Yeshiva University News » Mordechai Willig

Yeshiva University and RIETS Present December 25 Yarchei Kallah 

Yeshiva University and the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) will present a communitywide Yarchei Kallah [gathering for Torah study] Thursday, December 25, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Jacob and Dreizel Glueck Center for Jewish Studies, 515 West 185th Street, New York City.

Sessions will focus on current issues facing the land of Israel, including shemittah [the Sabbatical year], the Temple Mount, halachic [Jewish law] ramifications of Israel’s proposed conversion bill, archeology in Jerusalem, as well as communal and social matters. Read the rest of this entry…

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President Joel and Rabbi Penner Address Undergraduate Torah Studies Students on Wilf Campus

Undergraduate Torah Studies on the Wilf Campus officially kicked off on Monday, August 25 with an opening kennus to mark the beginning of a new zman at the Yeshiva University.

The kennus, which took place in the Lamport Auditorium, featured remarks from President Richard M. Joel and Rabbi Menachem Penner, Max and Marion Grill Dean of YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS),  all connected to the themes of ahavat Yisrael and the upcoming month of Elul.  In attendance were students, Roshei Yeshiva, faculty, and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Dr. Henry Kressel.

“On the one hand, the zman already started because this morning the beit midrash was louder than ever before,” said Rabbi Penner. “But to establish something kodesh, we must have this special kennus.” Read the rest of this entry…

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Student Organization of Yeshiva – Jewish Studies Council Publishes Haggadah with Divrei Torah by YU Roshei Yeshiva, Faculty and Students

Just in time for Passover, Yeshiva University’s Student Organization of Yeshiva – Jewish Studies Council (SOY-JSC) has published And You Shall Transmit to Your Children, a collection of divrei Torah on the Haggadah from renowned Torah scholars at YU. The book features contributions from Roshei Yeshiva, including Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Nathan and Vivian Fink Distinguished Professorial Chair in Talmud; Rabbi Mordechai Willig, Rabbi Dr. Sol Roth Chair in Talmud and Contemporary Halacha; Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought; Rabbi Shalom Carmy, assistant professor of Jewish philosophy and Bible; and Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Jeremy Wieder, among others.

haggadahTopics include the halachic aspects of the seder, the rituals of mechirat chametz [selling leavened food] and korban pesach [the Passover sacrifice], and the history of the seder in Jewish experience.

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Student-Run Medical Ethics Conference Explores Interplay of Halacha and Medicine in Israel

As Americans across the country debated the ethical, legal and practical ramifications of Obamacare, Yeshiva University’s Student Medical Ethics Society (MES), a student club mentored by YU’s  Center for the Jewish Futue (CJF), looked to the Israeli medical system as the framework for a very different kind of conversation: What does universal health care look likein a country bound by Jewish law?

That question was at the heart of MES’ eighth annual Fuld Family Conference, titled “Prescribing for a Nation: Examining the Interplay of Jewish Law and Israeli Health Care.” The October 20 event explored the ways in which Israeli medical institutions utilize Jewish law to form national policy as well as important ethical and halachik [Jewish legal] questions that emerge from practicing medicine in Israel. Read the rest of this entry…

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Yeshiva University Students Combine Technological Innovation and Torah Study

In the 21st century, web technology is a given. Want to know when the next train’s arriving? Look it up on your smart phone. Curious about a science term in a news article? Google it. But what if these same innovations could help you search the text of the Mishnah or pull up a range of opinions on any subject in Jewish law?

Atara Siegel

Stern College junior Atara Siegel is serving as a research assistant for the Digital Mishnah Project.

At Yeshiva University, two students are fusing that forward-thinking and technological fluency with their passion for Judaic studies.

Atara Siegel, a junior at Stern College for Women, is compiling different manuscripts of the Mishnah—found everywhere from the Cairo Genizah to the Vatican—as a research assistant for the Digital Mishnah Project, which seeks to create an online resource for study and comparison of Mishnaic manuscripts throughout history. “Sometimes the variations in the text don’t mean anything. Sometimes they can change the meaning of the Mishnah drastically—like a comment might be attributed to a totally different person,” said Siegel. “Having the different manuscripts side by side is a way of trying to figure out what the most accurate text is.” Read the rest of this entry…


RIETS and Calvary Hospital Form Collaboration to Serve Orthodox Community

Yeshiva University’s affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) and Calvary Hospital today announced a collaboration to serve the needs of observant Jews in the metropolitan area in need of information and access to the best end-of-life care.

