|Dean||Rabbi Menachem Penner|
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, founded in 1896, is the rabbinical seminary of Yeshiva University. It is located along Amsterdam Avenue in New York City, in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan.
The school's Hebrew name is Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon (Hebrew: ? ), after Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, who had died that year. The Hebrew name of the Rabbinic school appears on the seals of all affiliates of Yeshiva University, in Hebrew letters. The seminary is often referred to by its English acronym of RIETS.
The RIETS semikhah program is a structured four year curriculum. The primary focus is on advanced Talmudic learning as well as developing a proficiency in deciding matters of classical and contemporary Jewish law or halakha. The majority of talmidim in the semikha program are also enrolled in the Katz Kollel which is led by the Rosh Kollel, Rabbi Hershel Schachter. There are a variety of required ancillary courses intended to train students for careers as practicing rabbis, in fields such as homiletics, pastoral counseling, and Jewish philosophy. There is an honors track within the general semikha program where students receive an extra stipend and are required to take additional supplemental courses.
RIETS has two post-semikha kollelim, referred to as the Kollel Elyon, which offer talmidim the opportunity to study Torah at an advanced level and take supplemental courses for an additional 3 to 4 years while receiving a generous stipend. The Roshei Kollel of the Kollel Elyon are Rabbi Michael Rosensweig and Rabbi Mordechai Willig.
The first Jewish schools in New York were El Hayyim and Rabbi Elnathan's, on the lower East Side.
In 1896, several New York and Philadelphia rabbis agreed that a rabbinical seminary based on the traditional European Yeshiva viewpoint was needed to produce American rabbis who were fully committed to what would come to be called Orthodox Judaism. There were only two rabbinical seminaries in the United States. Hebrew Union College followed Reform Judaism, and was unacceptable to traditional rabbis and other Jews. The other was the Jewish Theological Seminary, which was small, financially precarious, and while nominally traditional, had roots in the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, whose fidelity to tradition was questionable.
Rabbi Bernard L. Levinthal and other leading traditional (Orthodox) rabbis of the day founded the school, then known as the Rabbinical College of America (not related to the current institution of that name).
In 1915, it merged with an elementary school, the Eitz Chaim Yeshiva, changed its name to RIETS, and appointed Rabbi Dr. Bernard Revel to head the combined school. In 1916, he expanded its offerings to include a high school, the Talmudical Academy. In the late 1920s, the institution began a building campaign of US$5 million, announcing an institution called the "Yeshiva of America," later the "Yeshiva College of America," before finally settling simply on Yeshiva College. In 1926, it bought a three-block site in Washington Heights, and built its first building, and moved its operation there. As of 2018 , that building continues to house Yeshiva University's affiliated high school, but all other operations have moved to other buildings on the expanded campus surrounding it.
The high school, previously integral to RIETS, became a separate entity, and RIETS became exclusively a college-level program, including granting of degrees via smichah. Secular studies were added, with the RIETS rosh yeshiva (head of school) also serving as president of the college secular academic programs. For example, Rabbi Revel was the official rosh yeshiva and college president even though greater Talmudic scholars were on faculty, notably Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, who served as co-head of RIETS. This arrangement continued into the 1940s. However, the second president, Rabbi Samuel Belkin, legally separated the two institutions in order to obtain United States government funding and research grants for a variety of YU's secular departments. In Rabbi Belkin's view, the modern understanding of the separation of church and state in the United States would have forced YU to either forgo federal grants (a major source of funding for all universities) and stagnate, or to alter the religious character of RIETS.
The split was strongly opposed by RIETS's leading scholar Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who saw it as the antithesis of the school's guiding philosophy. Rabbi Belkin prevailed and, following the split, he remained both the official rosh yeshiva of RIETS and president of Yeshiva University. Despite the separation, the identities have continued to be blended. Both the religious seminary and the college undergraduate Talmudic department are called RIETS, and have the same faculty and students.
With the 2003 appointment of Richard Joel, a layman, as president of Yeshiva University, the dual role had to end. Joel's predecessor, Rabbi Norman Lamm, continued as the official rosh yeshiva of RIETS, with Richard Joel being the "Chief Executive", responsible for fund-raising and administrative issues.
Rabbi Menachem Penner is the Dean of RIETS, a position he began July 1, 2013, after Rabbi Yona Reiss's resignation. Before taking over as dean in 2013, Penner had been the assistant dean of RIETS.
At the time of Rabbi Yona Reiss' appointment, RIETS absorbed the academic administration of the Undergraduate Torah Studies programs affiliated with Yeshiva College and Sy Syms School of Business on the Wilf Campus (Mazer Yeshiva Program, Stone Beit Midrash Program, Isaac Breuer College, and the James Striar School).
Many great rabbis have taught at RIETS. Scions of the Brisker dynasty, Rabbis Moshe Soloveichik and Joseph B. Soloveitchik reached the scholarly pinnacles as heads of RIETS, and Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik and Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein lectured there for significant portions of their respective careers. In earlier generations, Rabbi Shimon Shkop taught at RIETS for a short period around 1930, as did the Meischeter Illui Rabbi Shlomo Polachek, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Zaks (son in law of the Chofetz Chayim), Rabbi Moshe Shatzkes Rabbi Nisson Alpert and Rabbi Dovid Lifshitz. Later and current roshei yeshiva included Rabbis Moshe David Tendler,Hershel Schachter, Eliyahu Ben Haim, Mordechai Willig, Michael Rosensweig, Mayer Twersky, Jeremy Wieder, Yaakov Neuburger, Baruch Simon, Zvi Sobolofsky, David Hirsch, J. David Bleich, and Daniel Stein.
Ordination can technically be conferred upon a student who completes all of the necessary requirements for semikhah at any point in time. Nonetheless, every three or four years, RIETS conducts a formal Chag Hasemikhah, which is an official celebration of the students who received rabbinic ordination since the last Chag. It is traditionally held on or about the yartzeit of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor which is Adar 21. The last Chag Hasemikhah was held on March 19, 2017.
The first to be established in New York City was "El Hayyim" at 85 Henry street. The second was Rabbi Elnathan's, originally at 156 Henry street and later at 301 East Broadway. The latter is now consolidated with the college. Orthodox Jews are to have their own cultivation broadspread from a center that is at once dignified and impressive.
The buildings when completed will, in addition to the collegians, accommodate 2,500 high school pupil. There will be an athletic field. The faculty will offer temptations to draw Jewish scholars from around the world. Already the library is a rich storehouse of books and manuscripts that could not be replaced if destroyed. It was worth while for Mayor Walker to acclaim what is planned. It was worth while for Rabbi Simon Shkop to come from Grodno, Lithuania, to be present. It was worth while for President Frederick B. Robinson of the City College to deliver an address at the dedication.