ORTHODOXY AWAKENS: The Belkin Era and Yeshiva University
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by Victor B. Geller
Hardcover, 291 pages
includes 60 b/w images
Orthodoxy Awakens: The Belkin Era and Yeshiva University tells the story of the emergence of Torah Judaism in the United States and Canada between the years 1940 and 1975. It was during this period of time that Jewish religious life and education succeeded in a modern, pluralistic and democratic society for the first time in history. Much of the Torah practice and scholarship that typifies American Jewry today stands as a tribute to Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin, a singularly gifted man, and to the university he helped create.
A young, poor immigrant, Belkin grasped the opportunity of an open, benevolent American society to renew the Jewish community’s ability to combine its eternal teachings with the contemporary virtues of the adopted land which he deeply loved.
This book also discusses the rebirth of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, an important agency of Torah life, and describes the priceless legacy of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the preeminent Torah giant of this exciting period.
About the Author
During a professional career that extended over four decades, Victor Geller played a significant role in the development of the Orthodox Jewish community of North America.
Prior to his retirement as Dean of Communal Services at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) of Yeshiva University, he occupied a series of important roles at Y.U., including the organization of many Orthodox synagogues in the post-war era. Most remarkably, perhaps, was his position as Director of Rabbinic Placement at RIETS. In this unique capacity, Mr. Geller was the only layman in America to ever supervise rabbinic placement.
Prior to joining the Y.U. staff, Mr. Geller also served on the staffs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations and the National Council of Young Israel.
From Halifax to Vancouver, from Los Angeles to Miami, Mr. Geller’s travels afforded him the opportunity to study Jewish communities, large and small. A gifted speaker, he has lectured and written extensively about the ever-changing trends in Jewish life. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Legacy (HarperCollins), Tradition, Judaism, Jewish Life, Jewish Action, Jewish Horizon, and Jewish Spectator.
A decorated veteran of World War II, Mr. Geller and his wife, Hanya, made aliyah in 1999, and live in Jerusalem.
Praise for Orthodoxy Awakens:
Dramatic, gripping and perceptive, Orthodoxy Awakens: The Belkin Era and Yeshiva University is a fascinating and provocative look at a crucial period in American Jewish history. Victor Geller was an active participant in much of this history and personally knew its leading figures, which adds to the impact of this book. For anyone who wants to know about the amazing growth of Jewish life in America, and of the influence that individuals can have upon history, this is a “must-read.”
-Rabbi Emanuel Feldman
Retired Editor of Tradition and Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Beth Jacob, Atlanta, Georgia
Great, witty and thoroughly Jewish. This is one of those books that you will not put aside until you complete it.
-Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo
Noted author and lecturer and Dean of the David Cardozo Academy, Jerusalem
Victor B. Geller was both an active participant and keen observer during the formative years of the renaissance of Orthodox Judaism on the American scene. His memoirs are filled with valuable insights and details of unique events during this period. Above all, Geller brings to life the saga of Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin, the second president of Yeshiva University. This is a volume that will be welcomed by scholars and devotees of the greater Yeshiva University world.
-Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet
Historian and author of Bernard Revel and The Silver Era and Professor of Rabbinic Literature, Gruss Kollel, Yeshiva University (Israel)
Victor Geller is the Alexis de Tocqueville of the Orthodox world. He writes with elegance, charm and wit, and is gifted with a perspicacious eye and a discerning intellect. Orthodoxy Awakens: The Belkin Era and Yeshiva University not only documents the fascinating story of the growth of the preeminent Jewish institution in America from a college to a university, it also—and even more importantly—insightfully describes the emergence of the Golden Age of the Orthodox Rabbinate, presenting through fact and anecdote how and why Orthodoxy emerged from irrelevance and obscurantism to its present place as a major force in American Jewry. Along the way we are treated to inside glimpses of the genesis of both the Union of Orthodox Congregations as well as the Young Israel movement.
Victor Geller is the right person to document this extraordinary story: he was in a position to have made much of it happen, and he served as a wise and caring guide and mentor for many of the fledgling congregations and their inexperienced, unseasoned, but profoundly committed rabbis. I can personally attest to this since he was one of my wisest tutors.
-Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
Chief Rabbi of Efrat and Chancellor and Dean of Ohr Torah Stone Colleges and Graduate Programs
The life and achievements of the great Torah scholar, Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin, should be well known to the Jewish community. He built Yeshiva University into a magnificent institution of Torah U’Madda. The Yeshiva and its Torah studies remained the major focus of the University when he was its Rosh HaYeshiva. I am happy, therefore, to welcome the publication of Orthodoxy Awakens: The Belkin Era and Yeshiva University. It is interesting, insightful and very informative, for Victor Geller was intimately associated with this great and fruitful era and its colorful personalities during his many years of service at the University. It should be read by all who seek to understand the forces that made American Orthodoxy the dynamic movement it is in Jewish life today.
-Rabbi Solomon J. Sharfman
Past President of the Rabbinical Council of America and Rabbi Emeritus of Young Israel
Orthodoxy's unexpected vitality
HOW MODERN ORTHODOXY CAME TO LIFE
I found this to be a fascinating book for two reasons. The first is the macro story that it tells; the second is the micro story that it tells.
The macro story is the rise of Yeshiva University from a struggling European style yeshiva to a major educational institution with a medical school, a law school, and thousands of students, and the rise of Orthodoxy from a movement that was expected to die off with the immigrant generation into what has become a vital and vibrant force within Jewish life.
The micro story is the behind the scenes glimpse that this book provides into the personalities and the politics behind these transformations.
Victor Geller is uniquely qualified to tell both these stories because he was deeply involved in both the Yeshiva University and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations for many years and because he obviously loves a good story and knows how to tell it well.
The macro story is largely the story of Samuel Belkin, who molded Yeshiva University in his image. He was an Eastern European Jew, who studied in the yeshivas of Europe, but who understood that America was different and that it represented opportunity as well as threat to traditional Judaism. He got a doctorate from Brown, and did his dissertation on Philo and the Halacha, something that no yeshiva bochur of his time would have dreamed of doing. But the macro story is also the story of NCSY, the Orthodox youth group, which attracted young people to traditional Judaism. And it is the story of the U, the Kashrut symbol of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, which not only was a major source of income, but which gave status and standards to the supervision of kosher food in this country. And it is the story of the creation of a placement agency for rabbis—something unheard of until this time—which helped Orthodoxy participate in the explosion of new synagogues that took place in suburbia when the soldiers came home after World War Two. And it is the story of Torah Umesorah which created Orthodox day schools all over America in those years. And it is the story of a new breed of bright, talented and effective Orthodox rabbis, people like Emanuel Rackman, Gilbert Klapperman, Yits Greenberg, and Shlomo Riskin, who showed by their own example that one could be sophisticated Americans and committed Orthodox Jews. And it is the story of a movement whose challenge during the first post war years was dealing with unobservant members and competing with Conservative Judaism. For example, how do you send rabbis to synagogues that have mixed seating and how do you hold on to these synagogues for the movement if you don’t?
Towards the end of this book, the challenge changes. Now the challenge is from the right, not the left. Now the question is: how does an Orthodox rabbi function when his learned and observant members turn to their roshei yeshivas for halachic guidance and not to him? How do the day schools function when their teachers come predominantly from the yeshivas of the far right? How does Yeshiva University survive when its motto: ‘Torah Umada”—Torah and Secular Learning is being challenged from within? What does it do now when some of its alumni find their own children no longer seeing the need to go to college and want to study only Torah instead? And what will happen in the years ahead when Modern Orthodoxy begins to sound like an oxymoron because of the move to the right that is taking place? Victor Geller’s book is not just a hymn of praise to the leaders of Yeshiva and the Union, as might be expected from one who was involved in public relations and institution building for both. Instead, it is a thoughtful and honest account of the amazing rise of Modern Orthodoxy in this last half century and then of the new and unexpected challenges that it now faces.
That is the macro story that Victor Geller tells in this book. The micro story is his account of the behind the scene politics that the Yeshiva and the Union, like all human institutions, had its full share of. He tells, for example, of how Rabbi Joseph Lookstein, who was himself a candidate for the presidency of Yeshiva, threw his support to Dr. Belkin, because he thought that he could control him and be the power behind the scenes, and then found out that Dr. Belkin was not the meek scholar that he seemed but a powerful authority who insisted on running the institution his way and would be no man’s lackey.
There is one story in this book that the reader will find astonishing. For almost all of his years at the Yeshiva and even after his death, Rabbi Soloveitchik has been revered as the shining star of Modern Orthodoxy. He was the model of enormous Torah learning combined with western education. He was the one who made it possible for others to acquire secular educations while remaining authentic Orthodox Jews. He gave Yeshiva University its credibility on the right, and its stature on the left. And yet, Victor Geller has unearthed a letter in which the board of trustees of the Yeshiva offered him a contract covering only one year, and this, only on condition that he drop all claims of Hazakah, of entitlement to the position which had been his father’s. To the surprise of many—and to the great good fortune of the Yeshiva—Rabbi Soloveitchik accepted this demeaning contract. As Victor Geller puts it: ‘despite itself, the institution won its greatest victory’.
