Yeshiva University Celebrates Rabbi Dr. Bernard Rosensweig’s 38 Years of Dedicated Service
After 38 years of molding students’ minds and expanding their Torah horizons at Yeshiva College, Rabbi Dr. Bernard Rosensweig, visiting professor of Jewish history, literature and philosophy at Yeshiva University, will be retiring at the end of this semester. On Thursday, December 11, some 100 friends, relatives and colleagues came to pay tribute and celebrate the beloved educator’s career at a reception held at Weisberg Commons on the Wilf Campus.
“Rabbi Dr. Rosensweig has touched thousands of talmidim [students] with his warmth, wisdom, wit and passion for Jewish history and the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Menachem Penner, Max and Marion Grill Dean of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) and Undergraduate Torah Studies. “He is beloved by students and colleagues. I, myself, was a talmid several decades ago, and have never ceased being a talmid.”
Rosensweig, a native of Toronto, Ontario, earned a bachelor’s degree from Yeshiva College in 1947, a master’s from Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies in 1967 and a doctorate from Revel in 1970. He was ordained at RIETS in 1950, receiving his semicha [rabbinic ordination] from Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (the Rav). Former YU President Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Rosensweig’s roommate for three years, conferred an honorary doctorate upon Rabbi Rosensweig at Yeshiva’s 63rd commencement.
President Richard M. Joel praised Rabbi Rosensweig as a “Torah Umadda renaissance man” and exhibiting “pride without pridefulness,” and thanked him for being a “rav, friend and guide.”
A brief slide show displayed photos of his early years at Yeshiva College, photos with the Rav, Rabbi Lamm and other YU personalities, Israeli politicians, and family. Rabbi Roesnsweig also received a plaque heralding his four decades of service. Addressing those in attendance, he called the retirement presentation “humbling. I do not know if I am worthy, but I do know that I am grateful.”
Rabbi Rosensweig’s vivid recollections span the course of modern Jewish history, intertwined with his lifetime connection with Yeshiva University.
“From the time I was a little boy I wanted to be a rabbi,” he said in an interview before the reception. His parents wanted him to be a doctor. “When I got my doctorate I flew my mother in from Toronto,” Rabbi Rosensweig said, telling her that he was now a doctor, but not like she wanted.
[As a child] “I read about Yeshiva College,” he said. “It intrigued me, to be able to learn during the day and get a college degree [as well].” He came to Yeshiva College after high school and soon was in the Rav’s shiur [class]. “It was awesome, inspiring, my great merit that I was able to establish a relationship with him. He was my guide and mentor the rest of his life. I miss him to this day.”
As a teenager, he remembered that the community of Toronto was unaware of the extent of the Holocaust in 1940 but recalled his father crying in 1942 when he found out that his sister and brother-in-law were killed in the concentration camps.
Rabbi Rosensweig also recounted the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948. It was a Friday and he and the other students were in the dormitories, all tuned in to their radios. “When they proclaimed the Jewish state,” he said, “all the boys sang Hatikvah spontaneously… It was most moving. I still get choked up.”
Even with his telescopic view of Jewish history, he does not digress in his classes, pointing out that the material must be covered for the courses he teaches. “For 90 percent of the students, what they get in the courses is what they will take with them out to the world. I teach on a scholarly level but they have to be aware that Jewish history is an important aspect of being Jewish.”
He is proudest of his family, with all of his five children graduates of YU undergraduate institutions, his three sons students of the Rav; his son Michael, a RIETS Rosh Yeshiva. Two of his grandsons and one grandson-in-law have semicha from RIETS, he said proudly. He noted that he was married for 61 years to Miriam Rosenberg-Rosensweig, z”l, who taught math at the Samuel H. Wang Yeshiva University High School for Girls.
He commended the “inner strength of the Roshei Yeshiva” for the continuity of YU. “It never flourished more in numbers and qualitatively as today; both Dr. Lamm and President Joel deserve a lot of credit and the Roshei Yeshiva maintained the level to draw excellent boys to come to this place. And I see it in the quality of students that I have.”
Even in retirement, Rosensweig will still be available on campus, keeping his office in the Glueck Center. He sees “good things” in the future of YU, citing the Israel experience and students coming back to study at Yeshiva. “It’s a good combination, a great deal of vigor, religious and secular study.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of this institution as student and teacher, to be able to share what I achieved with others and be an integral part.”