The person who was put in charge of the yeshiva was Rav Yehuda Amital. At the same time, the initiative to have me on board remained active and my wife and I and our children came to Eretz Yisrael for pilot trips, including two full months in the summer of 1970, after which I weighed a number of different offers that had been received. We decided that we wanted to move to Eretz Yisrael and that of the offers made, Yeshivat Har Etzion would be most suitable.
From a certain point of view, that decision was, to some people, surprising. It had recently been founded, it had no campus, it was “out in the sticks,” so to speak, and yet, I was very impressed with the people who were involved in it, first and foremost Rav Amital, and second, the various balebatim, who were very anxious to develop the yeshiva. Rav Amital, for his part, made, to me, the most incredible offer – to join him as a co-rosh yeshiva. It was my first position in Eretz Yisrael and it continued since that day.
How did you become involved with YU’s Gruss Kollel in Jerusalem?
Initially, when I came to Eretz Yisrael, I was associated with Yeshivat Har Etzion, with the exception of some minor projects which I undertook. At the same time, however, at YU, since the mid-60s, the prospect of opening a facility in Eretz Yisrael, particularly in Yerushalayim, was made feasible by the munificence of Mr. Joseph Gruss. Rabbi [Norman] Lamm offered me a position in terms of directing the institution and we worked out an arrangement whereby I would continue at Yeshivat Har Etzion as my primary commitment but have a part-time position at the soon-to-be opened Gruss Institute in Yerushalayim. On a daily basis, Rav Dovid Miller was in charge of the beis midrash, as a regular maggid shiur, and I would give shiur once a week and we worked in partnership, which I enjoyed.
What are your thoughts on being honored by Yeshiva University and RIETS?
I have been honored on a different occasion by YU; I expressed at the time my feeling that there were other people more qualified than myself. I consider having a post in the world of chinuch a remarkable privilege, one which both satisfies a personal and, if you will, egocentric need, and yet, enables one to transcend the egocentricity, in all humility, and with genuine religious fervor to the Ribono shel Olam.
How has your leadership impacted the Jewish community?
In a world in which there are many people whom I respect and are certainly greater than myself, I don’t want to speak of a central leadership role. I have impacted upon certain circles in the Jewish religious world and certain communities, which I felt I could particularly service, because of their lifestyle and their hashkafah. All this, I’ve tried to do with humility, with commitment, and with a sense of how fortunate I have been to attain that position and the ability to be marbitz Torah in different countries. Part of this I received from my parents, z”l, from whom my initial religious personality, my initial striving for knowledge, I received from an early age.
How do you think RIETS has evolved over the years?
There is no question that any observer of the beis midrash at RIETS, any observer of the composition of the student body, quantitatively, qualitatively, would be very impressed with the very positive development of a more Torahdik climate, as regards both to the ability to learn, the desire to learn, and the readiness to assume the mantle of responsibility within the Jewish world. In many respects, the institution itself has invested heavily – I speak not only of money, but manpower – to extend and expand the scope of learning. One need only remember what the beis midrash looked like at night when I was here in the early 50s, and the pulsating vibrancy which the beis midrash exudes at the wee hours of the morning today, to see how remarkable the change has been…