Who Will Be the Next President of YU? Placing the Horse Before the Cart

Who will be the next president of Yeshiva University?

This seems to be the question of the day, as journalists speculate and suggest all types of names and ideas. The discussion has been brought to our Shabbos table by the YU students whom we regularly host for meals, and it is the buzz of the Orthodox world to a large degree.

As someone who attended various schools of YU and has been informally involved with YU for decades, people often ask me for my thoughts on the matter. As I am not known to be shy about my opinions Emoji (although I try to express them with derech eretz), I thought that I may as well put my answer out there and spare people the time asking. (Emoji again)

Rather than focus on the names of candidates, it may be much more valuable to focus on the substance and qualifications, and to leave it up to those in the know to first consider the substance and qualifications and then come up with some good names.

First and foremost, the president of YU must be someone whose primary identification is with the Yeshiva of the University and who deeply cherishes and has a personal command and commitment to the workings and ethos of a yeshiva: intense and analytical Talmud study, traditional Orthodox values, and the primacy of serious engagement in Torah. If a YU president fails to embody these principles, he may be qualified to lead a Jewish university, but not a Yeshiva University. It is not for naught that the administrators of medical schools and medical organizations are themselves accomplished doctors – and so it is in the fields of law and academia – for aside from the requisite administrative skills, the person leading the institution must have an insider’s appreciation of the core and expert components of the enterprise, and he must personally share their mission as his own.

This has happened at YU and it can happen again. But it can only happen if the president is an accomplished talmid chacham – “a yeshiva man” – in his own right. Being a popular rabbinic speaker, a Jewish philosopher, or a pulpit success story will not cut it (although these can be additional and valuable features of a YU president’s résumé).

Secondly, the president of YU must be an administrator and fundraiser par excellence. This means a track record of clear success and solid experience governing a significant and major organization, institution or perhaps even a business. Being a scholar will not help here; a history of accomplishment running an enterprise and raising serious and major capital will. It is that simple.

Administrative success also means dealing with, negotiating with and appreciating people and organs well beyond one’s home identity. A business whiz who does not value liberal arts and science academic programs will not be passionate about their wellbeing, inherent worth and merit and should not be entrusted to preside over them. Regardless of any other considerations and circumstances, the current president of YU appreciates and knows how to interact with the expanse of YU’s umbrella of undergraduate and graduate schools and divisions. This is essential.

Thirdly, the next president of YU must be an Orthodox leader and visionary. He need not be a leader who can rally the masses, but he must be someone who speaks for Orthodox Judaism, represents its values, and builds its infrastructure. Rabbi Dr. Bernard Revel was not a pulpit rabbi, a chief rabbi, or even a communal leader – yet his successful vision to build Yeshiva, physically and conceptually, represented quintessential leadership, whose achievements have endured and born great and vital fruit.

Fourthly, the next president of YU must be non-controversial in matters of Orthodoxy. YU historically attracted the best rabbinic faculty available as well as some of the best yeshiva students on the continent, as it was a place where everyone felt comfortable. By definition, I guess that a yeshiva with an on-campus college and affiliated graduate schools would be considered Modern Orthodox, but YU traditionally appealed to and accommodated the Orthodox standards of virtually all who were interested and eligible to join. Those who took part did not feel that anything made YU not “frum enough” for them to be there, to contribute and to gain.

The qualifications for the next president of YU manifest a tall order indeed, and utmost care and caution must be taken to assure that YU really gets the right man for the job.

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24 Responses

  1. Micha Berger says:

    Just to be clear, if elected, I will refuse to serve.

    • Willie Roth says:

      I think splitting the roles is exactly what should he done. Many companies have both a CEO and a President. For CEO I think Eric Goldstein of the Federation is the right person for the job. When it comes to YU’s finances and the like, an outsider is the right remedy. YU in that regard needs a fresh set of eyes. However, for President, for the qualifications that Rabbi Gordimer ans the other commenters identified, my vote is for Rabbi Reuven Brand – Rosh Kollel of YU’s Chicago Kollel. He fits every qualification. And he is also someone who can be a unifying force that can bring positive energy to a place that needs it desparately. If you don’t know who he is, look him up. And don’t be sacred by his age until you meet him.

