Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) held its quadrennial Chag HaSemikhah (ordination ceremony) Convocation on Sunday, March 26, for 185 rabbis, the largest group in its history – including three who received the highest form of semikhah, called yadin-yadin. The rabbis’ ages range from 24 to 74 and include six doctors, two lawyers, a dentist, a former Rhodes scholar, and one former sea captain and a retired insurance agent who began his semikhah studies at the age of 70.

The ceremony officially marks the completion of a rigorous four-year program of Torah learning and comprehensive professional training for the rabbinate. The ceremony honors individuals who completed ordination from 2002 to 2005.


“RIETS is the oldest and largest Orthodox rabbinic seminary in North America,” said Yeshiva University President Richard Joel before the Chag HaSemikhah. “Since its founding more than 100 years ago, RIETS has ordained more than 2,700 rabbis. They occupy an overwhelming number of Orthodox pulpits in North America, as well as major educational, communal-professional, and lay leadership positions. With responsibility for the destiny of the Jewish people, they are helping to assure that Jewish values and tradition are perpetuated. In addition, RIETS now has six kollelim [institutes of advanced rabbinic studies], which offer intense Torah learning and state-of-the-art professional training programs for future rabbis. There is no comparable institution in the world.”

One of the first portions of the ceremony featured a moving video presentation of the work that YU rabbis – many part of this year’s celebration – are doing throughout the United States. The featured rabbis radiated a palpable enthusiasm for the life of a rabbi, from teaching students in class to leading a congregation in Omaha, Nebraska to serving as a chaplain in the U.S. Army.

In his address to the new musmakhim, Joel reiterated his phrase of “klei kodesh and lay kodesh” – charging the new rabbis to serve faithfully in their roles as emissaries both of the Jewish people and of G-d. Rabbi Zevulun Charlop, Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS, told two counterbalancing stories, relating the magnitude of the responsibility with which communal rabbis are entrusted. He said that as new rabbis, the musmakhim must be careful to always make wise decisions.

After Rabbi Charlop, Rabbi Reuven Brand, representing the new musmakhim, spoke. Rabbi Brand, a fellow of the Bella and Harry Wexner Kollel Elyon and Semikhah Honors Program, said that he and his fellow musmakhim now have a new cloak – the rabbinic mantle that they must diligently fill by learning Torah, and teaching and inspiring their communities.

The most prominent guest at the Chag HaSemikhah was Daniel Ayalon, the ambassador of Israel to the United States. He spoke, mostly extemporaneously, noting how proud the convocation was making him, and how it was instilling him with hope for a bright Jewish future.

Rabbi Charlop, a received the HaRav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik Alu Torah Award to a standing ovation, seemed overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude.

Marcos Katz, a philanthropist from Mexico City, received the Eitz Chaim Award for his financial support of RIETS. “As much as I have given, I have received more,” he said. “I recommend this relationship to all of you, and “with the Ribbono Shel Olam, it’s a good business deal,” he told the audience.

Rabbi Norman Lamm, chancellor of Yeshiva University, gave a deep and inspiring dvar Torah. Along with the dvar Torah, he told the new rabbis that they need to know their mission and try to connect with the “still silent voice in the heart of every person.” He also warned them that they will experience frustration many times in the rabbinate. But he urged them to carry on with their very important duties to the Jewish people.

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articleQuick Takes: News From Israel You May Have Missed
Next articleThe ‘Israel Lobby’ And Academic Malpractice
Shlomo Greenwald is editor of the print edition of The Jewish Press.