Yale, Harvard, Penn, UCLA, The University of Toronto, as well as studying in both yeshivot and institutions where women are involved in traditional learning in a serious way in the States and Israel. I can (but won’t, as you asked us not to) list many names of people of my generation whom I don’t know, but whose names I have heard, and whose writings I have read and whose shiurim and lectures I have heard. Will any of these people become scholars and leaders on the level of the people you mention? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t count any of them out.

    —————————————————

    I also think there are a number of young up-and-coming scholars, especially female Orthodox scholars who have been privileged to engage in advanced Torah learning and have much to offer the community. In my community, I’m involved in planning a weekly Beit Midrash learning program where we try to bring some of the young scholars who we feel are the best and the brightest. Three years ago, I remember bringing a then relatively unknown scholar at Columbia to our community, who has since established herself as a major academic thinker and Jewish leader in the Orthodox community. This week a very talented academic from Princeton is giving a shiur–I think you’ll be hearing great things from her in future years.

    With that said, I do feel there is a greater separation between the Orthodox power base at Yeshiva University, and the serious academics at other institutions–more so now than there was 30 years ago. So it’s not that there isn’t a new generation of talented academic scholars at campuses across the country; it’s just that they are less likely to enter into the Orthodox Jewish establishment as they had done 30-40 years ago, and more likely to be judged as a fringe element. And that’s too bad, in my opinion.

  28. I find it interesting from reading many comments here on Hirhurim that there is a pining for MO as it was practiced in the America in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s. Just an observation of mine. I guess this feeling relates to the move to the right in MO started in the 70’s.

  29. Should read “starting in the 70’s.”

  30. Prof. Kaplan,
    I’ll send you the names off line. I’ve no desire to open up a potential debate about my friend’s merits (not by you, but by others less discrete).

  31. This discussion of Yavneh brings back old memories. I participated in Yavneh activities during the early 60s and can second Joseph Kaplan’s brief recollection. Let me provide some more detail from my perspective. Yavneh was founded at Columbia University by Orthodox students such as Rivkah (Teitz) Blau who found that their religious needs were being thwarted by the Jewish chaplain (he objected to a 2nd day of Shavuot), and concluded that an organization was needed to promote their interests. The movement, begun in 1959, spread rapidly to other Ivies (Harvard, Yale, Princeton). From there it spread to YU. The latter development brought in some faculty members such as R’ Yitz Greenberg as student advisors. I well remember an eventful weekend in 1964 that was chaired masterfully by Yitz and dealt with the theme of meshichiyut. Among his discussion leaders was a young Heshy Weinreb. The only controversial speech at the weekend was one by a prof. of Jewish philosophy who appeared to disparage the Rambam’s understanding of techiyat hameitim as a temporary state of being. That raised the hackles of some YU people – including R’ Weinreb. I discussed the controversy with another faculty adviser, R’ Yisroel Wohlgelernter, but remained unsatisfied. Later at a melave malkah that evening, I suddenly left the entertainment, retreated to my hotel room, and began pacing back and forth as a thought consumed me. Of course, I concluded, GOD has to resurrect the dead in an ideal world – even if only temporarily, in order to complete the cycle of life and to address the problem of unjust suffering and premature death.

    Besides some famous names mentioned in the post and in comments, let me add others – famous and not so famous. There was a quite young Mark Steiner, the Teitz sisters, the Greer brothers, the Dickstein brothers, the Russ brothers and others. Mark became a philosophy prof. at Hebrew Univ., Rivka (Teitz) Blau was the principal of a girl’s day school in Queens, Daniel Greer, esq., founded and heads a yeshiva in New Haven. I’ve haven’t kept track of the others.

  32. With regard to the Ivies, it is interesting to note that Columbia had a major change of heart with regard to accepting Orthodox Jewish students following the disastrous revolutionary events of 1968 at that institution. They basically turned on the dime and went from reluctance to enthusiasm for Orthodox applicants thanks to the doings of Mark Rudd and company. Many of us attended CCNY (which had a Yavneh program) not only because of the remarkable free education but because Columbia kept its arms extended against us in the early and mid sixties.