  2. joel rich says:

    wadr to r’ gordimer, as long as we’re wishing for something, let’s not leave out the aspiration to live torah u’madda – listen to The Rav quote Ibsen and Kant (even though he counseled r’ Lichtenstein to study physics) and one will understand that torah umadda is neither torah with a wink at some basic literacy in secular studies nor living a professional life and opening a sefer once a week. just by being yu we will be controversial in matters of orthodoxy. imho we’d be taking much more flack today if not for yct, and ner yisrael and touro should be thankful yu exists so they can fly under the radar.
    The eternal nation does not fear the long road

    “עם הנצח לא מפחד מדרך ארוכה”

  3. dr.bill says:

    The president of a university must know how to manage and have a vision aligned with that of the institution. For YU, that may be necessary but not sufficient, at least for many. First, finances are in the toilet and it is unclear what must be done to right the ship. While blaming the current President is indisputable, the board bears ultimate responsibility and is the final decision maker in choosing someone who will fix the problem they were complicit in creating. Second, some hope for an accomplished scholar, with respect from the Yeshiva or the University, and preferably both. Third, given the YU Roshei Yeshivah moving right, the challenge from various circles, mostly in Israel, opposing such a shift, a leader who can transcend that gulf, will be required.

    Frankly, there probably is no such person. Instead, the position may have to be divided into 2-3 roles that together can cooperatively perform the tasks required. I can think of various triumvirates, with one person nominally in charge, but rarely exercising that authority, that could do well.

  4. Raymond says:

    The above description as to what the qualifications should be for the next President of Yeshiva University, strikes me as being far too unrealistic. It would take some kind of Superman to meet all of those standards. I agree wholeheartedly that the most important qualification should be that the person be a serious Torah scholar, knowing the Tanach and Talmud inside out, as well as the various codes of Jewish law and perhaps even a little Kabbalah thrown in there as well. Having at least a basic knowledge of the secular world also seems to be in keeping with Yeshiva University’s approach to Judaism. And finally, the person should know how to deal with all kinds of Jews and all kinds of people in general, to be both diplomatic, and just a decent human being in general. But fund raising? Leave that to other administrators to worry about that.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      Raymond-name one not for profit institution or yeshiva where fundraising isn’t part of the job description of a CEO. I view YU as no different than any other yeshiva or not for profit-both the CEO and the RY are key cogs to raising funds.

  5. Bob Miller says:

    As described, this looks as daunting as Moshe Rabbeinu and Yisro’s search to populate the judiciary. I suspect that no one now living will be ideal, At least identify the shortcomings of previous Presidents and try to avoid those as much s possible.

    • dr.bill says:

      like anything, the changing environment influences what is now required. to look at the shortcomings of the current president is valuable; those of his predecessors much less so. besides, though history is a great teacher and can provide valuable insight, most who draw historical parallels are not and do not I for one am a great fan of Rabbi Lamm, but am not sure even he is all that is needed today.

  6. Daniel says:

    Why do you insist he be great in Torah, but not in Madda also? Sounds like your candidate would be good for a yeshiva, but not for a yeshiva university. He or she should also be an accomplished academic in all the sciences and arts.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      why not an accomplished professional or business leader who can serve as a CEO? Name one major not for profit that doesn’t have a CEO and a major public voice as the spokesman for the institution. There are so many YU alumni who IMO can serve as a CEO, and a RY should serve as the religious voice-with an accentuation on the key mission of YU-where you can become a Ben and/or Bas Torah, and even a Talmid Chacham, while getting a first rate college education.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      At this juncture in YU’s history and future, I think that n accomplished professional or business leader who can serve as a CEO with an appreciation of the bottom line and the core mission of YU being that of creating a cadre of college educated Bnei and Bnos Torah and Talmidei Chachamim strikes me as far more important than being an accomplished academic, while serving in tandem with a religious spokesman and leader strikes me as what YU should be thinking of in terms with respect to its future leaders. Academic accomplishment without the ability to see what is happening on the ground strikes me IMO as a poor recipe for YU’s future. .

  7. Avrohom Gordimer says:

    Daniel: I intentionally wrote that the president would need to value and be passionate about the importance of secular studies. However, I do not know if he needs to be an expert in a secular field. Dr. Revel was an oil executive, and his secular training, aside from university, was from Dropsie College (Jewish studies). The requirements for a YU president by all accounts are massive enough, and although it is a given that the president would have excellent secular academic credentials (something I did not feel needed to be spelled out), I am not sure if having excelled in them as a profession or the like is needed or can be demanded.

    • Daniel says:

      Just seemed like you were more concerned about the Yeshiva than the University, when by every quantitative and qualitative metric the University is the larger part.

  8. lawrence kaplan says:

    Was Rabbi Norman Lamm “non-controversial in matters of Orthodoxy”? Was R. Belkin?