Victor Geller also includes a letter that Dr. Soloveitchik wrote to the Yeshiva in 1937 in which he reminded the institution that the sum of one hundred and twenty five dollars that was due him in back pay was long overdue, and he includes the answer that he got from Moses Isaacs, the assistant to the President, admitting that because of financial difficulties, the payment of salaries was in arrears, and promising to pay him at the rate of five dollars per month for six months. Rabbi Soloveitchik had waited for two years before writing his letter; it took the Yeshiva nineteen months to reply, and in the end, they only paid him twenty four cents on the dollar! Those were the fiscal realities of the institution during the Depression. And these are the kinds of fascinating human interest stories that Victor Geller has gathered together in this book.
Has Modern Orthodoxy gone from its tender beginnings to enormous success and is it now on the way down again—this time, not because of the attractiveness of the left but because of the success of the right? It is too soon to say, but the difficulties that the Yeshiva encountered in finding a successor to Dr. Belkin’s successor, Dr. Norman Lamm, who would combine Talmudic learning with secular knowledge, indicates that it may be so. We may have arrived at the situation that Rabhi Soloveitchik lamented about years ago when he said: My problem is that those that I can daven with I can’t talk to, and those that I can talk to, I can’t daven with.
But let me finish this review with a story that I think symbolizes and explains what brought about the success of Orthodoxy and what still gives it its staying power.
Victor Geller says that one year, in a certain city, a hurricane was predicted for Kol Nidre night. The local Reform rabbi called the local Orthodox rabbi and said to him: “I know that you do not belong to the board of rabbis and that you do not usually share with us in programs. But this is an emergency. We are announcing that because of the impending hurricane, we are postponing Yom Kippur till the following Saturday, and we would like you to join us in our statement.” The Orthodox rabbi replied that he would do whatever he could to respond to this emergency but that he did not feel that he was authorized to postpone or cancel a holy day. And then he issued his own statement to his members. He asked them to come to services at the synagogue on Kol Nidre night---and to bring their bedding with them so that they could stay overnight on the synagogue floor. The congregation did as he asked, and they were the only synagogue in town that had Kol Nidre services that night.
That story speaks to me, and I hope that it speaks to you. I think it explains the unexpected, unpredicted vibrancy of Orthodoxy in these last fifty years. This rabbi was right: a holy day cannot simply be cancelled because of bad weather.. But a brave and innovative rabbi can find solutions to a problem, within the Law, and make it possible for his people to observe in safety and with sense.
Somehow this story, it seems to me, contains the explanation for the success of Orthodoxy in this last half century, because it describes a rabbi’s unyielding commitment to the Law combined with good sense, imagination, and a willingness to be innovative. That spirit, if it continues, and if it is not deterred by the pressures that come from both the right and the left, may enable Modern Orthodoxy to continue to live into the future. At least we hope so.
-Rabbi Jack Riemer
The author describes the emergence of Torah Judaism in the US and Canada, 1940-75, when Jewish religious life and education succeeded for the first time in a pluralistic and democratic society. Central to that period was Dr. Samuel Belkin, YU's second president. Much of the Torah practice and scholarship that typifies American Jewry today stands as a tribute to him and to the university he helped create.
This well written, informative, and provocative book is an important contribution to Orthodox Jewish American history between 1940 and 1975. It gives the story of the expansion and development of Yeshiva University under the leadership of Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin (zts"l).
Geller is a keen observer of the politics and growth of Yeshiva University. The reader is given many inside glimpses, including the development of the Union of Orthodox Congregations, the Young Israel movement, the emergence of Orthodoxy in American Jewish life, the establishment of the place of Jewish Orthodox women's education at Stern College (founded in 1954), and more. Geller also describes the priceless legacy at Yeshiva University of its sovereign halachic and intellectual teacher, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik (zts"l), the glorious Torah giant of this exciting period. Among the many questions raised in this book Geller considers the dangers of Americanization of traditional Talmud study and the proper balance between acculturation and assimilation into American society while maintaining traditional Jewish values.
Prior to Geller's retirement as Dean of Communal Services at RIETS of Yeshiva University, he occupied a series of roles at Yeshiva, including the organization of many Orthodox synagogues in the post-war era. He served as Director of rabbinic placement at RIETS and on the staffs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations and the National Council of Young Israel.
