What were the concerns of the students at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS, better known today as Yeshiva University) during the 1920’s and 1930’s? What was their reaction to the new multi-million dollar school building that they moved to in 1928? What was student life like? Some answers to these and similar questions can be gleaned from the student publication Hedenu.

Hedenu was probably first published in the early 1920’s. I say “probably,” because the first issue that I have is dated December 30, 1928, and carries the numbering VOL. IV, No. 1 (17). (I want to express my thanks to the Yeshiva University Archives for supplying me with a copy of this issue.) The next issue I have is dated April, 1929 VOL. IV., No. 2 (18), whereas the third issue is dated March, 1932 VOL. IX, No. 1-2 (20). (I wish to express my thanks to a friend who wishes to remain anonymous for allowing me to copy these issues from his family’s personal library.)

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The earliest issue that the YU Library has is from 1935-36. The other issues from the Twenties and early Thirties may well be lost. Still, from these issues one can get insight into the thoughts of the students.

Each issue of Hedenu consists of two parts – English and Hebrew. The English articles consisted of editorials, stories, news of events, book reviews, poetry, and scholarly Torah articles. The Hebrew articles dealt primarily with Torah topics. This article focuses on the English section of the December 30, 1928 issue.

The Great Debate and the New Building

The English cover page features “DEBATE ISSUE” in large letters at the top. Indeed, the first item on page 1 under Editorials deals with a debate between the Debating Team of RIETS and the “distinguished visitors, the Debating Team of the Hebrew Theological College of Chicago” to be held on the evening of December 30, 1928. It was billed “Our First Public Function.”

The occasion of tonight’s debate is the first public function sponsored by the Student Body of the Yeshiva. Our limited facilities for accommodating guests have made such undertakings impossible in the past. With our new quarters and spacious auditorium, we hope that we will be heard from more often.

And to the guests of this evening we extend our heartiest welcome. You have given us courage by your enthusiastic response to our first call for a New York audience. We hope that with your cooperation we will have more opportunities to bring before you the results of our hours and days of study, and that we will thus take our proper share in moulding [sic] Jewish life in our community.

The reader should keep in mind that the official opening of Yeshiva University’s original main building in upper Manhattan took place on December 9, 1928. (Pictures related to the groundbreaking for this edifice and its construction are at http://www.yu.edu/news/ photogallery/photogallery_show.cfm?categoryID=1105).

What did the students think of the yeshiva’s move to its new home? The next item under Editorials on the first page tells us.

THE DEDICATION

What happened on the 26th of Kislev, 5689 – or December 9, l928 – will go down in history as an event of double significance. That occasion marked the official opening of the first Jewish institution of higher secular learning, and simultaneously the unlocking of the doors of the new Yeshiva building. It is difficult to determine the relative importance of the two events. At the ceremonies of the day it seemed that the opening of the College was the all-important event. But those close to the Yeshiva and to Orthodox Jewish life realize that our removal into new quarters is of at least equal significance to American Jewry; for in a larger, more wholesome atmosphere we can expect that the Yeshiva will develop a healthier, better equipped leadership in Jewish affairs. With the expansion of the Yeshiva, its influence will become greater, and we can confidently hope for a new turn for the better in the affairs of traditional Judaism in this country.

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Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He then taught as an adjunct at Stevens until 2014. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.