On Wednesday, September 14, 2022, the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program at Yeshiva College welcomed Rabbi Dr. Zev Eleff as a guest of its ongoing speaker series. Rabbi Eleff is president of Gratz College in Melrose Park, PA and one of the youngest presidents in American higher education. He is also a graduate of the Honors Program at Yeshiva College, received his ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, a past Wexner Graduate Fellow/Davidson Scholar and the author or editor of ten books and more than fifty scholarly articles. His most recent book is Authentically Orthodox: A Tradition-Bound Faith in American Life (Wayne State) and he has a forthcoming monograph, Dyed in Crimson: Football, Faith, and Remaking Harvard’s America (Illinois) that will appear in early 2023.
The topic of his talk was “Gedolim Cards, Brachos Bees and the Economics of Religion.” According to Rabbi Eleff, “Too often, we write history from published sermons and proclamations. However, ‘lived religion,’ the way people experience everyday religious life, is oftentimes the most powerful sources of history.” He also discussed how the history of Orthodox Judaism in the U.S. is best felt in the experiences of the people who belong to this “faith community,” and presented his unique perspective through three case studies. Examples he cited were the emergence of Gedolim cards and Brachos Bees that were both part of a process of assimilation and simultaneously, an effort to maintain and strengthen Jewish identity.
The Honors students found his talk fascinating and compelling. “President Eleff’s talk was insightful, intelligent, and informative,” said Zakkai Notkin ’24YC. “I think we often forget to pay attention to this element of our history as Jews in America.”
Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Schnall, director of the Program, enjoyed the event as well, saying “Rabbi Eleff’s visit is the beginning of a dynamic new year of Yeshiva College Honors programming, and we are very appreciative he took the time to visit with us. We are so proud to have a distinguished alumnus in the role of president of such an esteemed college.”
Thank you to Yona Hassan for her contribution to the writing of this article.