    It was at Yavneh, strangely enough, that I was exposed in the late sixties to Tanya– a product of a very alien world for a boy from Washington Heights. Other than that, I mostly remember Navi shiurim during the Thursday club hours.

  33. MiMedinat HaYam

    1. rivkah teitz blau, in her biography of her father, attributes to her father to yavne’s founding and nurturing. and i believe she is now principal of a high school in bergen county. and i assume mashgiach of riets rabbi yosef blau should be mentioned in this same context.

    and r daniel grier, esq is a personality in his own right. the first person to insist on wearing a kippah on campus at princeton.

    2. mark rudd’s columbia roomate is today a baal tshuva with smicha who now lives in israel (through elal aliyah; i assume nbn cooperated.)

    3. yu RY were prob indifferent to a non yu org like yavneh, just like they were pretty much indifferent to their own talmidim during that time. (cant comment on current situation, but it seems they are more involved these days.) with exceptions, of course.

    4. i once attended a yavneh shabaton at u of p, and there was a special attempt to have someone (not yet orthodox) come to shul and say kaddish, so as to prevent another young lady who was coming to say kaddish (and would not say kaddish if a man was present saying kaddish. i guess that was her “minhag”.) so much for the beginning of “modern” feminism.

    that was the year before the “water buffalo” incident. (what ever happened to him?)

  34. ” I had was that the whole point of Yavne was about organizing Orthodox life in the non-Jewish Universities?

    Indeed, there seems to be some evidence that the YU Roshei Yeshiva were indifferent (ref: the Michtavim blog post to which I referred earlier).”

    By the time I was in YU 64-68, YU was pretty active in Yavneh; in fact, I was either president or vp of the YU chapter in my senior year. But that was not true at the beginning. When I was a freshman I was on student council, and the issue before us was whether to approve SSSJ as an official YC club. (Amazing, isn’t it?) IAE, R. Yitz Greenberg spoke at the meeting urging approval, and one of the things he said (almost an exact quote): “YU missed the boat with Yavneh; let’s not make the same mistake with SSSJ.” (SSSJ was semi approved.)

  35. Dr Kraut ZL’s book definitely is must reading. I think it is correct to note that there has always been Chinese wall of sorts and tension in YU between RIETS and BRGS, which one either recognizes as the ground rules and works within or leaves even after being a popular professsor. I would suggest that with respect to RYG and R D Hartman, the key to how one views their status within Orthodoxy is how one views their current views and writings.

    OTOH, as YU90and Anonymous both note, many of the younger generation of RIETS RY and BMP Maggidei Shiurim attended MO elementary and high schools, went to yeshivos in Israel and then went through YC,RIETS and its Kollelim.

  36. Michael Rogovin

    The issues of orthodox feminism came well past the demise of Yavneh. What may have contributed though was the increasing openness to orthodox students at Hillels. On many secular campuses, Hillels were (and in some cases still are) either hostile or at least unwelcoming to orthodox students. The food, programming, etc were all geared to the secular, reform and conservative students. However important Hillel might have been for these students (and I do not dispute it), it was unprepared to deal with the needs of orthodox students. There were few orthodox professionals in Hillel and too few orthodox students on many campuses to form enough of a “lobby.” And the Hillel donors were most certainly not orthodox. This began to change on many campuses — at several of the Ivies, at places like Washington U St Louis with which I am familiar, even at Queens College (where, ironically, Prof Kraut headed the Center for Jewish Studies when he did the research for this book; the Hillel there has been led by an orthodox rabbi for many years now). While Hillel did not replace the intellectual component of Yavneh, the social and religious needs were finally being addressed and students looked elsewhere (Jewish Studies perhaps) for intellectual ferment.

