By: Jacob Rosenfeld | Features  | 

A Conversation with Revel’s Dean Berger

In an email to Revel faculty and students on March 10, 2020, the Ruth & I. Lewis Gordon Professor of Jewish History and Dean of Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, Dr. David Berger, announced he would be retiring as dean and “return to the simple status of professor.”

This past Thursday I was lucky enough to have a chance to sit with Dean Berger and reflect on his time as the dean of Revel and what he sees for the school’s future.

Dean Berger began as the dean of Revel 12 years ago after a long and fruitful career at CUNY. In his 12 years on the job, Dean Berger oversaw the expansion of the doctoral program, which had just a handful of active students, to a point where there are currently six doctoral students finishing their doctorate in Jewish Studies from September 2019 through January 2021. Even now, this figure is much higher than the norm, but Dean Berger views it as a testament to the renewed vigor of the program and the effort to nurture its students. Over the past several years Revel has introduced mentoring for doctoral students which has been overseen by Dr. Daniel Rynhold, the incoming dean.

Dean Berger is enthusiastic about Revel’s future with Dr. Rynhold, the “obvious choice to take over,” and in a great position to move the school forward. His unique situation as being just senior enough to command the respect of the faculty and students and also being from the younger generation, allowing him to better relate to doctoral candidates, qualities that make him the perfect candidate for the position. Additionally, his scholarship, belief in the Jewish tradition and expertise in areas of student interest, namely the thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, make him a great leader for Revel. 

Dean Berger was also extremely grateful to the associate dean, Mordechai Cohen, who has worked extremely hard on many Revel projects, most notably the development of the admissions department. Dean Berger greatly appreciates Cohen’s enhancements to the program including the introduction of many outside lecturers, as well as the move of Revel’s quarters from an almost hidden location in Belfer Hall to its current suite and lounge in Furst Hall.

Revel has also introduced a new track in Ancient Jewish History, a joint Master’s program with the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration and has enhanced the faculty by recognizing younger professors who have reached the level of guiding doctoral students, most recently by the addition of Dr. Naomi Grunhaus of Stern College. This has been Revel’s main method of acquiring new professors.

Dean Berger did note that Revel has lost several professors recently. This includes those who have passed away, such as Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Elman zt”l and Dr. Arthur Hyman zt”l. In addition, Dr. Daniel Tsadik has moved to Israel with his family. Unfortunately, the school has not been able to replace these professors. Dean Berger hopes that over time the school will be able to further enhance its already top of their field faculty, exemplified at the senior level by Rabbi Dr. Ephraim Kanarfogel, Rabbi Dr. Elazar Hurvitz, Dr. Jeffrey Gurock and Dr. Steven Fine with even more professors. To do this Dean Berger hopes to see an overall improvement in the financial state of the university and continued support from the generous Katz family which has enabled so much of the school’s development. 

“Revel is the school that should attract fundraisers and strong enrollment,” Dean Berger said, “[It] is a unique and extraordinary institution.”

Photo Caption: Dr. David Berger will be retiring from his position of dean of Revel.
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University