From the Archive: A yeshiva births a college

Celebrants dance in the streets at Yeshiva University's last quadrennial Chag HaSemikhah, in March 2010. (Y.U.)

Celebrants dance in the streets at Yeshiva University’s last quadrennial Chag HaSemikhah, in March 2010. (Y.U.)

Today, Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary is holding a celebration of the 230 new rabbis who earned ordination from the institution over the past four years.

Back in 1923, the seminary wasn’t ordaining quite as many rabbis, but its commencement ceremony was nevertheless a momentous occasion. That year’s commencement not only celebrated the graduation of 16 rabbis — the seminary’s largest graduating class to date — but also featured a big announcement.

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JTA reported:

A Jewish college — the first institution of its kind in America — will be established in New York as one of the results of a nation-wide campaign involving several million dollars — possibly five million dollars — to broaden the scope and influence of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, it was announced at he Seminary’s annual commencement exercises here yesterday.

By 1928, the new college was a reality, receiving a charter from New York State and opening its doors with a first class of 35 students.

That college is Yeshiva College, an institution at the heart of Yeshiva University.

Here is how Bernard Revel, the president of the seminary’s faculty, explained the new college’s aims:

In the Yeshiva College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, sanctioned by the University of the State of New York, the Yeshiva will offer to a select body of qualified students as an integral part of its activity, a course of high scholastic standing in the general fields of learning and culture, an harmonious blending of the knowledge of our own culture and contribution to mankind with the equipment essential to leadership in life today, with the tools of study, the facts of life and the materials and spirit of general culture. The Yeshiva College will offer to the Yeshiva students, and in time also to other young men properly equipped who consider the knowledge of Judaism an integral part of their liberal education, this harmonious development of Jewish scholarship and culture beside modern culture and scholarship, an understanding of the Jewish spirit and ideals through which, with the knowledge of the centuries and of our own age, they may develop a complete Jewish personality as loyal sons of our people, equipped and ready to give of their best to Israel and to our country.

The Yeshiva College aims to foster this harmonious growth, in which the bases of modern knowledge and culture, in the fields of art, science and service will be blended with the bases of Jewish culture to develop informed and devoted sons in the undying spirit and faith of Israel. The college aims at the inculcation of an abiding consciousness of the high ideals and the spiritual heritage of the Jewish people and at the development of intellect and character, through the pursuit of those humanizing studies by which life as a whole may be elevated and enriched, conducted in an environment that is spiritually sympathetic, producing a mind consistent in its outlook, and capable of seeing the harmony of life.

The Yeshiva College aims to make real the true Yeshiva ideal, the development of a select body of young men who in the Rabbinate or in Jewish scholarship, in teaching or in social service, or in whatsoever field of work, shall be the standard bearers of a true Jewish life, the moral and spiritual leaders of their communities, because they have carried with them from the Yeshiva and its college the ideals of scholarship, spirituality and service, because they are most nearly making actual in their daily living and ideal of a life of service, based upon learning, loyalty, and love of the eternal truths of the Torah and understanding and love of their fellow-men.

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Daniel Treiman is JTA’s managing editor.