Jewish families seeking halachically appropriate, highest quality end-of-life medical care often lack familiarity with the intricate religious laws that govern such care.

To address this important need, Yeshiva University has formed the YU/RIETS End-of-Life Halachic Advisory Program to provide rabbinic consultation for families and community rabbis. It includes:

  • A rabbinic panel comprised of four roshei yeshiva who have extensive experience with end-of-life halachic issues. Rabbi Herschel Schachter, Rabbi Yaakov Neuberger, Rabbi Mordechai Willig and Rabbi Moshe Tendler will serve on a rotating basis as pre-hospice advisors, answering questions from patients’ families and community rabbis after a physician has recommended that an individual receive hospice care.
  • A panel of physicians associated with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and its affiliates will be available to advise community rabbis on the clinical issues surrounding the terminally ill. The medical panel includes Dr. Edward Burns, Dr. Seymour Huberfeld, Dr. Beth Popp, Dr. Edward Reichman and Dr. Robert Sidlow.

“There is a pressing need in the Orthodox community for accurate and thorough information on the conditions under which end-of-life care should be provided,” said Burns Read the rest of this entry…

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Film Produced by Orthodox Union and Center for the Jewish Future to be Screened at Synagogues Worldwide on July 29

Thousands of Jews in more than 100 communities around the world will join together this Tisha B’Av to view an inspirational video presented by Yeshiva University and the Orthodox Union (OU). The video, titled “Making Tisha B’Av Meaningful to Us Today,” is a project of YU’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) and the OU, and will be screened in some 250 synagogues across the U.S. and internationally in Australia, Canada, Israel, Poland, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Read the rest of this entry…


New Journal from the Beth Din of America and RIETS Sheds Light on Practices of Rabbinical Courts

The Beth Din of America (BDA), in collaboration with the Rabbi Norman Lamm Yadin Yadin Kollel of YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), recently published its first journal for spring 2012. The Journal of the Beth Din of America, sponsored by the Michael Scharf Publication Trust of RIETS/Yeshiva University Press, contains articles on Jewish jurisprudence and beth din practice, with a particular emphasis on the policies and practices of the BDA—North America’s most active rabbinical court.

Each issue will include actual din torah or decisions rendered by the BDA (appropriately anonymized and approved for publication by the involved parties), exposing readers to the practices of contemporary beth din and the intellectual foundations for its work. The journal will primarily feature articles by dayanim [judges] of the BDA.

Topics covered in the inaugural issue range from “The Prenuptial Agreement: Recent Developments” by Rabbi Mordechai Willig, Rabbi Dr. Sol Roth Professor of Talmud and Contemporary Halacha at RIETS and Segan Av Beit Din at BDA, to “Jewish Law, Civil Procedure: A Comparative Study” by Rabbi Yona Reiss, Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS and Chaver Beth Din at BDA.

“It is our hope that this journal and the study it enables will serve as a vehicle for the clarification and dissemination of the Torah’s laws relating to the beth din process,” said Rabbi Yaacov Feit’02YC, ’06R, ’06A, who along with Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann ’92YUHS, ’96YC, ’03R, serves as co-editor of the journal.

Since its inception nearly 50 years ago, BDA has been recognized as one of the nation’s pre-eminent rabbinic courts. It serves the Jewish community of North America as a forum for obtaining Jewish divorces, confirming personal status and adjudicating commercial disputes stemming from divorce, business and community issues.

For more information or to download the Journal of the Beth Din of America, visit


Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Delivers Shiur to Students, Meets with Roshei Yeshiva

Rabbi Shlomo Amar, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, paid a visit to Yeshiva University-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) on March 28. Upon arrival he was greeted by Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Haim, Maxwell R. Maybaum Memorial Chair in Talmud and Sephardic Codes; Rabbi Dr. Herbert Dobrinsky, vice president for university affairs and Rabbi Moshe Tessone, director of YU’s Sephardic Community Program.