This book is recommended for libraries with American history and American Jewish history collections, and libraries with patrons interested in better understanding the forces that make American Orthodoxy a dynamic movement. It will be welcomed by scholars, laymen, and devotees of the greater Yeshiva University world.
-David B. Levy, Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter
Does Modern Orthodoxy Have a Future?
Orthodoxy Awakens: The Belkin Era and Yeshiva University
By Victor B. Geller
Urim Publications, 295 pages, $26.95.
An American Orthodox Dreamer: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Boston's Maimonides School
By Seth Farber
Brandeis University Press, 228 pages, $34.95.
Even in the midst of unprecedented growth of its institutions, Modern Orthodoxy is facing an intellectual crisis of confidence. On its right, modern practice is rapidly losing its religious authority to the encroaching dominance of the haredim; on its left, it is losing its worldly authority to other forms of Judaism that are more willing and able to adapt to contemporary life. The developments of the last few decades beg the question: Does Modern Orthodoxy have a future?
Two new books turn to the past in search of a suitable blueprint for modern Orthodoxy's future. Victor B. Geller's "Orthodoxy Awakens: The Belkin Era and Yeshiva University" and Seth Farber's "An American Orthodox Dreamer: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Boston's Maimonides School" return to the era immediately preceding and following the second World War, the time of Modern Orthodoxy's surge to prominence in the United States. Both books are a reflection of Modern Orthodoxy's current need to justify its existence and to solidify its place in 20th century Jewish history.
"Orthodoxy Awakens" is ostensibly a biography of Rabbi Samuel Belkin, the second president of Yeshiva University, whose tenure witnessed the remarkable flowering of YU into one of the key institutions of Modern Orthodoxy. The most compelling sections concern his work with young pulpit rabbis in the 1940s and 1950s. Having trained rabbinical students in the complexities of the Talmud and law, YU sent out its graduates to face something not found in any religious text: the messiness of reality. Geller, who served as one of YU's liaisons to its graduating rabbis, devotes segments in a number of chapters to stories of the young rabbis' struggles. What comes through is the immense struggle of the well-meaning representatives of Modern Orthodoxy to communicate their message to their congregants. Rabbis and communal leaders during the years often worked with congregations that were nominally Orthodox but whose actual practice left something to be desired in the rabbis' eyes. That these congregations knew little and were only glancingly involved in Jewish life compelled the rabbis to flexibility and ingenuity. Rabbis took over congregations whose religious practice was distinctly un-Orthodox, instituted CB radio systems to summon congregants to a daily minyan and taught fencing as a means of connecting with their younger constituents.
This lack of ease may have been a blessing in disguise. Working in a world that did not place religious life at the center of all existence, Modern Orthodox Jews were required to find ways to make their ideas compelling to others, to usher outsiders into the fold. Balancing two separate and equal ideals, communal leaders had to offer the right equilibrium in order to appeal to the unlearned or disaffected Jews of their communities.
Perhaps this is why the movement always has placed such great emphasis on education, and educational institutions; since Modern Orthodox Judaism is about the collision of tradition and modernity, quality results were deemed only possible through stirring the educational pot just right. Schools are at the heart of Modern Orthodoxy -- and of these two books -- because being a Modern Orthodox Jew is defined by a joint inculcation into two distinctly separate worlds, and the amount of exposure to each determines one's place along the political-religious spectrum.
Playing a starring role in both books is Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the pre-eminent figure of 20th century Modern Orthodox Judaism, and both seem focused on the reclaiming of Soloveitchik from co-optation by the ultra-Orthodox. In the years since the Rav's death in 1993, his legacy has been bitterly fought over by modern and haredi thinkers, both boasting the Rav for their own. "An American Orthodox Dreamer," in particular, is an attempt to strike a blow for the modern side.
Focusing on Soloveitchik's role in the creation of the Maimonides School, a groundbreaking Modern Orthodox institution in Boston,
Farber highlights his commitment to the ideals of Modern Orthodoxy. Coeducational, equally emphasizing the importance of a top-flight secular education and a thorough understanding of Jewish history, law and thought, Maimonides was seen by some as one of the most successful expressions of Modern Orthodoxy's American dream.
