Rabbi Yona Reiss to Leave Deanship, Assume Rosh Yeshiva Position
According to an e-mail sent on February 11th from the Office of the President to the student body, Rabbi Yona Reiss will step down as Dean of RIETS and assume a Rosh Yeshiva position following this academic year. Rabbi Reiss served as Dean of RIETS since 2008 following a long career by Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, currently Dean Emeritus. Rabbi Menachem Penner, current Associate Dean of Operations at RIETS, will succeed Rabbi Reiss and begin his deanship July 1, 2013.
President Joel’s e-mail included a list of advances attributed to the RIETS faculty under the leadership of Rabbi Reiss. President Joel pointed to “new learning programs and educational formats”, highlighting what has widely been considered a centralization and streamlining of the four morning programs – YP, IBC, BMP and Mechinah – under Rabbi Reiss’s deanship. As Rabbi Reiss told The Commentator, “we have centralized all of Torah studies and hashgacha at the yeshiva under one unified administrative structure.”
Notably, the additions this year of IBC Honors and YP shiurim designed specifically for first-year students have significantly changed the landscape of the morning programs. “IBC Honors has real potential to create an academically rigorous Jewish education in a religious Orthodox environment”, said Benji Richter (YC ‘14), a student in IBC Honors. Shmuel Gabai (YC ’15), Shiur Assistant for Rabbi Ezra Schwartz’s first-year shiur, told The Commentator: “the first-year shiur definitely simplifies the transition into the yeshiva.”
In an interview with The Commentator, President Joel also emphasized changes to the BMP and Mechinah programs: “The process of strengthening BMP and Mechina by bringing in Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Weinberg and Rabbi Jonathan Shippel … this is all part of [Rabbi Reiss’s] legacy.” Rabbi Reiss also orchestrated the addition of Rabbi Moshe Weinberger to the RIETS faculty as Mashgiach Ruchani this coming academic year.
Rabbi Reiss successfully oversaw the integration of the morning programs and the larger Yeshiva into the new Glueck building. In speaking with The Commentator, Rabbi Reiss commented: “the new Beis Midrash and Glueck building atmosphere has made Torah learning the epicenter of the entire campus”.
RIETS recently has also taken a leading role outside of YU. Shabbatonim and new Torah study programs enacted in local communities coupled with larger RIETS programs – such as Yarchei Kallah – have created a prominent RIETS initiative in the greater New York City area. Additionally, Rabbi Reiss pointed to the creation of the RIETS Press, which has grown considerably over the past few years: “We have developed a RIETS Press that specializes in both Hebrew language and English language seforim, spanning the areas of lomdus, practical halacha and hashkafa.”
Among many students, Rabbi Reiss leaves a legacy admired. “I think he did a good job of giving the university a good image. When I heard him speak in Israel he made me confident in my decision to attend YU”, said Yosef Schick (YC ’15). Zachary Firestone (SSSB ’11) echoed similar sentiments: “I think the yeshiva is really growing. New Rebbeim like Rabbi Daniel Feldman, Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Weinberg, and Rabbi Weinberger – to name three – are well-known, dynamic, and have a lot to contribute to YU.”
Other students were uncertain as to how Rabbi Reiss affected specific changes within RIETS over the last five years: “Honestly, I don’t know much about what he’s done”, Daniel Atwood (YC ’15) told The Commentator. Hillel Gross (YC ’14) expressed confusion as to the central mission of RIETS under Rabbi Reiss: “I feel like Rabbi Reiss was conflicted between his secular experiences before YU and his religious expectations within YU. I’m not sure he ever found a balance between the two.”
For his part, President Joel attributes many of the new RIETS initiatives primarily to the leadership of Rabbi Reiss: “He represented the delicate and special idea of Torah u’Mada lechatchila within a big tent… The deanship is a management job that requires real academic expertise, and I think Rabbi Reiss performed well.” In statements released to The Commentator, Rabbi Reiss made sure to give credit to other members of the administration: “I was privileged to work together with other deans and administrators in creating a synthesis of Torah scholarship, worldly wisdom and communal responsibility.”
Rabbi Reiss will assume a Rosh Yeshiva position following this academic year, along with a position yet to be specified in the Rabbi Norman Lamm Kollel L'Horaah (Yadin Yadin), according to President Joel’s email. Specific details of his exact roles are still forthcoming. Rabbi Reiss expressed excitement at his new roles in YU: “It will be nice to spend more time on scholarship and teaching, and at the same time remain invested in the future of the yeshiva.”
Rabbi Menachem Penner, currently Associate Dean of Operations at RIETS and Rabbi of Young Israel of Holliswood will take over as Dean of RIETS this coming academic year. President Joel expressed optimism for Rabbi Penner’s new role: “Rabbis Reiss and Penner will work together to effectuate a seamless transition.” Yosef Schick (YC ’15) told The Commentator, “[Rabbi Penner] seems like a very charismatic and warm guy. I’m sure that he will excel in his position.”