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The chief rabbi, also known as the Rishon LeZion, delivered a shiur [lecture] to hundreds of students in the Glueck Beit Midrash, after which he participated in a luncheon with various roshei yeshiva and members of the YU faculty and administration including Rabbi Yona Reiss, Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS; Chancellor Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Rosh HaYeshiva; Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, dean emeritus of RIETS; Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Nathan and Vivian Fink Distinguished Professorial Chair in Talmud; and Rabbi Mordechai Willig, Rabbi Dr. Sol Roth Chair in Talmud and Contemporary Halacha, among others. This was Rabbi Amar’s third visit to the YU campus in recent years.

“Hakham [rabbi] Amar’s visit to Yeshiva strengthens the relationship between our roshei yeshiva, the RIETS administration and the office of the chief rabbinate of the State of Israel,” said Tessone. “His visit is also significant to the Sephardic population on campus which benefitted from hearing his words and participating in the mitzvah of kabbalat pnei hakhamim [receiving great Torah luminaries].”


Rabbinic Symposium Presented by Center for the Jewish Future Raises Awareness of Genetic Health Issues

Twenty-five percent of Ashkenazim are carriers for at least one genetic disorder—“which means that it’s not a stigma; it’s a community problem,” said Dr. Nicole Schreiber-Agus at a rabbinic symposium on genetics hosted by Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) on Monday, December 5. “There are many options for having a healthy family,” said Agus, noting that there are also specifically Sephardic disorders.

Rabbi Lookstein addresses the symposium crowd. Rabbi Willig looks on.

More than 40 rabbis attended the symposium titled “Guiding Your Congregants through the Lifecycle: Halachic, Scientific, Clinical, Pastoral and Counseling Approaches to Genetic Issues.” The goal of the program was to empower rabbis to effectively and sensitively support congregants dealing with genetic health challenges. “The patient will always remember what was said by the doctor or by the rabbi,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, David Mitzner Dean of the CJF.

The symposium drew attention to YU’s new Program for Jewish Genetic Health (PJGH), a unique initiative that integrates the Jewish communal responsibility of YU with the clinical services, genetic education and biomedical advances of its medical school, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The program, established to serve as a centralized resource for everything related to Jewish genetic health issues, provides education, awareness and support to communities and clergy, as well as enables all individuals to receive carrier testing for a host of Jewish genetic disorders, regardless of their financial situation. If one’s health insurance will not cover the cost of genetic testing, the PJGH will.

Agus, scientific director and program liaison of the PJGH, emphasized that couples should undergo screening for genetic diseases before each new pregnancy. “There are always more mutations being tested,” she said. “It is a rolling issue.”

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, spiritual leader of Manhattan’s Kehilath Jeshurun, said that he raises the issue of genetic testing with all couples he meets for pre-marital counseling. However, Lookstein believes that so-called genetic incompatibility should not be a dating, engagement or marriage deal-breaker. “In my opinion, the results of that test should have absolutely no bearing on continuing that relationship,” he said.

“I think it’s hard enough today for singles to find the proper mate with whom to build a relationship and a marriage,” added Lookstein. “…You have to look for certain fundamental qualities… but I don’t think genetics should play a role in the decision.”

Rabbi Mordechai Willig, rosh reshiva at YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) disagreed; he believes that if a couple discovers their genetic incompatibility before they are married, they should not continue the relationship. However, if the couple is already married, they should not get divorced over the issue.

During a panel session, several attendees voiced questions they had received from congregants regarding breaking various Shabbat laws to receive in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment, one available option for “carrier couples” seeking to raise healthy families. “On Shabbat, many things are allowed—more than you’d expect,” said Willig in response to a question. Because each case is different, he declined to give a blanket ruling on the issue.

The symposium also featured a moving presentation by Robin Fiddle Posnack, the mother of a child with familial dysautonomia (FD), one of the more prevalent Ashkenazic genetic disorders. When Posnack was pregnant with her first child in 2000, she had tested negative for the handful of Jewish genetic diseases that individuals were being screened for. When she became pregnant again five years later, her physician did not have her screened for the additional diseases that tests had been developed for since her last pregnancy. She then gave birth to a child with FD, underscoring Agus’s insistence that women be tested before each pregnancy.

Visit YU’s Program for Jewish Genetic Health online to learn more.