Among its main innovations was its emphasis on gender equality in education. Female students were taught Talmud along with their male counterparts -- not shunted off to separate, unequal classes in homemaking or domestic religious law, as they were in most other institutions of Jewish learning. One of the many contentious issues surrounding Rabbi Soloveitchik's life is the question of how wholeheartedly he supported the notion of coeducation. Was it merely a necessity in that time and place, when no quality schools for girls existed in Boston? Or was coeducation kosher enough for Modern Orthodoxy in perpetuity? Unsurprisingly, Farber comes down with the latter proponents, arguing that Maimonides was Soloveitchik's dream come to fruition; at the heart of "An American Orthodox Dreamer" is the sense that Maimonides is a city on a hill, a shining beacon of Modern Orthodoxy at its glorious best.
It is a verdict shared by Geller in his assessment of Yeshiva University. Both authors argue, in between-the-lines assessments, that Modern Orthodoxy is akin to a lab experiment -- one that works at its best in the closed conditions of the educational institution, and is then inherently compromised by exposure to the world. This attitude accounts for much of the rightward deviation of Orthodox practice in recent years, emulating the haredim in their attempt to turn the world into their own protected enclave, never reaching an exit point at which the exterior world must be confronted.
Contemporary Modern Orthodoxy has grown unduly fixated on ensuring an appropriately lofty level of religiosity, while neglecting the other half of the equation — really and truly engaging with daily, secular life. In the absence of a Modern Orthodoxy that aspires to be both modern and Orthodox, it is difficult to imagine a future in which the two aspects of that fragile equation do not split into their constituent parts.
-Saul Austerlitz, Forward
The Talmudic sages inform us that the deceased are forgotten by future generations, and that this fate befalls even great rabbis and personalities. Such is the case with the subject of the volume under review, Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin, the second president of Yeshiva College, which is now known as Yeshiva University (YU). Although Dr. Belkin accomplished much during his tenure as president, his reputation and record have been overshadowed by both his predecessor, Rabbi Dr. Bernard (Dov) Revel, and by his successor, Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm.
In addition, Dr. Belkin had the “misfortune” to serve as president while his colleague, as the de facto spiritual head and rosh hayeshivah, was the larger-than-life figure of the gaon, Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the founding father of Modern Orthodoxy in North America. The Rav’s authority and aura always overshadowed that of Dr. Belkin. When reflecting on YU and on Modern Orthodoxy in the second half of the twentieth century, most think of the Rav rather than of Dr. Belkin. Thus, this volume comes to fill an important lacuna in the study of Modern Orthodoxy and YU - the life and times of Dr. Belkin. The author of this well-researched monograph, Victor Geller served in many important executive positions on the staffs of YU, the Orthodox Union and the National Council of Young Israel. As such, he played a crucial role in building the vibrant and strong Modern Orthodoxy that emerged in the 1970s. Geller was a close associate of Dr. Belkin and was able not only to observe him up close, but also to intimately participate in his activities on behalf of the Orthodox community in the United States.
As a trained and veteran Jewish communal professional, Geller offers his learned and sagacious insights into events and situations involving Dr. Belkin’s work in building American Modern Orthodoxy after World War II. Geller’s observations, recollections and discussions make for interesting and highly rewarding reading. Geller offers the reader a host of recollections about the makers and shakers of Modern Orthodoxy that are not well known. Amongst these are his efforts on behalf of Dr. Belkin to have LIFE magazine, during the Eisenhower years, include an article about Orthodox Jewish life in a special issue on religion in America. Although the task seemed fairly easy at first, it took the steady hand of Geller, with Dr. Belkin’s guidance, to bring this project to fruition. The article, along with accompanying photographs, was able to demonstrate that Orthodoxy in America was not relegated to the dying immigrant community, but that tens of thousands of otherwise acculturated American families lived their daily lives guided by the values and guidelines of traditional Judaism. Projects such as this brought Judaism “to the streets” and showed the eternal values inherent in Orthodox Judaism.
Geller also offers a fascinating account of the history of the first Orthodox synagogue in Great Neck, New York. Here Geller played the role of catalyst, providing learned advice to a small group of laymen seeking to break away from a Conservative congregation. The leader of this group was none other than the famed author Herman Wouk. We now take it for granted that many suburban communities and areas of second and third settlements have Orthodox synagogues and communities. But that such congregations exist is largely due to the dedication of men like Geller, Dr. Belkin and Wouk. In fact, Geller’s description of Wouk’s struggle in Great Neck is evocative of the midnineteenth- were rough times for Orthodox Jewry.
