Rabbi Dr. Bernard Rosensweig, Longtime YU Professor, Passes Away at 94
Rabbi Dr. Bernard (Berel) Rosensweig, a former professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University for 38 years, passed away on Thursday, March 25 at the age of 94.
Born on Oct. 26, 1926, Rabbi Rosensweig grew up in Toronto, Ontario. In his early years, he learned secular subjects at Clinton Street Public School and Harbord Collegiate in the mornings and Jewish studies at Yeshiva Torah Chaim in the afternoons under the tutelage of Rabbi Avraham Aharon Price, one of Toronto’s leading rabbis.
In 1944, when Rabbi Rosensweig was 17, he came to New York City to study at Yeshiva College (YC). “The idea of this combination of learning Torah and getting the kind of education that you want … overwhelmed me,” he later reflected. “It wasn’t easy for me to come. It was the Depression. We had no money. But I made it.”
At YC, Rabbi Rosensweig learned in the shiurim of Rabbi Moshe Shatzkes, the “Lomza Rav,” and Rabbi Dovid Lifshitz, the “Suvalker Rav,” after which he transferred to the shiur of Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “the Rav,” who was a primary mentor to Rabbi Rosensweig throughout his life. He graduated YC in 1947 and continued his studies at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) in the Rav’s shiur. Other students in the Rav’s shiur at the time included Rabbi Dr. Sol Roth, Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, Rabbi Binyamin Walfish and Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, the latter of whom was Rabbi Rosensweig’s roommate for three years.
Rabbi Rosensweig received semikha from the Rav in 1950, a master’s from the Bernard Revel Graduate School (BRGS) in 1967 and a doctorate from BRGS in 1970. He first served as rabbi of Bais Yehuda Synagogue and Congregation Shaarei Tefilah in Toronto and eventually, when he moved to Queens, as rabbi of Congregation Adath Yeshurun in Kew Gardens. He also served as vice president, financial secretary and eventually the president (1978-80) of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the largest Modern Orthodox rabbinical organization in North America.
Over the decades, Rabbi Rosensweig penned articles on various topics for Tradition — a journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought regularly published by the RCA — including “The Hermeneutic Principles and their Application,” “The Origins of Ashkenazic Jewry in Germany” and “The Thirteenth Tribe, The Khazars and the Origins of East European Jewry.” He also authored a book studying the transformation of Ashkenazic Jewry in the 15th century titled “Ashkenazic Jewry in Transition.”
After teaching at Queens College for a few years, Rabbi Rosensweig taught classical, medieval and modern Jewish History at YC, the James Striar School and the Isaac Breuer College from 1976 to 2014. He also helped create and administer the Jewish History AP exam for high school students. Then-YU President Norman Lamm conferred an honorary doctorate on Rabbi Rosensweig in 1994 at YU’s 63rd commencement ceremony.
In honor of Rabbi Rosensweig’s retirement in December 2014, YU held a tribute for him, attended by around 100 friends, relatives and colleagues. “I love teaching Jewish History to the boys in Yeshiva College,” Rabbi Rosensweig reflected. “I feel very much a part of what I teach, no matter what level or what time period.”
At the tribute, Rabbi Bernard Rosensweig’s son, Rabbi Dr. Michael Rosensweig — a rosh yeshiva at RIETS and rosh kollel of the Beren Kollel Elyon — stated that his father was “able to be part of the beis medrash” while being able to “take that passion and those values” and “translate them as a professor in the college and elsewhere.” He added, “I can’t recall a single self-conscious moment when he’s had any difficulty with any of these hats. That’s an amazing legacy.”
“Rabbi Dr. Bernard Rosensweig not only taught Jewish history, he lived Jewish history. His outstanding work as a rabbi, educator, scholar and communal leader profoundly impacted generations of students and our community as a whole,” President Ari Berman told The Commentator. “As a devoted student of the Rav, he exemplified the core values of our community and leaves behind a family and legacy that continues to inspire.”
Rabbi Rosensweig’s wife of 61 years, Miriam Rosenberg-Rosensweig, passed away in December 2010. They are survived by their five children, Marilyn Amar, Josh Rosensweig, Judah Rosensweig, Rabbi Michael Rosensweig and Sharon Gottlieb, in addition to many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was buried in the RCA section of the Eretz HaChaim Cemetery in Israel on Friday, March 26.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article stated that Rabbi Rosensweig passed away at age 95. He was 94. The article has been updated.
Photo Caption: Rabbi Rosensweig spoke at a tribute held in his honor in 2014.
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University