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YU Community Celebrates RIETS Chag HaSemikhah

More Than 130 Newly-Ordained Rabbis Celebrate at Triennial Convocation

The streets of Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus hummed with excitement as more than 130 new graduates of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) gathered to celebrate their ordination at the March 19 Chag HaSemikhah.

Together with their families, friends and roshei yeshiva [spiritual leaders], the musmachim [ordained rabbis] danced and sang together outside of Zysman Hall as they marked the continuity of a beloved mesorah [tradition] being passed down to a new generation of spiritual leaders.

In a day filled with festivities and brimming with pride, the graduates of the 2014-2017 classes joined more than 3,000 rabbinic alumni who have gone on to become distinguished Orthodox rabbis, scholars, educators and leaders around the world.

“In today’s celebrants, Yeshiva embraces the continuity of our profound mission of advancing Torah values, so as to guide, teach and lead our people and the world to a better place,” said YU President Richard M. Joel. “As musmachim of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, you have been trained in leadership, you have been prepared to serve as our ambassadors of nobility, spreading the warmth of Torah by constantly fanning its flames. Your actions matter – your commitment to Torah inspires people and elevates the world.”

President-elect Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, looking out over the musmachim, said, “If you are to be rabbis, you must impart chochmah [wisdom] and exude anavah [humility]…but you must live with ahavah–with love. If you do so, you will make God’s Name more beloved in this world.”

The Chag HaSemikhah ceremony took place in the Nathan Lamport Auditorium at Zysman Hall, with video hookups in the Harry Fischel Beit Midrash and YU’s Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Institute in Jerusalem, and an online webcast. Approximately 1,800 people were on campus for the event, and close to 8,000 people viewed it online. The musmachim currently living in Israel will hold a ceremony at the Gruss Institute on June 8, 2017.

This class of rabbis represents an internationally diverse group, hailing from five continents and more than 50 North American cities. While most of the musmachim will remain engaged in either full-time post-semicha Torah study or in religious work such as Jewish education, the pulpit, outreach or nonprofit management, many will pursue careers in other professions, including medicine and law.

Elie Schwartz ’13YC ’17R, originally from Cleveland, Ohio, and now living in Chicago, Illinois, spoke for many of the musmachim when he said that a primary impulse in pursuing rabbinic ordination was the “desire to professionalize my passion for Torah” by becoming a rabbi. This fall, he and his wife Miriam will become Orthodox Union-Jewish Life on Campus educators at the University of Maryland.

Jason Grossman ’10YC '17R, from Lawrence, New York, sought semicha because he felt the need to “serve the community at large and help people develop their relationship with God and reach higher spiritual levels.” He is currently working as a chaplain at St. John’s Hospital in Far Rockaway, New York.

As they go on to build their careers, the new musmachim will benefit from the unique education they received at RIETS. In addition to intense religious study with renowned Torah scholars, the seminary offers an enhanced Rabbinic Professional Education Program designed to meet the communal and spiritual needs of today’s Jewish communities.

Students receive extensive training in topics critical for public leadership positions, such as pastoral psychology, public speaking and community building, all taught by renowned experts and rabbis. They’re also exposed to contemporary halachik [Jewish legal] issues in bioethics, technology and business to prepare them for real-world dilemmas they may face.

A new mental health emphasis also provides musmachim with critical self-care tools as they manage the stresses and challenges of a life of public service. Yossi Jacobs ’14YC '17R pursued semicha concurrently with a psychology degree because he wanted to be able “to integrate the two in order to help people by empowering their Torah understanding while also helping them face their challenges in life.”

During the ceremony, RIETS honored Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Nathan and Vivian Fink Distinguished Professorial Chair in Talmud, with the HaRav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik zt”l Aluf Torah Award.

“You bring the rigor of Talmud, the prodigious knowledge of kol HaTorah kula, the open warmth of a rebbe, the courage of a posek, and the understanding heart of a gentle man, to enrich our world," said President Joel to Rabbi Schachter. "As a talmid muvhak of the Rav, much of what you teach others is your understanding of the legacy of the Rav. How appropriate that your yeshiva honors our Rav Muvhak with the conferral of the Harav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik Aluf Torah Award. As we recognize you on the 50th anniversary of your serving as a rosh yeshiva, and celebrate you at this Chag HaSemikhah, we invite our young musmachim to savor and anticipate how they can impact on our world.”

RIETS also commissioned the writing of a Sefer Torah in Rabbi Schachter's honor, with events in Los Angeles, California; New York City; Passaic and Teaneck, New Jersey; and the Five Towns to enable Rabbi Schachter's talmidim to participate in the process.

Chairman Emeritus Rabbi Julius Berman was honored with the Eitz Chaim Award at the Chag HaSemikhah. “You have spent your life championing the causes of the Jewish people,” President Joel told Rabbi Berman. “The Etz Chaim Award, our Yeshiva’s most prestigious honor given to a lay leader, affords us the opportunity to recognize the greatest description that we can have of you - a lifelong Ben HaYeshiva.”

In addition, special acknowledgement was given to 14 grandfathers and RIETS alumni who watched their grandsons receive semicha at this year’s ceremony, as well as the musmachim celebrating their 50th anniversary. All the musmachim heard divrei bracha [words of blessing] from Rabbi Shlomo Amar, former Chief Rabbi of Israel and current Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem.

“The Chag HaSemikhah is a singular event celebrating Yeshiva, our community and our future,” said Rabbi Menachem Penner, the Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS and Undergraduate Torah Studies at YU. “Our opportunity to honor Rav Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Julius Berman takes this excitement to an even higher level.”

Following the ordination ceremony, RIETS held a Gala Evening of Celebration honoring Rabbi Schachter and Rabbi Berman at the Grand Hyatt Hotel. In addition, philanthropist Dr. David Arbesfeld was presented with the RIETS Service Award. The dinner raised more than $1 million for RIETS. To learn more or to support RIETS, visit