By: Rivka Bennun and Jonathan Levin  | 

Rabbi Penner Leaving as Dean of RIETS, Set to Join the RCA; Sources say Committee of Roshei Yeshiva to Govern RIETS

Rabbi Menachem Penner is leaving his position as Max and Marion Grill Dean of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), Yeshiva University announced in a YUNews blog post Thursday.

It is unclear who will replace Rabbi Penner, who is set to assume the role of executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA). According to people familiar with the discussions, RIETS will be governed by an advisory committee of senior roshei yeshiva, including Rabbis Hershel Schachter, Mordechai Willig, Michael Rosensweig, Mayer Twersky and Yaakov Neuberger. 

YU did not respond to a request for comment about such a committee, and YU’s announcement only mentioned that Director of Semikha Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz, Dean of Undergraduate Torah Studies (UTS) Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky and RIETS Director of Professional Rabbinics Rabbi Larry Rothwachs would continue to “oversee administrative needs in RIETS during this time of transition.” 

Rabbi Penner will continue to work for RIETS, serving as dean emeritus and director of strategic initiatives, according to YU’s announcement. YU did not respond to an immediate request for comment on when he will step down as dean or details about the transition period.

YU’s announcement, which came Thursday afternoon and was accompanied by a press release from the RCA, followed a large meeting with many roshei yeshiva with President Ari Berman.

Rabbi Penner spent less time on campus over the past few months. According to people familiar with the discussions, his departure was partially due to conflicting visions between him and Berman regarding the future of RIETS. Some university officials told The Commentator that Berman doesn’t see a need for a position of dean of RIETS. 

Rabbi Penner (YC ‘91, RIETS ‘94) began as dean of RIETS in 2013, succeeding Rabbi Yona Reiss. 

YU’s blog post announcing Rabbi Penner’s departure was congratulatory in nature, and mentioned his accomplishments at YU, including his work on rabbinic training programs and partnerships between RIETS and YU graduate schools.   

“Rabbi Penner has inspired and educated a generation of rabbis, guiding their vision and their leadership of our collective Jewish future,” Berman told YUNews. “We are proud that he has been tapped for his extraordinary talent and skill, and I know he will continue to be a force at YU and the world, sustaining and energizing Torah Judaism, and shaping our students and community through passion, commitment and vast knowledge.”

“Everything I have done at RIETS has prepared me for this new role, and it is my natural next stage,” Rabbi Penner told YUNews. “Having worked with so many wonderful young men training to serve in avodas ha-kodesh, it is an honor to now work with those serving the community professionally, and to tackle 21st century-challenges together as a rabbinic community.”

YU’s announcement also said that Rabbi Penner’s role in the RCA will “contribute to Yeshiva University’s reach and influence” by allowing him to use his role at RIETS and the RCA to continue to work with rabbis past their ordination. 

Rabbi Penner will replace Rabbi Mark Dratch at the RCA, who made aliya in July. At the RCA, Rabbi Penner will work with multiple Orthodox organizations, including RIETS, and will “promote the cause of Orthodox Judaism through its member rabbis, champion the rights and dignity of the Jewish people everywhere, and help strengthen the State of Israel,” according to the RCA’s press release.

Yeshiva University did not respond to The Commentator’s inquiries on Rabbi Penner’s departure, originally sent Tuesday, but told The Commentator they would send a statement. On Thursday afternoon, a YU spokesperson directed The Commentator to YU’s recently published blog post announcing Rabbi Penner’s departure.

Rabbi Penner did not respond to multiple inquiries from The Commentator regarding his departure.

In addition to his new roles, Rabbi Penner also serves as the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Holliswood in Queens, for which he was rabbi for 20 years. 

Sruli Friedman contributed to this story. 


Photo Caption: Rav Penner speaking during the 2021 Chag HaSemikhah Convocation

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University