  37. Gil, usually when you discuss a book you’ve included a link to it on Amazon. You haven’t done that here even though it is sold on Amazon. I was wondering if that was simply as oversight or a mistaken link or because the publisher is Hebrew Union College.

  38. I couldn’t find it on Amazon

  39. HAGTBG: Noted historian and Hebrew Union College Press editor Prof. Michael A. Meyer (and leading scholar of Reform Judaism) observes in his prefatory note to The Greening of American Orthodox Judaism, that though the HUC would seem an odd place to publish this volume on American Modern Orthodoxy, in July 2008 the late Prof. Benny Kraut sent him the following in an email, which reproduced in the prefatory note. The following are Prof. Kraut’s words.
    “I am sure some Orthodox Jews will not buy the book because of its publisher. That won’t stop me from publishing it with you if you accept it, nor should it dissuade the press from promoting the book in as many Orthodox circles as possible.”

  40. Hi Gil,
    I believe that over the past ten years the OU JLIC program has been filling part of the vaccume that you are describing. I have been priviliged to be part of this program for five years and would like to share the mission statement from http://www.jliconline.org

    The mission of JLIC is threefold:
    – To enable, encourage, and advance the Torah education and commitment of Orthodox students at secular universities.
    – To provide avenues to spiritual development and exploration for Jewish students from all backgrounds.
    – To strengthen Orthodox communities on campus in a manner that also encourages openness and mutual respect to all Jews and Jewish communities on campus.

  41. “Eventually, Yavneh dwindled in the 1970′s and then collapsed in 1981”

    “Is the issue that there are no people younger then David Berger, Rivkah Blau, Gerald Blidstein, Shnayer Leiman and Joel Wolowelsky doing what they do or that there are such people but they have not become well known in the community, which many of these accomplished. Maybe Yavneh was simply effective at getting their names “out there”? ”

    All those listed were from before the 70s

  42. >I am sure some Orthodox Jews will not buy the book because of its publisher.

    Really? There are some Orthodox Jews who would like to read about Yavneh but wouldn’t buy it because it’s published by HUC? Very strange.

  43. I note that the Amazon information about the book lists the Wayne State Univ. Press as the publisher. It also lists the price as $35. The latter might be a disincentive to some to buy the book.

  44. The publications of the HUC Press are distributed by Wayne State Univ. Press per their website.

  45. “When I graduated RJJHS 50 years ago–we are having our class reunion this Sunday–almost all our class went on either to YU or to a Yeshiva at day and a City College at night.
    Only one student went to Columbia. It never even occured to me to apply to Columbia. Th point is that YC did not face then the same competition from the Ivies and the better universities than it did later on, owing to the growing acculturation of the MO community ”

    Duisagree with your analysis-it may well be that Prof Kaplan the difference is the circles that you travel in-when you went to RJJ
    it is possiblethe Ivies were not in consideration-but they were for the more MO schools. Now you are much more liberal than apparently your HS was.
    Personal anecdotes are misleading but my parents met on an Ivy campus-mother undergrad-father grad and both were Orthodox. I went to YU=but both my brothers who went to different HS than I did went to schools-one officially Ivy and one that has an academic reputation better than the average Ivy.

  46. “the MO community and the more welcoming atmosphere for MO students on secular campuses. All this is background for the setting up of the Stern scholars program.”