Conservative Judaism (claiming to be loyal to halachah) was on the rise, and the American congregational scene was marked by constant strife over such issues as mechitzah and driving to services on Shabbat. Orthodoxy was on the defensive in those years. Yet with the help of men like Geller, Dr. Belkin and YU succeeded in helping to create a strong American Orthodoxy. This was accomplished through outreach efforts to congregations and the training of young English-speaking, college-educated rabbis who were able to meet the needs of the new post-War American community. Among those rabbis were men such as the late Rabbi David Stavsky of Columbus, Ohio, who traveled to various communities and succeeded in generating interest in traditional Judaism.
Geller also provides the reader with much interesting information about the history of YU. Among the subjects he touches on are Dr. Belkin’s attempt to bring the late gaon Rabbi Eliezer M. Shach to YU as a senior rosh yeshivah of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). (Geller, however, does not mention Dr. Belkin’s invitation to the late Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky to join RIETS in a similar capacity.) He also discusses the fact that the Rav gave serious thought to leaving YU to become head of the Hebrew Theological College in Chicago. Had he accepted the position, Chicago would probably not be the “second city” as far as American Orthodoxy was concerned. In fact, years later the Rav’s younger brother, the gaon Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik, did accept the position. Ultimately, he created his own yeshivah in Skokie, Illinois, Yeshivas Brisk of Chicago. Yet, the book’s most important contribution is intensive course of Jewish studies to those who were not yet Orthodox. It was a model for various other schools created in the United States and in Israel in the wake of the Six-Day War.
Thousands have since graduated from this school, including more than a few prominent rabbis and scholars. But above all, Dr. Belkin never forgot his roots as a yeshivah “man” from Radin. He never forgot his days as a rosh mesifta (lecturer in Talmud) in the Yeshiva of New Haven, under the leadership of the chief rabbi of New Haven, Rabbi Yehuda Levenberg, nor did he forget his service as a rosh yeshivah at RIETS, under Dr. Revel and the gaon Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik.
Although at times he had policy differences with the Rav, Dr. Belkin always deferred to him. Dr. Belkin treated the Rav with the greatest respect, and their relationship was a model of how executive and spiritual leadership can work in harmony. Dr. Belkin was directly responsible for the hiring of such European scholars as Rabbis David Lifshitz, Avigdor Cyperstein, Shimon Romm (a friend from his days at the yeshivah in Slonim), Yeruchem Gorelik (a top student of the Brisker Rav, Reb Velvele) and other staff members at RIETS. Although not mentioned by Geller, in the late fifties, Dr. Belkin established a kollel for European scholars at YU. But Dr. Belkin also helped to develop American-born scholars to eventually take their places in the leadership ranks at YU. Thus, Dr. Belkin was extremely dedicated to the well-being and growth of RIETS. Without the foresight and executive talent of Dr. Belkin, American Orthodoxy would have a different look today. While the Rav was the developer of the soul of American Orthodoxy, Dr. Belkin was the developer of the body of American Women. As such, Dr. Belkin’s actions were as revolutionary as the creation of the Beth Jacob schools for women was in Eastern Europe after World War I.
Not only did Dr. Belkin bring about the creation of a cadre of educated Orthodox Jewish women in America, but these same women were responsible for raising halachic standards in the Modern Orthodox community in many areas of Jewish life in which women played a central role. For this alone, Dr. Belkin deserves the collective thanks of American Jewry.
Dr. Belkin was a firm proponent of the Torah Umadda school of Jewish theology. As such, he was committed to the creation of professional schools of higher Jewish education, and to the training of professional laymen dedicated to the ideals of Torah Umadda.
Dr. Belkin not only did much to ensure the vitality of RIETS, which trained rabbis and educators, but he established professional schools under the auspices of YU, such as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. These schools have produced thousands of men and women whose daily lives serve as a study in Kiddush Dr. Belkin's reputation and record have been overshadowed by both his predecessor and his successor.
Dr. Belkin treated the Rav with the greatest respect, and their relationship was a model of how executive and spiritual leadership can work in harmony.
As with all books of this sort, there are some omissions. I would have been interested in learning more about Dr. Belkin’s halachic outlook and about his relationship with the European roshei yeshivah at the other American yeshivot. His roles as rosh yeshivah and lamdan (Talmudic scholar) need explication too. Contrary to the doomsayers, Modern Orthodoxy is growing; it is proud of its past and confident of its future. Hopefully, this fine volume will bring Dr. Belkin’s work to the attention of the wider American Jewish community, and his personality and record will be recognized by a wider range of people. It is my wish that Geller’s work will inspire others to record and document their experiences in creating a vibrant and dedicated Orthodox Jewish life in America.