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New Hires, Programs Bolster Yeshiva University Men’s Undergraduate Torah Studies

In a continued effort to strengthen Yeshiva University’s Undergraduate Torah Studies Programs, a group of new administrators, faculty members, rabbis and mashgichim [spiritual advisers] have been hired to deliver shiurim [lectures], teach Judaic studies classes and forge connections with students that go beyond the classroom.

Torah Studies2“These past five years have seen an unprecedented period of growth in the Undergraduate Torah Studies Programs,” said President Richard M. Joel.  “There has been an enhanced atmosphere of high-level Torah learning, structure, discipline, warmth and individual student attention, coupled with new learning programs and educational formats.”

Changes are being implemented in the organization of the four morning programs: Yeshiva Progam/Mazer School of Talmudic Studies (MYP), Irving I. Stone Beit Midrash Program (SBMP), Isaac Breuer College of Hebraic Studies (IBC) and the James Striar School (JSS). The programs are now consolidated under the official umbrella of undergraduate Torah studies, while administrators are maximizing their current resources to best meet the needs of the 1,100 students enrolled.

“We have many different talmidim [students] with a lot of individual needs, and we want to provide more options for students in all four programs,” said Rabbi Menachem Penner, acting dean of YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). “We are trying to look at the religious personalities of the students and see how the curriculum caters to their interests. We are tweaking what we already have in place and trying to accommodate all students on all fronts—academically, spiritually and emotionally.”

The programs are undergoing structural administrative changes as well.

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Rabbi Menachem Penner, acting dean of RIETS

“Our goal is to support, nurture and maximize the potential of each of our students,” said Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky, who is now the associate dean for undergraduate Torah studies. Rabbi Daniel Rapp will assume the role of associate dean of students for undergraduate Torah studies, working with individual students to maximize their Torah experience at YU. Rabbi Elisha Bacon will serve as assistant dean for undergraduate Torah studies, while continuing his role as mashgiach.

Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, rabbi of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, NY, has joined the Yeshiva faculty, and will work with the other mashgichim to inspire students through shiurim and various learning opportunities. He will also give lectures and be available to meet with students one-on-one.

“We are trying to do as much as we can to build a support system and to be more proactive in reaching out and following up with students,” said Rabbi Kalinsky. “One of our goals is to track and advise the students, ensuring that they get the attention they need and that they have a place to turn to.”

Rabbi Moshe Weinberger

Rabbi Moshe Weinberger will serve as mashpia.

This year, MYP bolstered its presence on campus for its 600 students, with the hiring of three assistant rabbis, all graduates of RIETS and the Kollel Elyon: Rabbi Eli Belizon, Rabbi Yechiel Weiner and Rabbi Aryeh Westreich. They will assist in the three largest shiurim on campus, delivering lectures in a Rosh Yeshiva’s absence, working together with the shiur assistants in getting to know the students in the class and being available to answer questions.

Also at MYP, Rabbi Avraham Sarfaty will be teaching a new shiur, focusing on in-depth reading of Gemara, Rashi and Tosfot.

“The best part about YU is that there is a program to fit each student, and for me MYP has been great,” said senior Ashie Schreier. “To have the learning built into my schedule is extremely helpful in allowing me to continue to learn and helps me keep a good balance between my learning and my other classes.”

Schreier particularly enjoys the accessibility of the rabbis and the close relationship he has with Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky. “I am in Rabbi Sobolofsky’s shiur and I love it. He is always around to ask questions to and just to talk to in general as are the mashgichim and the other Roshei Yeshiva.”

Others enjoy the chance to grow in their learning and be inspired by the rabbinic figures on campus.

“The Masmidim Program challenges me to step up my level of learning as well as my responsibility for my learning,” said Jonah Steinmetz, a junior in MYP. “The extra hours in the Beis Medrash help me feel like I am constantly growing in a real yeshiva setting. The most rewarding feature of the program is the required ‘in shabbos’ twice a month—an amazing opportunity to relax, bond and learn with friends as well as hear shiurim from rebbeim and Roshei Yeshiva who visit for shabbos.”

At SMBP, there has been a surge of students, with close to 225 enrolled, necessitating the creation of two new shiurim. Rabbi Aharon Ciment and Rabbi Etan Schnall have joined the faculty, teaching Halacha, Gemara, Tanach and Hashkafa. Rabbi Yehuda Willig has been appointed as a new mashgiach for SBMP, joining Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Weinberg, who was hired as a mashgiach last year.

For junior Yonatan Dorfman, SMBP offers a structured schedule that allows him to take classes on a variety of subjects, while still being able to connect with a rabbi. “SBMP has an amazing structure with Navi, Chumash, Gemara and Halacha, which helps me become well-rounded and is extremely practical for my schedule. I also like that I have my rabbi, Rabbi [Yaakov] Werblowsky, to give me guidance.”

At IBC, home to 200 students, a new honor’s track will be offered this year, with five courses taught by Rabbi Hayyim Angel, Rabbi Jeremy Wieder, Rabbi Netanel Weiderblank and others. Rabbi Angel, previously an adjunct professor, will be joining the faculty full-time.

Rabbi Yosef Kalinsky, associate dean for Undergraduate Torah Studies

“The program is built upon a conversation we had with students who were looking for serious learning in a class environment, but were not interested in focusing only on learning Gemara,” said Rabbi Kalinsky. “We created the program to fill that void and cater to the needs of those students.”

IBC also introduced a first-year seminar where students will have the opportunity to meet the mashgichim and senior rebbeim and learn in a chaburah [study group] with members of the Kollel Elyon. Rabbi Yonason Shippel, in addition to his role as director of JSS, will now serve as a mashgiach in IBC as well. Rabbi Yosef Blau will continue in his role as senior mashgiach ruchani for the entire Yeshiva.

JSS, with more than 100 students, welcomes two new faculty members. Rabbi Mordechai Becher will teach Jewish history and philosophy and Rabbi Dr. Daniel Lerner will teach Halacha and Jewish philosophy. JSS has also recently started an honors heritage program and a Sephardi track.

In an effort to better connect with various segments of the student body, Rabbi Simon Basalely has been appointed the Edmond J. Safra Sgan Mashgiach for the Sephardic Community Program, a newly established position that was made possible with a grant from the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation.

“My role will be to simultaneously build a more comfortable environment for the Sephardic students on campus as well as to provide guidance to those students who seek it,” said Rabbi Basalely, who previously served as a Shoel U’Meishiv in MYP and BMP. “I am very excited for the opportunity to help the Sephardic students on campus feel at home and to create a Sephardic community that students are proud to be a part of.”

Rabbi Basalely will be overseeing the minyanim in the Sephardic Beit Midrash as well as developing night seder and shabbat programming. In addition, he will teach a class at IBC and looks forward to hosting students at his home on campus.

Another new initiative that has been successful since its inception last year is the Madrich program, in which current YU students act as ambassadors who represent yeshivas in Israel and help students returning from Israel by advising them on the YU experience and bridging the gap to make their transition from Israel to YU as smooth as possible.

“Our goal is that these changes will help us further the sense that we are one yeshiva with one administration dedicated to helping our students learn well and enjoy their Yeshiva experience as much as possible,” said Rabbi Penner.

Learn more about Undergraduate Torah Studies at YU.