    I want to make it clear that I have no objection to any individual taking advantage of the Stern program. If they are eligible they have no obligation to pay extra money-similar to tax policy I find much of the US tax policy eg oil depletion allowances bad from a policy standpoint but I have no objection to an individual oil company taking advantage of allowance. I may think that it is ridiculous that we tax unearned income in general at a lower rate than earned income -thus Warren Buffet pays a lower rate of tax than his secretary but there is nothing wrong with Buffet individually taking advantage of lower taxes on earned income.
    However, bad policy/morality is still bad morality-to give scholarships which the Stern gift for example mandates to those who quite often come from way above average family incomes who will likely earn way above family incomes is in my mind immoral. An insatitution which requests contributions from those earning far less than the many of the parents whose children will receive the scholarship and whose children will likely earn far less is an example of reverse Robin Hood.
    Full disclosure in grad school I was the beneficiary of a similar arrangement involving the US government received a fellowship from a US govnt agency-my parents earned above median US income-I was considered likely to earn above median US income-one difference I had to do some fieldwork and present the study to the agency staff in Washington-other than taking some extra courses Stern scholars are not required to do anything for Jewish community.

  47. Y. Aharon wrote on May 13, 2011 at 12:57 pm:
    “Yavneh was founded at Columbia University by Orthodox students … who found that their religious needs were being thwarted by the Jewish chaplain (he objected to a 2nd day of Shavuot), and concluded that an organization was needed to promote their interests.”

    The Jewish chaplain at Columbia for many years was Rabbi Isidore B. Hoffman, a left-wing Reform rabbi and one of the founders of the Jewish Peace Fellowship. He was not just opposed to Yom-tov Sheni; he was against any form of Jewish particularism. When I dropped in to his office during my first week at Columbia to get a list of kosher eating places in the neighborhood, he “explained” to me that, now that I was in college, I should start thinking in a more universalistic way, and not limit myself to only kosher places!

  48. “Hillels were (and in some cases still are) either hostile or at least unwelcoming to orthodox students. The food, programming, etc were all geared to the secular, reform and conservative students”

    Hillel was sponsoring kosher hitchens on campuses since at least the early 60s-it may well be before this is based on limited off blog personal discussion/experience.

  49. “Besides some famous names mentioned in the post and in comments, let me add others – famous and not so famous”

    Of course, there were many who attended Yavneh conventions etc -nice social meeting place etc.-icluding me. Many including some national officers and presidents would be unknown to the vast majority of bloggers. After the fact it is easy to say X,Y and Z became famous and were associated with A-but so what.
    I would have assumed until the recent passing of one of members of YUs College Bowl team that all would have become leaders in their fiels-I had not heard their names essentially sice they appeared on College Bowl but by reading professions etc in JP after the recent passing of one of them-except for Prof Kaplan-none will be people who will be quoted as authorities-like the rest of mortals they appeared to have lived normal relatively succesful lives compared to the US average-they did not have extraordinary success.

  50. There still are Orthodox Jewish College Student Groups called Yavneh. Are these former chapters that survived when the national organization collapsed?

  51. “Duisagree with your analysis-it may well be that Prof Kaplan the difference is the circles that you travel in-when you went to RJJ
    it is possiblethe Ivies were not in consideration-but they were for the more MO schools.”

    I’m three years younger than my brother and went to MTA and not RJJ but my experience was similar to his. I know one classmate who went to Columbia and can’t think of any at the other Ivies. There probably were a few, but the fact that I can’t think of any tells me the number was VERY small. And many of my friends who, today, would apply to Harvard or Columbia or UofP or Brandeis even if they ended up at YU didn’t even consider applying to those schools. If you went to YU the general rule was that the only other schools you had applied to were Brooklyn, City or Queens (many fewer than the other 2).

  52. Joseph Kaplan on May 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm
    ““Duisagree with your analysis-it may well be that Prof Kaplan the difference is the circles that you travel in-when you went to RJJ
    it is possiblethe Ivies were not in consideration-but they were for the more MO schools.”

    I’m three years younger than my brother and went to MTA and not RJJ but my experience was similar to his.”

    One can’t forget Vietnam and influence of 4-D vs 2-S.
    MTA in those days pushed YU-Rabbeim of HS would get promoted to RIETS-it was a seameless transition-in both administration and shiurim.
    I don’t know the answer-but I’d be curious from alumni of Flatbush, Ramaz,Maimonides from that time period-how many valedcitorians went to YU and how many to other institutions.

