Aug 23, 2007 — Rabbi Yona Reiss, a noted Torah scholar, attorney, and jurist who has served since 1998 as director of the Beth Din of America, the largest rabbinical court in the United States, has been appointed dean of Yeshiva University’s affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. RIETS is one of the leading centers for Torah learning and training for the rabbinate in the world.
Rabbi Reiss’ appointment was announced today by RIETS President Richard M. Joel and the chairman of the RIETS Board of Trustees, Rabbi Julius Berman. The appointment is effective July 1, 2008.
The President’s selection of Rabbi Reiss was made in close consultation with Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, the Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS, and Rabbi Norman Lamm, Chancellor of YU and Rosh Hayeshiva (Head of the Yeshiva) of RIETS. He received the approbation of the RIETS Board at a special meeting held August 22.
“The Yeshiva is the soul of Yeshiva University. In Rabbi Yona Reiss, we have a leader who will nurture that soul, and advance Torah study and protect Torah values,” said President Joel, who is also President of Yeshiva University. “His integrity, intellect, warmth, and humility will inform his work as he partners with an outstanding rabbinic faculty, to shape the educational direction for the school. There are enormous opportunities and needs for our community, which our students must be poised to lead.”
President Joel took special note of Rabbi Reiss’ academic pedigree. He is a summa cum laude graduate of Yeshiva College, YU’s undergraduate liberal arts and sciences college for men, and went on to receive his law degree from Yale Law School, where he was senior editor of the Law Journal. He received his rabbinic ordination from RIETS, where he also earned the distinction of Yadin Yadin, an advanced juridical ordination.
“I have been shaped in large part by both the educational experience and intellectual philosophy of Yeshiva University,” said Rabbi Reiss, “and I am excited to have the opportunity to play a meaningful role in the Torah education of the wonderful students who represent the future of our community.”
For more than 35 years, Rabbi Charlop has been dean of the seminary. Under his leadership, RIETS experienced enormous growth, graduating thousands of rabbis, educators, and Jewish scholars. He announced recently that he is relinquishing that position effective June 30 2008. He will continue to serve as one of the Masmichim, those who administer ordination exams, and will maintain his special relationship with the Kollelei Elyon (advanced study groups).
Rabbi Charlop will remain full time as dean emeritus of RIETS, and will serve as special advisor to the YU President on yeshiva affairs with cabinet rank.
“Rabbi Reiss is a stellar choice for the deanship of RIETS,” said Rabbi Charlop, who noted that he is gratified to have been a mentor to Rabbi Reiss during his student days at the seminary. “His most important character trait is his integrity, which is known and respected throughout the Orthodox community. Moreover, while he lives in two worlds, the secular and the sacred, he is anchored in the yeshiva.”
Rabbi Reiss said he takes “pride in our wonderful yeshiva that has been guided with such love and devotion for so many decades by Rabbi Charlop. I hope in my tenure to ensure that we continue to maintain our standard of excellence in a fashion that both maximizes the potential of each of our students and serves the multifarious needs of our community, both locally and globally.”
Rabbi Reiss’ appointment was also strongly endorsed by Rabbi Lamm: “This is a marvelous appointment at this point in RIETS’ history. He has a great range of erudition, a broad spectrum of interests, is totally committed to the vision of RIETS, and is a firm believer in Torah Umadda.”
Rabbi Reiss has been director of the Beth Din of America since 1998. The Beth Din, which was founded by and is affiliated with the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) and sponsored by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU), is the largest rabbinical court in the country. It handles over 500 cases a year in the areas of Jewish divorce, commercial arbitrations, and mediation.
In his directorship of the Beth Din, Rabbi Reiss has worked to resolve cases of agunot, chained women who cannot obtain a Jewish divorce, and popularize the use of the RCA pre-nuptial agreement as a protection against future agunah problems.
From 1992 to 1998, Rabbi Reiss worked as an associate at the international law firm of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in New York City. He maintained an association with the firm until 1999. He is a member of the New York Bar Association, a certified mediator for the City of New York court system and a member of the Family and Divorce Mediation Council for New York.
Rabbi Reiss serves on the editorial board of Tradition magazine. A frequent writer on a variety of topics relating to both Jewish and secular law, he has published widely in Jewish publications, as well as the New York Law Journal.
Rabbi Reiss and his wife Mindy have five sons and live in Riverdale, NY.