    • Steve Brizel says:

      One could disagree with much of the premise of TuM as expounded by R Lamm and a few of his tactical decisions ( the consideration of the closing of both BRGS and MTA, and the decline of JSS-which sent a clear message that YU was not a place for a BT who wanted to acquire the keys to becoming a lamdan and a Ben Torah and even progress to RIETS) -Yet, R Lamm was a superb rav. orator, thinker and darshan, who went out and saved YU from the brink of bankruptcy, left the institution in good financial condition, and expanded the number of RY in RIETS with young RY who were all the products of RIETS and/or its Kollelim.

  9. Shades of Gray says:

    “Fourthly, the next president of YU must be non-controversial in matters of Orthodoxy..The qualifications for the next president of YU manifest a tall order indeed”

    Even the Abarbanel might not make it as a YU president(Mi-Peninei ha-Rav ,p. 170) !

    Prof. Marc Shapiro references a different version of the story with the Rav in the R. Rackman-Lamm election to the YU presidency than the one in Mi-Peninei ha-Rav in the name of “two people who were intimately involved in the election process” (“Marc B. Shapiro – Responses to Comments and Elaborations of Previous Posts III ” Seforim Blog, 8/29/08 ).

    R. Gil Student relates a version he heard from an eyewitness(“Quoting Christian Bible Commentaries”, Torah Musing, 7/4/06).

    • dr. bill says:

      Context: Rabbi Dr. Belkin ZL was THE Rosh Yeshiva. The Rav ztl was commenting on his successor. Richard Joel’s successor will not necessarily be even A RY. (as an aside, I believe the Rav ztl was referring to one who questioned the uniform authorship of Isaiah; i guess that disqualifies many potential candidates,)

      • Shades of Gray says:

        The distinction makes sense, but Mi-Peninei ha-Rav uses the word “nasi”(the text is on the Seforim Blog). I suppose one can ask RHS.

        Practically, I agree with your other comment regarding historical parallels not being completely relevant.

        A contemporary organizational example of doing without a renaissance man might be the Agudah which replaced R. Sherer initially with a triumvirate.

      • JW says:

        I guess that disqualifies Ibn Ezra as well.

  10. Steve Brizel says:

    Perhaps, those involved in the present search for a successor could look to both the OU and BMG ( Lakewood) which have given over the day to day running of each iinstitution to a CEO while retaining a chief rabbinical figure and/or group of RY, respectively as the Torah leaders of each institution. Why not an eminent YU grad who is both a Ben Torah ( or even a Magid Shiur in his shul) such as a major partner in a law firm or prominent businessman as the day to day leader and a rabbinical leader to serve as the religious leader? That model would allow for the planning and execution of both the day to day and long term planning that YU needs as well as accentuating YU’s mission-where you can become a Ben and/or Bas Torah, and even a Talmid Chacham, while getting a first rate college education.

    • dr. bill says:

      neither BMG or the OU or even Touro aspires to be a major university. Unlike Touro, YU still aspires to be more than a training institution or a prep school for a graduate degree in law/medicine/accounting/etc. The Touro model works, but for TiDE not TuM. The YU TuM model may be unsustainable and require a different architecture. Again Israel may provide the way forward; YU does not exist there and, nonetheless, TuM is flourishing.

  11. DF says:

    Though I too would like it, I don’t agree the next President value the “ethos of a Yeshivah” above all. Nor do I see any evidence that the previous presidents fulfilled your newly created requirement. It’s quite obvious to me you’re just using the YU search as a device or vehicle to impute or broadcast your viewpoint.

    That the President should be a rabbinic scholar, of course, is quite another matter, and one that was debtated ad nauseum when Richard Joel was appointed. And that he be a strictly observant Jew is also unquestioned. But that is quite different from valuing “the ethos of a yeshivah” above all.

    • Steve Brizel says:

      I would suggest that being “a strictly observant Jew” cannot be separated from having an appreciation of the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah Lishmah and Lomdeiha-The real issue remains should the President be merely “strictly observant” or who someone, even if not a musmach, has a keen awareness of the importance of Talmud Torah and its Lomdeha , in his daily life. I view the “debate” that you mentioned as an ongoing process that was never definitively decided against a rabbinc scholar as a criteria for a YU President , and those of us who advocate such a POV, and view the appreciation of Talmud Torah Lishmah as one of the key elements in the selection process, and in the furtherance of what I mentioned what IMO has always been and should be YU’s mission-where you can become a Ben or Bas Torah and even a Talmid Chacham while getting a first rate college education.

      • mycroft says:

        “a strictly observant Jew” cannot be separated from having an appreciation of the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah Lishmah and Lomdeiha-The real issue remains should the President be merely “strictly observant” or who someone, even if not a musmach, has a keen awareness of the importance of Talmud Torah and its Lomdeha , in his daily life”
        How can one be a “strictly observant Jew” without having an appreciation of mitzvot includingTalmudTorah.

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