Editor’s Note: On the Age of The Commentator
The Commentator has deemed it prudent to update its volume number from 82 to 83.
Recently, when poring over old Commentator archives, I was perplexed to find that the newspaper was founded on March 1st, 1935. The first governing board, led by Moses I. Feuerstein, published several issues during the Spring 1935 semester. The same governing board stayed with the paper the next academic year, publishing successfully throughout the Fall 1935 and Spring 1936 semesters. This first full year of The Commentator was 82 years ago, which means that the newspaper is currently in its 83rd year of publication. This raises the question: Why is the newspaper only up to volume 82?
Attempting to sort out this mystery, I carefully went through old archives dating back to 1935. I found that for most of The Commentator’s history, each academic year featured two volumes. Thus, the newspaper in Spring 1935 was volume one, in Fall 1935 volume two, in Spring 1936 volume three, and so on. This pattern of declaring two volumes every academic year persisted through the end of the 1982-83 academic year. The latter, keeping to the original count, covered volumes 96 and 97 of The Commentator.
The following year, for the first time in Commentator history, the newspaper kept one volume number for an entire academic year. Volume 98 spanned not only the fall 1983 semester, but also the spring 1984 semester. This pattern lasted for four years. From the beginning of fall 1983 through the end of spring 1987, The Commentator produced volumes 98, 99, 100, and 101.
Suddenly, in the first issue of the 1987-88 academic year, The Commentator became volume 52. This number was used for that entire year, and every subsequent governing board of the newspaper has kept to the count. It is for this reason that, 30 years later, The Commentator finds itself in volume 82.
No articles in the vicinity of the September 1987 numbering update write about the volume or age of the newspaper. I therefore deduced that the governing board at the time attempted to recalibrate The Commentator’s volume based on the newspaper’s age, and that, quite simply, they miscounted. It also seemed probable that the 1987 governing board was mistaken about when the newspaper was founded. Until recently, Commentator archives were available only on microfilm or in the library’s private archives collection. It is possible that the editors at the time possessed incorrect information regarding when the paper was founded.
I figured that old editors might recall the thought process that went into the volume recalibration. To this end, I reached out to Lance Hirt, Jonathan Katzauer, and Behnam Dayanim, who were Commentator editors-in-chief in 1986-87, 1987-88, and 1988-89, respectively. While all three expressed interest in the topic and shared fond memories of their times on the paper, none of them recalled relevant information that might clarify the volume mystery. “I will admit that I do not recall who made the decision to change or why,” wrote Hirt. “I bet they meant to move to the annual count and just missed by a year.” Katzauer similarly figured, “There will have been a reason for the change, but it will be lost in the mist of time. It was something I agreed with the EICs of the previous year … It’s quite possible that we made a mistake on the volume numbering.” Dayanim as well did not recall why the change was made.
I also contacted Rabbi Dr. Zev Eleff, who was editor-in-chief of The Commentator in 2007-08 and has spent time researching Commentator archives for his books and articles. He told me, “You are absolutely correct on the problem … I presume someone halved [the volume number] incorrectly but was intending to make clear the number of years since the founding.”
Based on the evidence, the current governing board of The Commentator has decided to declare itself volume 83 for the remainder of the 2017-18 academic year. We invite anyone in the broader Yeshiva University community who has more information on the subject to reach out and share with us.