  53. . “And many of my friends who, today, would apply to Harvard or Columbia or UofP or Brandeis even if they ended up at YU didn’t even consider applying to those schools.”

    BTW-even today due to selectivity of the Harvards et al-very few day school students end up in those institutions.
    I suspect both due to Affirmative Action and Globalization there are much fewer Jews at many selective institutions.

  54. ” Affirmative Action”
    May not have impacted the few wealthy jobs available to Jews but the much more frequent middle income jobs which Jews used to do.

  55. Charles Silberman, writing in 1985:

    “The ferment and confusion grow out of a profound change that has occurred in the position of Jews in American society since the end of World War II, and especially since 1960 – a change that makes the environment of American Jewish life today wholly unlike anything that any other Jewish community has ever encountered before. Change has been so rapid, in fact, that American Jews in their twenties and thirties inhabit a completely different world from that in which their parents grew up.

    […]

    My life was reasonably happy and uneventful, and the world I inhabited did not seem particularly hostile. It was, nonetheless, a world of informal but firm quotas and restricted opportunities, one in which Jews saw themselves (and were seen by others) as outsiders. Where lived, where we worked and at what occupation or profession, even where we played (for the ball fields in New York City’s Central Park were divided into Jewish and non-Jewish turf) were affected, and often determined, by what “they” (non-Jews) would allow. At the two Ivy League universities I attended, the number of Jewish students was not allowed to exceed 20 or 25 percent, and contact with non-Jews was limited to the classroom; Jews and Gentiles shared very little social life. Contact was even less frequent in the world of work. Some professions, such as engineering, were virtually closed to Jews, and access to others, such as medicine, journalism and academic life, was severely limited. It was fruitless, moreover, for a Jew interested in a business career to seek a job with a large corporation; not even the telephone company knowingly employed Jews.

    […]

    How different it has been for my children and the generation of which they are part! “

    A Certain People, pp. 22-23

  56. “At the two Ivy League universities I attended, the number of Jewish students was not allowed to exceed 20 or 25 percent,”

    Does the number of Jews exceed 25 percent in Ivy League universities today?
    I am aware of a leading school which was roughly 25% Jewish 40 years ago and now is around 10% Jewish-Affirmative Action, Globalization are very heavily responsible for that.

  57. Dunno, mycroft, but that is a different topic: political rather than historical. I offered the extended quotation as a potential way of understanding the societal context that helps explain the need for a Yavneh-like organization in the 1960s.

    Put crudely: there was little payoff for Jews to attend the Ivys because they were locked out of most post-University benefits; and, all the more so for Orthodox Jews in NYC who therefore went to either YU or CUNY. Once the post-University payoff became real, the investment started to be made despite the difficulties. Once the numbers hit a tipping point, organization was required…

  58. Michael Rogovin

    Re the comments about the chaplain at Columbia and his attitude toward orthodoxy as showing the need for Yavneh. At Columbia in 1969, Rabbi Charles Sheer, a modern orthodox rabbi, took over. Over the next 2 decades, the number of orthodox students at Columbia and Barnard rose to such an extent that they were the dominant branch of Judaism at Columbia – the only college in the US (other than YU I suppose) where this was the case. More recently, after Jewish alumni gave big bucks to build a Hillel building and in response to complaints that the needs of non-orthodox students were not being addressed (though I would challenge that last statement – Rabbi Sheer had an outstanding reputation with Jews of all stripes) a new, non-orthodox director was chosen and Rabbi Sheer “retired.” There is a MO chaplain affiliated with Hillel, but he is not the director.

