Yeshiva University Establishes Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought; Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik Appointed Director

Yeshiva University President Richard M. Joel announced the creation of the new Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought. The center’s mission is to develop a cadre of Jewish thinkers well-versed in the great moral, philosophical and theological questions of our age while disseminating genuinely Jewish ideas to the world.

Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik

Rabbi Dr. Meir Y. Soloveichik will serve as director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought.

The center will carry the name of Zahava and Moshael Straus in honor of their gift for its establishment and endowment. Mr. Straus, an investment executive, is a member of the Yeshiva University Board of Trustees and a graduate of Yeshiva College. Mrs. Straus is a graduate of YU’s Cardozo School of Law.

President Joel announced also the appointment of noted theologian Rabbi Dr. Meir Y. Soloveichik as director of the Straus Center. Rabbi Soloveichik, the associate rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York, is a graduate of Yeshiva College who received semicha [rabbinical ordination] from YU’s affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). He also was a Fellow in the Beren Kollel Elyon, the seminary’s highly select advanced ordination program, and earned a doctorate in religion from Princeton University.

The motivation for the gift and the establishment of the center came about because “I was looking for something that could be a game-changer,” Mr. Straus explained. “In Modern Orthodoxy, we talk about how the world impacts on our Orthodoxy. We don’t always talk about how our Torah impacts on the modern world. I envision that this center will create a two-way street, by developing Modern Orthodox Jewish thinkers, scholars who think big thoughts and go beyond the theoretical to bring their ideas for the benefit of the larger Jewish community and society.”

“Moshael Straus is a wonderful partner in the leadership of Yeshiva,” said President Joel. “As an extremely devoted and engaged trustee, he, along with his wife, Zahava, shares a vision of the Jewish future that is one with that of Yeshiva University. The Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought is a gift not only to YU, but to all of humanity.”

At the Straus Center, select undergraduates from Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women, as well as select rabbinical students at RIETS, will engage in courses that bridge a variety of disciplines and expose the students to both halachic [Jewish law] and Western schools of thought. There will be fellowships, advanced tutorials and independent study courses, mentoring, summer seminars and travel abroad that will afford students unique opportunities to interact with leading thinkers and teachers from both the United States and Israel.

“Yeshiva University stands in a unique place,” said Rabbi Soloveichik. “Its students are the future of Jewish ideas. It is only YU that promotes a profound commitment to the study of Torah and yet also engagement with the best of Western thought. The Straus Center will build upon this unprecedented foundation by bridging an immersion in Torah study with formative academic experiences, thereby cultivating men and women who embody both Torah excellence and academic excellence. In so doing, the center will seek to further Yeshiva’s mission of Torah Umadda and the University’s critical role in the future of the American Jewish community.”

In addition to his pulpit responsibilities, Rabbi Soloveichik teaches at the Ramaz School, where he leads the senior honors Talmud shiur [lecture]. He also lectures throughout the U.S., Europe and Israel to both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences on topics relating to Jewish theology, bioethics and Jewish-Christian relations. His essays, which have been published in Commentary, First Things, Azure and Tradition, among other publications, address subjects central to the Jewish faith, including the theological meaning of chosenness, kashrut and Torah study. He is the grandson of the late renowned scholar and rosh yeshiva [professor of Talmud] Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik and the grand nephew of The Rav, the late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik.

While its primary focus will be serving students, the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought will also serve to enhance YU’s role as “an intellectual catalyst and beacon for all Jews,” Rabbi Soloveichik explained. To this end, the center will host, throughout the academic year, public forums at the University’s various campuses that address great human questions that have engaged Jewish and non-Jewish thinkers. Visiting faculty will be invited to participate in these events and to teach in the student courses. In the first year, many of the center’s programs, as well as much of the student coursework, will relate to the theme “Biblical Ideas and American Democracy.”

Moreover, the center will stage a series of one-day learning events in Jewish communities throughout the U.S., Europe and Israel. These symposia and lectures will promote ideas-focused conversations about Jewish life and the Jewish future across the generations.

“Ultimately, the goal of the Straus Center is not just to deepen our understanding of Judaism,” Rabbi Soloveichik said, “but also to help us understand how Jewish ideas have, and can continue to, profoundly impact the world.”