    To be fair, it is hard to be an orthodox Hillel rabbi: you have to minister to the needs of the non-halachic community, which includes running or sanctioning programs and activities that violate halachic norms in many ways- food, shabbat, tzniut, sexual orientation, etc). Thus, Hillels tend to be run by non-orthodox rabbis and professionals, with an orthodox rabbi somehow attached or on staff at campuses with larger communities of orthodox students (Maryland, Wash U St Louis, NYU, Columbia, etc). However, even these can do wonders: Wash U had an orthodox shabbat minyan (barely) when I attended in the early 80s, and kosher food was served at Hillel on Shabbat and as airline style meals in the main cafe. I am told it now boasts a daily minyan, a kosher cafe and kosher prepared food at most other locations on campus. UM has a huge orthodox community supported by Hillel. Schools like NYU, Columbia, Yale, MIT and Harvard are very accommodating to the needs of orthodox students.

    These changes, and particularly Rabbi Sheer becoming chaplain of Columbia where Yavneh started certainly supports my thesis that as Hillels reached out to the orthodox, the need for Yavneh was diminished beginning in the early 70s.

  59. Brandeis has a Brandeis Orthodox Organization that maintains a beit midrash, lecture series, etc. and advocates for Orthodox students within Brandeis and the Hillel. I believe the current iteration was founded in the early 1990s. There is a JLIC rabbinic couple on campus as well.

  60. I grew up knowing a number of the people being discussed… Rabbis Dr.s David Berger (no relation), Shneiur Leiman, Richard Steiner, and for a while David Shatz all attend the same shteibl I grew up attending. Not to mention numerous other academics in less Jewish topics — astronomy (although he wrote a peirush on Hilkhos Qiddush haChodesh), topology, dental metalurgy, physics (author of one of the canonical college texts), etc…

    There are fewer O Jews with PhDs in general, as I see it.

    I would suggest two phenomenona going on:

    The first is a fiscal crunch, which placed pressure on professions that are easier to turn lucrative than teaching or research. Family sizes grew, thus increasing tuition and other burdens.

    Second is a general loss of the Torah uMadda ideal, discussed here and on other blogs ad nauseum.

    Third, with respect to Jewish academia in particular… We are a generation looking for experiential rather than academic inspiration. This fact is a large part of the Conservative Movement’s current existential crisis. As the Jewish Week summarized Schorsh’s final speech as chancellor of JTSA: In his remarks, the chancellor also lamented the loss of “great scholarship,” which he said has “ceased to energize [the movement] as it had in the past.”

    As the C Movement learned, academic study is more readily utilized to reinforce the skeptic than to bolster the passion of faith. Even when its conclusions affirm faith, it does so in a dry cerebral way. Now what people are seeking today in religion.

    And so we find Mod-O Jews looking to Carlebach Minyanim, talmidim at YU studying Tanya in unprecedented numbers, etc… Going for a PhD in Jewish History just doesn’t present itself as a plausible way to “be more Jewish”.

    -micha

  61. MiMedinat HaYam

    acadenic jewish history is not (necessarliy) torah, so i dont understand your point.

    2. jlic (ou) compete with hillel houses (princeton, eg.) just as chabad often competes with hillel (though some hillel rabbis are chabad).

    3. some ivies find that its worthwhile to open kosher kitchens, chapels (?batei medrash?), etc to attract MO students. (though they still limit them to the 10 – 20% cited.) (and MO faculty members). (i guess its also good for fundraising.)

  62. “jlic (ou) compete with hillel houses (princeton, eg.) just as chabad often competes with hillel (though some hillel rabbis are chabad).”

    My impression is that at Brandeis the word “competes” is too strong; they often work hand in hand, and many Orthodox students are involved in all three.

  63. MiMedinat HaYam

    most jlic rabbis are passionate, but inexperienced (they also mostly come fdrom chovevei, and are cheaper than riets musmachim.)

    besides, though i wrote some hillel rabbis are chabad, consider that a disclaimer.

    also, perhpas not valid at brandeis — dont know that case.

    but at some schools, being active in two or three is strongly discouraged (jewish politics starts young).

  64. The reason they come from Chovevei is not that they are cheaper, it’s they are more willing to go to these sorts of places.

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